Mekong River. Image courtesy of Ministry of Tourism Cambodia, used with permission
The Mekong River, Asia’s seventh longest river covering an estimated distance of more than four thousand kilometres, plays a vital role in the lives of many people in Cambodia. It’s also the home of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. To promote eco-tourism along the river and protect the freshwater cetaceans, the Mekong River Festival was established.
Spearheaded by the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia in coordination with several government agencies and ministries, the festival was first held in 2015 in the province of Kratie. The province, with its many sleepy towns and stunning sandbars, gets roused to life as a popular jump-off point to see the dolphins. It relies on the thousands of dolphin-seeking tourists that visit as a source of income; the Mekong River Festival, which is to be held in different provinces along the river, gets to highlight the importance of preserving the home of these dolphins.
For three days in March, the festival features cultural programs and several sporting competitions and water activities. Don’t miss a chance to see an exciting boat race, Khmer boxing, traditional wrestling, paragliding, sailing, and sepak takraw (kick volleyball native to Southeast Asia). If there’s a 3 km to 5 km fun run, sign up and see the sights of the host province while you get to stretch your legs and be a part of helping the riverside towns of Cambodia depend on a more sustainable form of tourism.
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For similar festivals that honor nearby bodies of water, visit Indonesia’s Lake Toba Festival; Myanmar’s Hpaung Daw Oo Festival; and Thailand’s Loi Krathong Festival. For alternative March festival stops, visit Thailand’s Bun Luang and Phi Ta Khon Festival, and Vietnam’s Elephant Race Festival.