This is an important community event to preserve this unique cultural and sport festival and strengthen community bonds.

Early each morning, Ly Chi of Chau Thanh district goes to tend his field and remove the wild grass. As soon as he finishes his farm work, he practices Ngo junk rowing at Champa pagoda to prepare for the Om Bok festival. Chi is the key rower of the pagoda’s Ngo team. The 31-year-old has competed in four previous races.

“When I finish my work, I come here to practice for the festival and to improve my fitness. I’m glad that many junk teams from other pagodas will come here to compete in the festival. The province has put a lot of work into organizing this event,” says Chi.

A month before the festival, Champa pagoda is noisy with the sound of people cheering for the boats. Muscular young men follow the coach’s whistle to time their rowing movements.

“If we have new rowers on the team, we only train for about eight minutes at a time. More experienced rowers can train for more than 10 minutes at a time. We row four or five times in one evening. The rowers get better year after year,” elaborates Thach Hieu, coach of the Ngo junk team of the pagoda.

Lam Binh Minh, head of Champa pagoda’s Management Board and head of the Ngo junk team, says the most important thing is that all the villagers and Buddhist followers attend the festival.

“Young people voluntarily support the pagoda, whose boat team has participated in every festival. It’s an opportunity to promote our national cultural identity,” says Minh.

The Ok Om Bok Festival – Ngo Junk Race in Soc Trang province is also an opportunity to promote tourism, attract investment, and raise community awareness of tourism development.

Decorating the junk before the raceAccording to Tran Minh Ly, director of the Soc Trang provincial Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, Ok Om Bok Festival – Ngo Junk Race is a traditional festival of the Khmer which has been held for many years.

“We hope it will attract more tourists to Soc Trang,” says Ly, adding the government has approved the construction of a deep-water port to tap the local potential for development.

Soc Trang has years of experience organizing junk racing tournaments and has the largest junk fleet in the Mekong Delta. The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism allows it to organize a provincial race every year and a regional race every two years.