The Khmer New Year is one of the most important holidays in Cambodia. It usually falls on April 13th or 14th, and it is convened to celebrate the Lunar New Year and the end of the harvesting season.
The celebrations are a unique opportunity to enjoy the traditions of Cambodian and Buddhist culture. If you’re planning to visit Cambodia during Khmer New Year, you can find here all the information you’ll need.
Khmer New Year is celebrated on three days:
The two biggest cities in Cambodia Phnom Penh and Siem Reap celebrate New Year in quite different ways.
The capital of Cambodia is very quiet during the New Year, as most people return to their hometowns to celebrate the holiday with their families. New Year might give you an opportunity to visit the city without its usual crowds.
If you’re planning to visit Phnom Penh during these days, remember the big exodus that happens on the days immediately prior to New Year: planning your trip well in advance will be important.
A lot of local shops are closed, except for those in the most popular tourist area along the river. Finding a good restaurant or hotel is still easy. The Royal Palace and the Cambodia National Museum are open as well. On the third day a royal procession is held, which includes elephant and horse races.
The best place to visit in Phnom Penh during this period is Wat Phnom: here you can find a lot of local people playing traditional games and throwing talcum powder at each other.
The New Year is particularly fascinating in Siem Reap. All the streets are filled with life: everywhere there is music, food and dance. The Pub Area along the riverside and the Royal Gardens are animated by parties going on all night long.
But the biggest crowds can be found in the countryside. Around the temples of Angkor Wat, you can take part in the Angkor Sangkranta Festival (from 8:30 am to 9:30 pm). Here people spend their time playing traditional games – such as tug of war, giant chess games, and ox cat[Is this a misprint? Not clear. Cat racing?] and buffalo racing – and practicing traditional Khmer martial arts.
And of course, a celebration is not a celebration without food and music. Street food is a big part of the Cambodian culture, and this is a wonderful opportunity to eat some traditional dishes you can only find during this time of year.
During the night, don’t miss the opportunity to join the huge crowds of locals enjoying big concerts – foreigners are more than welcome!
Khmer people celebrate the New Year with purification ceremonies, food, and traditional games.
Cambodian people try to renovate themselves and their houses: it is believed that angels may come to visit, so Khmer people scrub the floors, put fresh flowers everywhere, and place Buddha statues on shrines, honoring them with fresh fruit and jasmine flowers. The smell of incense is everywhere.
Since purifying the soul is the most important aspect of the holiday, one of the most important traditions is the Sraung Prea (held on the third day): people of younger generations pour water on their parents, hoping in return for happiness, longevity and good advice.
The religious aspect is extremely important: monks in pagodas welcome curious tourists who want to experience traditional Buddhist ceremonies.
On the temple floors, monks build five hillocks representing stupas (hemispherical structures containing relics): usually, the big one in the center is the stupa where the Buddha’s hair and diadem are buried; the four small ones around it are the stupas of the Buddha’s favorite disciples.
The traditional New Year food is kralan, a cake with sticky rice and red beans, sugar, and coconut milk, slowly roasted inside a pipe made of bamboo.
Games are an important part of the celebrations. They can be an insightful and fun experience for every tourist. Some of the most important games are:
During the Angkor empire, Sus’Dei Chnam Thmei was celebrated for 4 months. Celebrations would end on the 1st day of the first lunar month.
After Angkor, Cambodia adopted the solar calendar and this kind of celebration was abandoned when a Khmer king (maybe Suriyavaraman II, 1113 AD – 1150 AD) shifted the celebration so it coincided with the end of the rice harvest.
Agriculture in Cambodia is extremely important. With the coming of the New Year, farmers can finally relax, enjoy the fruits of their labor and celebrate with their families, before the arrival of the rainy season.
Visiting Cambodia during New Year can be tricky. Here are a handful of useful tips:
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