Cambodia is definitely in the top champs when talking about celebrating festivals of any sort. During all year long, the Khmers commemorate all kinds of spiritual, historical or even climatological occurrences, according to the Cambodian lunar calendar. When traveling in Cambodia, some of these festivities might even go unnoticed, but there are some celebrations that will certainly be a colorful experience for visitors and a special journey through some of the deepest Khmer traditions. In this article we want to give you an overview of Cambodia’s ambivalent festival calendar and give you an idea of why visiting Cambodia during this time is absolutely worth it.
January 1: New Year’s Day: This is an unofficial holiday, and it was not really celebrated until some years ago, this was gradually changing due to the influences of expats and tourists. Today, the locals are more than happy to join-in and celebrate the New Year’s day in their own, colorful way.
January 28: Chinese New Year: This is the Chinese and Vietnamese New Year according to the lunar calendar, but it is also celebrated popularly and with plenty of energy in Cambodia highlighting the strong Chinese influence throughout the country. During this day, but also in the following days, locals like to come together in their families, celebrate and have a good time. While hotel occupancies are higher during this time, it’s definitely worth the visit to immerge into the local culture and get an idea of the spirituality and unique culture of the Khmer people.
February 11: Meak Bochea. Celebrated in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, this festival remembers the day in which Buddha announced his death, that would happen three months later, the same day as his birthday (Visakha Bochea) and enlightenment day. It is celebrated on the full moon day of the third lunar month, which usually falls in February or March. In the evening, most temples in Cambodia hosts a beautiful candle procession called Wien Tien (Wien meaning circle and Tien meaning candle). With a candle, incense sticks and lotus flower in hand, people walk around the temple three times, once each to venerate Buddha, the Dharma (Buddha’s teachings), and the Sangha (monastic life). It’s a mystical spectacle that creates great photo opportunities.
March 8: International Women’s Day. It is not a holiday, but it is celebrated with marches and cultural events to defend women’s rights, call for change, recognize the challenges that women face as well as their achievements.
April 14,15,16: Khmer New Year (Bonn Chaul Chnam): Arguably the most important festival of the year, Khmer New Year is a three-day affair that traditionally marks the end of the harvest season. The cities (especially the capital Phnom Penh) shut down for a week over Khmer New Year while Cambodians return to their home villages (often referred to by Cambodians as their homeland) to spend time with their families, have parties, and visit the local pagoda. It’s an interesting opportunity to experience the lively atmosphere in the countryside, but can also be an unusual but highly welcome chance to see the major cities in a quiet, serene atmosphere.
May 1: Labour Day. Like in many other countries, this national holiday was established to acknowledge the rights, achievements and efforts of all workers and is celebrated throughout Cambodia.
May 13-14-15: King Sihamoni’s birthday. Due to the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, holidays like the King’s Birthday play an important role in reminding Cambodian citizens about the importance of having a government with limited powers. This holiday celebrates the birth and coronation of Cambodia’s current monarch, King Norodom Sihamoni. In the evening, there are some spectacular fireworks on the riverbanks of Tonle Sap and Mekong river in Phnom Penh. So make sure to join-in the celebrations at the popular promenade!
September 19-20-21: Ancestor’s Day (Pchum Ben). This is an extremely important festival that lasts a total of 15 days, in which the spirits of ancestors are believed to be present. Cambodians dress in white clothes, pray to the dead and take offerings to the monks in the pagodas, as a symbol to reach the souls of their ancestors. During this holiday It’s a great time to experience up close the spirituality and the importance of Buddhism in Cambodia.
September 24: Constitution Day. After the long, horrible history it went through, Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy in 1993. The constitution of Cambodia was adopted on the 24th of September, which became a national public holiday.
October 23: Paris Peace Agreement Day. A public holiday that commemorates the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements that ended the terrible historical conflicts in Cambodia. The agreement was signed by 19 different nations, guaranteeing the end of the Cambodian – Vietnamese war, the removal of foreign troops in Cambodian territory, and the establishment of democracy in the country.
November 2-3-4: Water Festival (Bon Om Touk). In November, the rainy season comes to a highly anticipated end and the flow of the water of the Tonle Sap River slowly changes its direction. It’s a beautiful, colorful, energetic and meaningful festival. With traditional boat races taking place in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, but also candlelight ceremonies, concerts, floating paper boats, shadow puppet theatres and fireworks. While the boat races are a huge spectacle with hundreds of thousands of people attending in Phnom Penh, we recommend to join-in the much quieter and more peaceful boat races in Siem Reap. They are held during the best season, in November with good climate and green landscapes. Besides visiting the races, the fireworks and celebrations, Easia Travel Cambodia can organize different activities such as a workshop to create paper boats with candles and traditional offerings that travelers can let float down the river, just like the locals do. It’s a great hands-on activity which ensures travelers feel immersed into Khmer culture and will have a a great memory of.
November 9: Independence Day. Cambodia was under French rule for almost 90 years (1865–1953) before being completely independent in 1953. Now Cambodians celebrate this in all the country with fireworks, parades, and events. December 10: Human Rights Day. The day in which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1948.
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