KHMER NEW YEAR IN CAMBODIA

INTRODUCTION

In Cambodia, Khmer New Year is both the most important traditional festival and the most significant national holiday. The festival lasts three days, however it might sometimes last four days. The Khmer New Year begins on April 13th or 14th, based on the “MohaSangkran,” or ancient horoscope.

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THE ORIGIN

The Khmer New Year festival originated from Bramhmanism, a part of Hinduism, which was a religion that Khmer believed in before Buddhism. Later on, Buddhism became associated with the festival and then took all the important roles in the festivity.

Inspiration Brahmanism-Hinduism

Inspiration Brahmanism-Hinduism

Special Significance

The sun enters the sign of Aries the Ram to herald the Khmer New Year. This event has historically been linked to the Vernal Equinox. The dates of the sun entering Aries and the Vernal Equinox would have been considerably closer in ancient times, but they have altered owing to a phenomena known as procession, in which the Earth wobbles on its axis over a 25,000 year period.

In Cambodia, it marks the end of the harvest before the beginning of the rainy season.

How is Khmer New Year Celebrated?

Like most New Year holidays, Khmer New Year is full of tradition and rituals. The three days of celebration each have their own name and associated traditions:

First Day - Maha Songkran

+ The first day of the Khmer New Year is called ‘Maha Songkran‘. Similar to the Tamil tradition, it is believed that this was the day of creation. In Khmer tradition, the world was created by God’s angels and to welcome the angels, people will clean their houses and illuminate them with candles. Families will place an idol of Buddha on an altar.

Second Day - Vanabot

+ Also known as Virak Wanabat, the second day of Khmer New Year is a time to think of the less fortunate. People offer charity by helping the poor, servants and homeless. Families may go to monasteries to pay respect to their ancestors, and it also a time for family members to exchange gifts.

Third Day - Leang Saka

+ On the third day of New Year celebrations, Buddhists wash and clean statues of Lord Buddha with scented water. This cleansing is done to ensure that Cambodia will receive all the water it needs in the coming year. Another tradition is that children wash and bathe their parents and grandparents in return for blessing and good advice for the future.

WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO CELEBRATE KHMER NEW YEAR?

+ As Khmer New Year is celebrated throughout the country, tourists in Cambodia in April can see or get involved with the festivity wherever they are located.

+ For visitors staying in Cambodia’s 2 largest cities, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the New Year experience is likely to be quite different.

Khmer new year in Phnom Pehn

+ As most Cambodians leave the capital to spend Khmer New Year in their hometown, Phnom Penh is quiet at this time of year.

+ Tourists can enjoy the city at its most peaceful, without the crowds that usually fill the streets and most popular attractions during other times of the year. One major event is a procession on the final day of the celebrations involving elephants and horses.

+ Although a lot of local shops remain closed, stores in tourist areas remain open for business and visitors shouldn’t have any problems finding a restaurant or hotel. It is advisable to check the opening times of the attractions to avoid disappointment.

Khmer New Year in Siem Reap

+ On the contrary, tourists in Siem Reap will be at the heart of the action. Music, food and dancing all feature as locals celebrate in the streets, by the river, and in the Royal Gardens.

+ Tourists are warmly welcomed to get involved with the concerts and street parties that take place throughout the city.

WHAT FOOD IS EATEN AT KHMER NEW YEAR?

+ Street food is an important part of Cambodian culture and Khmer New Year is the ideal time for foreigners to sample traditional dishes such as Lort Cha fried egg noodles, Num Pang Cambodian sandwich, and snails.

+ The typical food eaten at New Year is kralan, a cake made from sticky rice, beans, and coconut milk. The mixture is roasted inside a bamboo pipe.

ADVICE FOR TRAVELING TO CAMBODIA DURING KHMER NEW YEAR

+ Given that certain areas can get very busy during Khmer New Year, it is a good idea to make plans in advance, including reserving accommodation.

+ April is in Cambodia’s hot season when temperatures can rise above 85 ºF (29 ºC)  and humidity levels are around 75%. Loose, long-sleeved clothing should be worn to provide protection from the heat, sunscreen and a hat are also essential.

+ As previously mentioned, not all businesses and attractions will remain open during the holiday, away from tourist areas many are likely to be closed. As banks will be closed, it is advisable to have enough cash for these few days.