The streets of Siem Reap are about to buzz with even more activity than usual – Khmer New Year is on the way! Based on the lunar cycle, this year the holiday falls on Friday 14, Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 April, and it’s the perfect time to see temple town at the height of its festivities.
Right across Cambodia, you can expect a lively atmosphere with cheerful celebrations, as Cambodians see in the traditional new year with fervour. Wondering how and where to celebrate in Siem Reap? We’ve got all the details.
The three days of the traditional Khmer New Year
Celebrations during Khmer New Year, also variously known as Chol Chnam Thmey and Angkor Songkran, take place across three days, each of which has particular significance.
On the first day, known as Moha Songkran, it is believed that a new god or angel is appointed to protect the world for the year ahead. As a way of rolling out the red carpet and ensuring that the new year doesn’t get off to an inauspicious start, Cambodians clean and decorate their houses (and themselves).
As well as getting a good scrubbing, homes play host to an offering table of fruits, cake, and other special Khmer dishes that are only rolled out for festivals and celebrations, plus incense sticks decorated with flowers, and chains of flashing lights designed to protect the house and family in the coming year. Families will also commonly visit their local temple to make merit and pray.
Khmer New Year’s second day is called Virak Wanabat, and revolves around offering gifts to parents, grandparents, the elderly, children, and the less fortunate. It’s a time of recognising pothers and doing good deeds in the hope of good fortune in the year to come. There’s also more praying at local temples, culminating in blessings being given by monks, and a service to remember ancestors.
Tanai Loeng Sak, the third and final day of the Khmer New Year celebrations, is all about new beginnings. The new year is finally here and, after more offerings to elders, more prayers and blessings at the local temple, and some symbolic bathing of Buddha images, it’s time for some good old-fashioned fun. Though not on quite the same frenetic scale as neighbours like Thailand, Cambodians – especially younger generations – take to the streets for some light-hearted water fights.
How to celebrate Khmer New Year in Siem Reap
Expect a festive atmosphere in Siem Reap during the Khmer New Year holiday. For many Cambodians, it marks the end of the hard slog of the agricultural harvesting season, and is a chance to rest, recuperate, and spend time with family and friends. Those who work far from their families in other provinces will commonly return home for as long as they can – often for as much as a week to 10 days. (Be warned: some of your favourite Siem Reap coffee shops, bars and restaurants may be closed for part or all of the Khmer New Year period!)
In a marked difference from the Songkran celebrations in Thailand and elsewhere, Cambodians put on plenty of light-hearted games to mark the occasion. These might include traditional ball games passed down through generations, and the likes of tug-of-war, plus plenty of Cambodian singing and dancing.
Join a Khmer New Year street party
Siem Reap frequently sees street parties in the Pub Street area, along the riverside, and in the Royal Gardens, with live concerts, fireworks, and of course plenty to eat and drink.
Head to the Angkor Sangkranta Festival
At the Angkor Archaeological Park, including around Angkor Wat, the huge Angkor Sangkranta festival draws crowds of locals, expats and tourists from across the country to take part in traditional games, Khmer martial arts, music, dancing, and of course lots more street food.
Visit a local Buddhist pagoda
For a glimpse of the traditional Buddhist ceremonies that take place on each of the three days of Khmer New Year, local temples and pagodas welcome curious visitors.
Discover traditional Khmer games at Baby Elephant
At Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel, on Saturday 15 April from 2pm we’ll be putting on an array of traditional Cambodian games for all the family to join in and celebrate Khmer New Year. Our friendly team are ready to share some Khmer cultural insights with you and teach you to play a number of games, including Bom Teak Dak Dob, Chis Kong Yeat, Sae Pom, and Bos Bol. If those names don’t mean much right now, come along and discover them for yourself!
Where to stay in Siem Reap
Looking for a Siem Reap hotel from which to explore all the goings-on of Khmer New Year, while also being within easy reach of the famous Angkor Wat temples? Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel is waiting for you – click here to take a look at our relaxing rooms, all with free breakfast (including vegan options, of course!) and use of our gorgeous swimming pool.
What will you be doing to celebrate Khmer New Year in Siem Reap? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by Sam Sith; Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter; Mt.Nind; Narin BI