Tourist Guide to Top Festivals in Cambodia

Updated on Jan 28, 2024 | Cambodia e-Visa

The Cambodian festival reflects the country's rich and varied cultural history. Most of the celebrations follow the Khmer lunar cycle and draw inspiration from Buddhism, Hinduism, and old royal customs. 

Like every other nation on Earth, Cambodia has its own distinct culture, which includes several annual festivities.  As tourism and travel in Cambodia grow, it might be fun to walk you through some of the country's most significant customary celebrations.

If you have any plans to visit Cambodia soon, taking part in these festivals could captivate you. Even if the memories of the residents here are still tainted by the years of conflict and civil war, it's wonderful to see them all decked out in their traditional Cambodian festival whenever the celebration rolls around.

The times of year, harvest time, ancestral relatives, the Buddha, or the king are all honored during some of the festivals. The following are a few of the most well-known festivals you may attend in Cambodia:

Khmer New Year

This celebration, referred to as Choul Chnam Thmey locally, is likely the biggest in all of Cambodia. This festival, which usually takes place in April each year, causes the majority of Cambodians to return home and spend a minimum of a three-day period there with their relatives to celebrate.

The villagers engage in several customary activities over the course of these three days, including meditating at monasteries, burning candles at shrines for departed family members, and making offerings.

After the ceremonies are through, the locals become merry and take part in a variety of games that truly engage their loved ones in the holiday spirit.

Even the largest cities in Cambodia experience an eerie town-like atmosphere during the festival because so many people attend (even though the official holiday is only designated for 3 days).

The Khmer holiday of Choul Chnam Thmey—which translates to "Enter New Year"—marks the conclusion of the harvesting period and the start of an additional year on the lunar calendar. It's also a moment to express gratitude to the god for their favors over the previous year and to make requests for luck in the one to come.

The name Maha Songkran, which translates as "great change," is given to the initial day of the festival. People tidy up their homes, adorn them using bouquets and lit candles, and provide food for the monks on this day. Additionally, they don new attire and go see their elders to show reverence and get their favors.

The second day is known as Virak Wanabat, which literally translates to "day of giving". On this day, people give meals and contributions to the homeless and impoverished in addition to giving to the monks who work at the temples. Additionally, they carry out a ritual known as Sraung Preah in which participants sprinkle water on one another and Buddha statues as a sign of cleansing and friendliness.

The third day is known as Tngay Leang Saka, which literally translates to "new year begins". Folks keep visiting relatives and temples on this day, as well as taking part in various other games and activities.

A few of the well-liked games are the tug-of-war game Bos Angkunh, the seed-throwing game Angkunh, and the ball-throwing game Chol Chhoung. The participants' solidarity and cooperation are to be fostered through these games.

Meak Bochea Day

Meak Bochea Day, a prominent Buddhist holiday, is observed around the full moon of the 3rd lunar month in the Khmer calendar across Cambodia as well as other Southeast Asian nations. Even though the exact day varies from year to year, it often occurs towards the end of the month of February or the beginning of March.

The event honors the moment when Lord Buddha gave his last sermon in front of a sizable crowd comprising priests who were voluntarily assembled to listen. He condensed the fundamental concepts of Buddhism into three principles in his sermon: to shun all evil, to practice only what is right, as well as to cleanse the inner being.

He also foresaw his own demise, which would occur on the precise same date as he was born and awakening, three months later.

Devout Buddhists observe Buddhist precepts and carry full meritorious activities on Meak Bochea Day, such as giving food and other requirements to monks, meditating, hearing Dharma presentations, and chanting.

They take part in candlelit marches around the holy sites in the late afternoon while carrying candles, incense, and flowers. They go around the shrines on three separate occasions as an expression of reverence towards the Buddha, his Dharma (teachings), and his Sangha (followers).

Buddhists observe Meak Bochea Day as a day of refreshment and spiritual introspection. It is also a day to express affection and admiration for the Buddha's compassion and wisdom, which have helped countless numbers of people for more than 2,000 years.

Bon Om Touk or Water Festival

Bon Om Touk or Water Festivals

Cambodian festivals showcase the high value of their agricultural industry. The inhabitants depend heavily on rainfall during the rainy season because their economy is predominantly agricultural. The Mekong River expands due to the heavy rains, carrying with it a great deal of fertile silt for farming. Every year in April, the Water Festival takes place.

Locals congregate alongside the banks of the river during this three-day Cambodian festival to give thanks to their Water God for supplying their lives with a plentiful supply of clean water and organic manure.

The Mekong River is home to a number of organized games and is dotted with excursion boats. Extensive moonlight festivities are held at night, and the festival is intense late into the night.

The Khmer name for the Water Festival is Bon Om Touk, which translates as "the reversal of the current". This refers to the extraordinary event that happens whenever the Tonle Sap River twice a year, according to the season, changes its direction. The Water God, who makes certain that the Tonle Sap Lake is overflowing with fish and water for cultivation, is thought to have blessed the current's reversal.

The boat race, which draws numerous teams from numerous areas, is the festival's main event. The rowers wear similar costumes, and the boats are embellished with dragon heads and colorful flags. The race is a representation of the maritime conflicts involving the Khmer and their rivals in the past. There is a joyful atmosphere as fans of the teams passionately applaud them.

The Water Festival serves to preserve both Cambodia's cultural legacy and identity in addition to celebrating nature's richness. It displays the rich heritage, customs, and artistic expression of the nation. Additionally, it promotes esteem and solidarity among the populace as they unite to take part in this yearly celebration.

Travelers can experience Cambodia's broadened and extensive cultural past. Numerous old temples and structures can be found there, which exhibit the legacy of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and several other faiths and cultures. Read more at Top Museums to Visit in Cambodia.

Independence Day

Every year on November 9, Cambodia commemorates the epoch of 90 years of French colonialism administration by celebrating its independence. The Cambodian Independence Monument in Phnom Penh serves as the main location for the celebrations, and there the monarch of Cambodia supervises the ceremony and ignites the commemorative light. 

People from all walks of life attend the event to honor the leaders of the freedom movement and to show their patriotism. King Norodom Sihanouk, known as "the Father of Independence" because of his victorious 1953 effort to wrest full sovereignty from France, is also honored on Independence Day. All Cambodians celebrate Independence Day, a national break, with pride. 

Ancestor’s Day

Pchum Ben, also referred to as Ancestor's Day, is a 15-day religious celebration in Cambodia that reaches its peak around the fifteenth day of the 10th month of the Khmer calendar and signifies the conclusion of Buddhist Lent. By providing meals for the priests and the souls of the deceased, Cambodians honor as many as seven centuries of their forefathers.  

Local mythology holds that during this time, the entrances of hell open, allowing the spirits of the dead—particularly those who are tormented in hell—to enter and make offerings to their living kin. To feed the ravenous spirits, living relatives prepare food, particularly rice sticky dumplings named bay ben, and fling it in the air or onto the ground. Additionally, they go to several pagodas to offer merit as well as plead for the welfare of their ancestors.

Pchum Ben is regarded as a special Cambodian festival because it illustrates the close connection between those who live and the deceased, as well as the people of that country's appreciation and filial piety. It is also a moment to consider one's own deeds and karma and ask the ancestors for their mercy.

Royal Ploughing Ceremony

Cambodia's Royal Ploughing Ceremony: A Celebration of the Season for Planting Rice

The King's Farming Celebration, or Preah Reach Pithi Chrot Preah Neangkol in Khmer, is one of the most significant and interesting Cambodian festivals. Every year in May, typically on the fourth day of the waning moon in the sixth lunar month, this ancient royal rite is performed to both mark the traditional start of the rice-growing period and forecast the crop yield for the following year.

The ceremony also serves as a means of offering thanks and praise to the spirits and deities for the safeguarding of the people and the land as well as their blessings.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony's introduction from ancient India dates dated back to the Funan period (1st–6th century). Reamker, the Cambodian festival adaptation based on the Indian classic Ramayana, and certain other works of Buddhist literature also make reference to the event.

A bronze statue of Balarama carrying a plow that dates to the sixth century was discovered at Angkor Borei, the historical capital of Funan. The god's sculpture was created for the plowing observance and is regarded as the first piece of pertinent evidence.

The monarch or his delegate oversees the ritual and directs the plowing of a commemorative area using a couple of imperial oxen. Four female royal officers then follow the monarch or his delegate and distribute seeds of rice on the creases.  The beginning of the harvesting year and the fertile state of the land are represented in tandem by the plowing.

The royal oxen are driven to a location wherever 7 plates filled with food are provided for the following three rounds of plowing.  Rice, beans, maize, sesame, greens water, and wine are among the dishes. The crops that will be abundant or scarce, the amount of rain or drought, and other occurrences in the upcoming year are all predicted by the diet that the ox consumes.

The Imperial Ploughing Festival is an exciting Cambodian festival for the populace as well as a religious and royal ceremony. Numerous thousands of spectators turn out to take in the ceremony along with some of the seeds of rice that the palace officials sow.

For luck and prosperity, people keep or plant these seeds, which are regarded as auspicious. The ceremony highlights the deep ties that exist among the Cambodian populace and their primary means of subsistence, rice growing.

Among its most unique and significant components as a Cambodian festival and culture is the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. It displays the rich history and customs of this former monarchy and its populace. It also shows how much the citizens of Cambodia revere and appreciate their king, their country, their beliefs, and their forefathers.

King Norodom Sihamoni’s Birthday

King Norodom Sihamonis Birthday

This day is significant as a Cambodian festival because it serves as a reminder of what happened under the Khmer Rouge and Pol Po. This day commemorates King Norodom Sihamoni, the reigning monarch of Cambodia, and his birth and coronation. Every year, there are three more days of festivities.

Under the violent dictatorship of the Marxist dictator Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia from 1975 until 1979. Over two million individuals died because of Pol Pot's efforts to use social engineering to turn the Cambodian people into a "master race" in the Southeastern Asian nation.

The Khmer Rouge killed or evicted millions of people, ordered the mass evacuation of cities, millions of people were murdered or displaced, and it left a harsh and destitute legacy.

Explore some of the amazing wildlife and nature of Cambodia, highlighting some of the species that are unique, rare, or threatened in this country.

There are various kinds of visas available for Cambodia. The Cambodia Tourist Visa (Type T) or Cambodia Business Visa (Type E) available online are the ideal choice for travelers or business visitors. Learn more at Types of Cambodian Visas.

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