Top 5 Traditional Festivals in Cambodia around the Year

Cambodia, just like any other country on Earth, has its own unique culture and with that culture come different festivals throughout the year. As travel and tourism in Cambodia are on the rise, we thought it would be great to take you through some of Cambodia’s most important traditional festivals.

Being a part of these festivals can be an eye-opener for you if you are planning to travel to Cambodia soon. Even though the years of strife and civil war still linger on in the memories of the locals here, it’s great to see them all dressed up in their traditional attires whenever a festival in Cambodia comes along.

So, without further ado, here are the top 5 traditional festivals celebrated in Cambodia.

1. Khmer New Year

Locally known as Choul Chnam Thmey, this is probably the biggest festival in Cambodia. Typically celebrated in April every year, this festival sees most Cambodians going home and staying there with their families to celebrate for a period of at least three days.

During these three days, the locals perform several traditional rituals such as praying at pagodas, lighting candles at shrines of family members who have passed on, and giving offerings.

When the rituals are done and dusted, the locals become cheerful and participate in a number of games during festival in Cambodia that really get their families in the festive mood.

The festival is so big, that even the biggest cities in Cambodia feel like ghost towns, with employees typically taking a week off to celebrate it (even though public holidays are declared only for three days).

Points to Remember

•    Go to Cambodia in the second week of April to experience this festival.
•    As most places (hotels, cafes, bars, and restaurants) run on a skeleton crew during the festival, don’t expect top-notch services.
•    Expect to spend more money than usual as both accommodation and transport prices shoot up during this period.

Read More: Explore Khmer Civilization in Angkor National Museum


2. Water Festival

Cambodians take their agriculture very seriously. Being a primarily agrarian economy, the locals need lots of rain during the monsoons. As the rains hit hard, the Mekong River swells, bringing in loads of fertile silt, which is fantastic for agriculture. The Water Festival is held every year in the month of April. During this three-day festival, locals gather along the river banks and thank their Water God for providing them with an abundance of natural fertilizer and water.

Several games are organized and tour boats dot the waters of the Mekong River. The festival remains fervent well into the night as well, with elaborate moonlight festivals held at night.

Points to Remember

•    To experience this festival in Cambodia, you should visit the country in the second week of April.
•    The festival is best experienced in the capital Phnom Penh, where the country’s top people gather to view the festivities in all their collective glory.

3. Meak Bochea Day

A Buddhist festival, the Meak Bochea Day is celebrated every year on the night of the full moon of Meak (the third lunar month in the Khmer calendar). Also known as Buddha’s Preachment Commemoration Ceremony, the festival sees locals waking up really early to start performing the necessary rituals.

The Meak Bochea Day is believed to be the day when Lord Gautama Buddha preached to more than 1,000 monks who had gathered around him. On this day, Lord Buddha ordered the monks to spread the principles of Buddhism far and wide.

The rituals typically involve giving offerings to monks in the morning. In the evenings, the locals visit the Buddhist temples in hordes, where they perform candle ceremonies and listen to the monks preaching the word of Lord Buddha.

Points to Remember

•    This festival in Cambodia is typically celebrated in either January or February.
•    To experience the very best of this festival in Cambodia, you should visit a prominent Buddhist temple such as Khlong Luang’s Dhammakaya temple.

4. Vesak Bochea

Another important Buddhist festival, the Vesak Bochea festival is celebrated to pay homage to the Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing into nirvana.

The festival sees ardent Cambodian Buddhists donating clothes and food to monks in their respective areas. It is celebrated with most fervor in the Buddhist hotspots of the country.

Points to Remember

•    This festival is celebrated on the full moon night of the 6th month in the Khmer lunar calendar.
•    In 2020, it will be celebrated on May 7th.

5. Ancestor’s Day

Locally known as Pchum Ben, this festival in Cambodia is celebrated by locals to pay respects to the 7 generations of ancestors before them. According to local beliefs, the spirits of the ancestors choose this particular day to come back to Earth and satisfy their hunger for food.

Typically celebrated in the pagodas, this festival sees locals offering food to their ancestors by offering food to local monks. They believe that through this offering, the souls of their ancestors will be rewarded by such an act, as their sins will be forgiven.

Points to Remember

•    This festival in Cambodia is typically celebrated in either September or October.
•    It will be held on 16th September in 2020.

Even though there are many other kinds of festival in Cambodia that are celebrated by Cambodians, these five are the most important traditional festivals. Witnessing these festivals first-hand is a great way to see how seriously Cambodians take their festivals.

It also offers glimpses into cultures and people that are essentially positive and peaceful; something that the world seems to forget on account of the civil war that ravaged the country not so long ago.


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