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Khmer New Year - How the Locals Celebrate

  |   Mekong River

Cambodians love to celebrate. The country's calendar has a staggering 28 festivals and public holidays, earning it the title as one of the countries with the most holidays in the world! One of its most unique, colorful and engaging is "Choul Chnam Thmey" in Cambodian or Enter New Year. While most of the Western World celebrates the New Year on January 1st, Cambodian celebrations offer a unique party following the traditional lunar New Year.

At the beginning of the lunar month, just over 3 months later than traditional western New Year, between April 14th to 16th, Cambodia holds the most anticipated holiday. The turnover each year will represent one of the 12 animals from the lunar New Year; either the dragon, dog, goat, monkey, horse, snake, tiger, pig, rabbit, rooster, ox or rat. Locals, who often mix with visitors, commence their celebration of the end of the harvesting season. Farmers who have been planting and harvesting during the rice growing season, finally take a chance to appreciate some well deserved leisure time.

Image Source: Hotel White Mansion Phnom Penh/YouTube

Image Source: Hotel White Mansion Phnom Penh/YouTube

One of the most attractive aspects of the festival for Cambodians, apart from the colorful traditional dress, are the traditional games played during the festival, the most popular being “Chab Kon Kleng." The game involves two persons or more, one acting like a "hen" and the other like a "crow." The "crow" attacks the nest protected by the "hen" hoping the steal its chicks. Cambodians also engage in other traditional Khmer games, such as the Bas Angkunh ‘sesame seed throwing’, Chaol Chhoung ‘twisted-scarf throwing’, Leak Kanseng ‘twisted-scarf hide’, Teagn Prot, a 'tug of war', while dancing to traditional Khmer songs.

Khmer New Year Daily Itinerary and Rituals

Over the years, each day of the festival has also developed its own name, meaning and unique itinerary. The first day is called “Maha Sangkran,” which refers to the movement of the sun into a new Zodiac and the changing of spirits. In the morning, Cambodians go to temples and offer food to monks and receive blessings. They also clean and prepare their home for spiritual blessings and make food and drink for visitors, prioritizing spending time with their families. The elderly normally meditate or recite verses from the Dharma with lit candles. It has become customary to light candles and burn traditional incense to express gratitude for good fortune throughout the year. With another important tradition being the washing of faces, chest, and feet at religiously significant times of the day. 

On "Wanabot," the second day, gifts are offered to parents, grandparents, and elders. In the evening of this day, Cambodians often go to temples and build mounds of sand to remember important ancestors and elders who have passed away. Day two often features charity drives across the country, with those in need receiving gifts and other meaningful supplies. 


The third day is called “Leung Sakk," meaning he first day of the next year. The last ceremony “Pithi Srang Preah” is traditionally more religious, and focuses on cleansing. It is marked by the ritual washing of the face, chest, and feet; people mix water with perfume and wash the images of Buddha. To bring good luck and fortune people will pour the remaining perfume mixture over themselves, or perhaps lightheartedly pour it over their friends.

Image Source: Trip Savvy/Lonely Planet/Getty Images

Image Source: Trip Savvy/Lonely Planet/Getty Images

Siem Reap at New Year

Siem Reap isn't excluded from the celebrations, which take place across the entire country. The Siem Reap Sangkranta Festival takes place in the city center near the Royal Residence. This festival offers a colorful display of traditional Cambodian artwork and costumes, along with martial art displays. Each year there is a Guinness World record attempt for the biggest Cambodian palm-leaf hat or ‘nom on som’, a Cambodian cake only for special celebrations like the Khmer New Year. Each year celebrations get bigger and better. What a time to spend a vacation in Southeast Asia!


At Rainforest Cruises we offer a multitude of cruises that can take you through the profoundly large Mekong River, whilst also showing you some of Cambodia and Vietnam's most exciting landmarks; think Phnom Penh, Tonle Sap River, Angkor Wat and beautiful Buddha statues everywhere. Every stop has new and interesting features, with the ability to cruise in ultimate luxury. If you are interested in taking a trip with us to Southeast Asia, our Asia travel specialist Eva will happily assist you in your requests to build the most stimulating and memorable vacation possible. Not only do we offer boat trips, but we can add additional land tours to the destinations you visit around your cruise, giving you a further in-depth look at the fascinating locality in Asia. If these opportunities spark your interest, please contact us by sending us an enquiry or calling us at 1-888-215-3555.


About Rainforest Cruises

Rainforest Cruises is a boutique travel company specializing in Amazon river cruises, Galapagos Islands tours, and Southeast Asia cruises. We provide you with the finest collection of cruises in Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Panama and Southeast Asia. As travel experts we have all the advice you need to help you find and book your dream cruise and an unforgettable adventure.

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