What better way to get to know captivating Cambodia than by immersing yourself in one of the many lively, colourful and traditional festivals. Our annual calendar highlights the most exciting and interesting festivals, events and holidays in Cambodia during 2014.
New Year’s Day – 1 January 2014
Cambodian’s are getting more and more into the annual Gregorian New Year celebrations and although it isn’t an official holiday, there’s plenty going on.
Victory Day – 7 January 2014
The national holiday each 7th of January commemorates the end of the Khmer Rouge regime. Also known as Victory Day over Genocide Day, the sombre day remembers those that were lost as well as the fall on 7 January 7 1979.
Chinese New Year – 31 January 2014
Although not a public holiday, Chinese New Year is celebrated by Cambodians with Chinese origins. Highlights include traditional lion dancers, who perform at private homes and at businesses across the country over several days. The actual night of New Year’s Eve is a popular time to leave offerings and make prayers at the local pagodas. In particular the Buddhist Wat Phnom temple Phnom Penh is one of the most popular spots, especially at midnight. The exquisite temple dates back to 1373 and at 27 meters high, it’s the most majestic religious monument in the city.
Meak Bochea, aka Full Moon – 14 February 2014
Each year, Meak Bochea falls on the day of the full moon within the third lunar month, according to the lunar calendar, which is followed within Cambodia. Meak Bochea Day marks the great meeting between Lord Buddha and the monks, where four significant events occurred. Buddhists gather to celebrate the holiday and the pagodas throughout Cambodia are decorated with colourful banners and swathes of incense smoke are highly visible emanating from the temples.
Khmer New Year – 13-16 April 2014
This national holiday of Cambodian Khmer New Year is known locally as Chaul Chnam Thmey and it’s the most important festival on the annual calendar. The festival lasts for three days, with New Year's Day, Chaul Chnam Thmey (which translates as Enter New Year), itself falling on 13 April and sees children playing traditional Khmer games on the street and in the local parks. Cambodians head into the provinces to meet up with family. New Year’s Eve is spent with family and friends, where offerings of food, drink and incense are laid out on tables in front of houses. Food, drinks and money are offered by Buddhists as the local pagodas in thanks. New Year’s Day itself is known as Moha Sangkran and is ushered in at a particular hour as dictated by the lunar calendar, which isn’t necessarily midnight. It’s popular to give gifts to loved ones and to make tips which are considered auspicious. You’ll hear the phrase ‘Sok Sabay, Ch’nam Tmey’ everywhere which literally translates as Happy New Year! On New Year’s Day itself locals throw water and powder on their friends and family, which is all taken in the good-natured spirit in which it intended.
Visaka Bochea Day, aka Buddha day – 13 May 2014
This national holiday is the most important with the annual Buddhist festival calendar. Visaka Bochea follows the lunar calendar and commemorates the birth, enlightenment and passing of the revered Lord Buddha. Also called Buddha’s Birthday, the day is a popular time to attend local pagodas and make offerings. It’s also a good opportunity for Cambodians to engage in charitable acts to benefit their local communities.
King Sihamoni's Birthday – 13-15 May 2014
The national three day holiday celebrates the birthday of His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni who was born on 14 May 1953. The King of Cambodia had his coronation on 29 October 2004 and the highlight of the three day event is to catch a glimpse of the King as he travels through the country on official business.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony – 17-19 May 2014
The traditional Royal Ploughing ceremony marks the start of the rainy season and also the start of the planting of crops. Also known as ‘Pithi Chrat Preah Neanng Korl’ the day sees either the king himself or a nominated representative plough a furrow with a sacred cow, in a symbolic gesture as an indication that Cambodians should start the annual process of planting their paddy fields to produce rice crops. The symbolic celebration is usually held next to the Royal Palace complex in Phnom Penh.
Pchum Ben Festival – September 2014
Each 15th day of the tenth Khmer month is the Pchum Ben Festival, which is also known as Death‘s Ceremony or Ancestors' Day. This important festival is the opportunity for Cambodians to pay respects to their dead relatives. Cambodians prepare meals for monks and attend several local pagodas over a two week period to offer food, drink and flowers to the monks to present as offerings to the ghosts of their relatives so they do not return to haunt them. This lively and colourful festival offers a fascinating glimpse into Cambodian culture.
Cambodia Independence Day - 9 November 2014
Each 9th of November marks the day that Cambodia attained independence from France in 1953. There are colourful ceremonies held in every city, town and village to mark the anniversary of independence. Locals attend a special service at the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh in the morning which is also attended by King Sihamoni and the evening sees incredible fireworks displays along the riverfront. The Kingdom of Cambodia was realized on 9 November 1953 under the rule of then King Norodom Sihanouk (father of King Sihamoni).
Water Festival – 13-16 November 2014
The final traditional holiday on the Cambodian annual calendar is the Water Festival, which is also known as the Boat Racing Festival. The three day event marks the time at which the water within the mighty Mekong River and the Tonle Sap River changes course. When the Tonle Sap flows back into the Mekong, Cambodians celebrate over three days by racing long boats on the Tonle Sap River in front of the Royal Palace, with the King in attendance. Phnom Penh is main gathering point for the Water Festival which also marks the end of monsoon season, signified in the reverse current of the Tonle Sap. It’s also marks the beginning of the fishing season. In the evenings there are extravagant fireworks displays and a parade of lit boats cruise along the river. Locals and travellers alike line the riverfront, eager to be a part of the carnival-like atmosphere.