One of the most important annual holidays in Cambodia, Khmer New Year is celebrated across the country with events taking place over 3 days.
Khmer New Year is of great significance as the Kymer are Cambodia’s dominant ethnic group, making up over 95% of the population.
This is an excellent time to visit Cambodia and an opportunity to learn about cultural and religious traditions. Moreover, tourists can get involved with street parties, concerts, and traditional games as well as trying the typical New Year food.
Travelers can find information below about when and where Khmer New Year festivities take place, what happens during the celebrations and practical advice for visiting Cambodia at this time of year.
When is Khmer New Year?
Khmer New Year falls right after the gathering and storing of the harvest. This is an important consideration as agriculture continues to be of great importance, at New Year farmers can finally relax and enjoy spending time with family before the arrival of the rainy season.
In 2020 Khmer New Year is from 13th until 16th April.
Each day of the festivity has a special significance:
Day 1: end of the old year and beginning of the new
Known as Maha Songkran, this is considered to be the day of creation. As, according to Khmer tradition, the earth was created by angels, people light candles and burn incense in their honor.
Traditions and customs on day one of Khmer New Year:
- Collective prayers take place
- People bow 3 times before an image of the Buddha to pay respect
- Incense and candles are burnt at home
- Monks receive food donations and in return give their blessing
Day 2: a day dedicated to charity
The second day of Khmer New Year, Virak Wanabat, is for thinking about the less fortunate members of society.
Traditions and customs on day 2 of Khmer New Year:
- Money or other charitable donations are given to the less fortunate
- Ceremony at the end of the day dedicated to ancestors
- Children, the elderly and teachers receive presents
Day 3: a day for cleansing
To ensure prosperity in the year to come, Cambodians dedicate the third day of Khmer New Year to the washing away of sins.
Traditions and customs on day 3 of Khmer New Year:
- Images of the Buddha are washed with perfumed water
- Children wash and bathe parents and grandparents in return for advice
Where is the Best Place to Celebrate Khmer New Year?
As Khmer New Year is celebrated throughout the country, tourists in Cambodia in April can see or get involved with the festivity wherever they are located.
For visitors staying in Cambodia’s 2 largest cities, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the New Year experience is likely to be quite different.
Khmer New Year in Phnom Penh
As most Cambodians leave the capital to spend Khmer New Year in their hometown, Phnom Penh is quiet at this time of year.
Tourists can enjoy the city at its most peaceful, without the crowds that usually fill the streets and most popular attractions during other times of the year. One major event is a procession on the final day of the celebrations involving elephants and horses.
Although a lot of local shops remain closed, stores in tourist areas remain open for business and visitors shouldn’t have any problems finding a restaurant or hotel. It is advisable to check the opening times of the attractions to avoid disappointment.
Khmer New Year in Siem Reap
On the contrary, tourists in Siem Reap will be at the heart of the action. Music, food and dancing all feature as locals celebrate in the streets, by the river, and in the Royal Gardens.
Many people flock to Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s most iconic site, where they take part in traditional games including:
- Chol Chhoung: participants try to hit each other with a cloth ball
- Leak Kanseng: a popular children’s game
- Chab Kon Kleng: mainly played by adults imitating a hen protecting chicks from a crow
Tourists are warmly welcomed to get involved with the concerts and street parties that take place throughout the city.
What Food is Eaten at Khmer New Year?
Street food is an important part of Cambodian culture and Khmer New Year is the ideal time for foreigners to sample traditional dishes such as Lort Cha fried egg noodles, Num Pang Cambodian sandwich, and snails.
The typical food eaten at New Year is kralan, a cake made from sticky rice, beans, and coconut milk. The mixture is roasted inside a bamboo pipe.
Advice for Traveling to Cambodia during Khmer New Year
Given that certain areas can get very busy during Khmer New Year, it is a good idea to make plans in advance including reserving accommodation.
As previously mentioned, not all businesses and attractions will remain open during the holiday, away from tourist areas many are likely to be closed. As banks will be closed it is advisable to have enough cash for these few days.
Khmer New Year falls in April which is in Cambodia’s hot season when temperatures can rise above 85 ºF (29 ºC) and humidity levels are around 75%. Loose, long-sleeved clothing should be worn to provide protection from the heat, sunscreen and a hat are also essential.
Is a visa required to enter the Kingdom of Cambodia?
Foreigners wishing to enjoy the Khmer New Year celebrations must ensure they have the correct visa for Cambodia.
Citizens of more than 200 countries can avoid traveling to the embassy or consulate by applying for the eVisa. This is the quickest and most efficient way to gain permission to access the country.
Applications should be made at least 4 working days prior to departure. In case of any delays, travelers going to Cambodia for the start of Khmer New Year are advised to apply for the eVisa at the beginning of April.