The main festivals in Cambodia

Created by Minh Hue at 2024-01-24 16:11:47 , Updated by Minh Hue at 2024-01-27 09:55:05
Allow Asia King Travel to take you to a new world of Cambodian culture that is full of vibrancy, colorfulness, and richness of the traditional festivals

Festivals in Cambodia are occasions to showcase the deep-rooted customs of the country and express national pride. From the exuberant Water Festival, symbolizing the changing tides, to the serene Vesak Bochea, honoring Buddha's teachings, each festival brings a unique flavor to the Cambodian calendar. Let's embark on a cultural adventure and immerse yourself in the colorfulness and vibrancy of these events with Asia King Travel!

What to expect in Cambodian Festivals?

Cambodia Festivals: What to expect

Cambodia is a country with rich culture

Cambodia has many festivals that promise a sensory feast of vibrant colors, rhythmic music, and profound cultural significance. Attending these celebrations unveils a rich tapestry of traditions, where locals fervently honor their spiritual beliefs and commemorate their traditions. Amidst the festivities, one can anticipate communal gatherings, shared meals, and a palpable sense of unity. These events are an opportunity to witness Cambodia's deep-rooted customs, express national pride, and partake in the collective joy that characterizes these cultural extravaganzas.

6 main festivals in Cambodia

1. Chol Chnam Thmay - Khmer New Year

Khmer New Year, or "Choul Chnam Thmey", is one of the biggest festivals in Cambodia, marking the end of the harvest season, the start of the rainy season, and the traditional new year. Unlike most Cambodian holidays, which follow the lunar calendar, the New Year in Cambodia follows the Gregorian calendar. Celerated on either April 13th or 14th and lasting for 3 days, the festival is a time for relaxation, family reunions, and cultural and religious festivities.

Cambodia Festivals: Khmer New Year

People vist temples in Khmer New Year

During the holiday, the Cambodians clean the house, go to the temples, give each other gifts, and participate in colorful processions and traditional games. Water has a major symbolic meaning in the event, as it represents purification and the washing away of past sins and bad luck. People sprinkle water on one another as a gesture for blessings and join in lively water fights, which strengthens the bonds of community. It resembles Thailand's Songkran on a smaller scale.

Cambodian Festivals: Khmer New Year

Spashing water on each other is a gesture of blessings in this holiday

However, traveling during this period is not advised unless you have a connection with a local who can invite you to their home. Nearly the entire nation shuts down as people travel to their hometowns to rejoice with their families, and the urban areas become "ghost towns". Many shops, cafes, and restaurants close, and the rare ones that stay open have minimal staff, which may provide slack service at a higher price.

2. Royal Ploughing Ceremony

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony, also called “Preah Reach Pithi Bonn Chrot Preah Neang Kol” in Khmer, is a traditional agricultural celebration that is held outside the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh in May (in April of the lunar calendar). The event is presided over by the royal family, and  marks a new planting season. It is replete with pomp, Buddhism, and animism. The monks start the event with chanting and for permission from the earth spirits to plough. Then, the King or a picked representative will use a plow driven by two royal oxen to till a plot of land.

Cambodia Festivals: Royal Ploughing Ceremony

The King uses the a plow driven by two royal oxen to till a plot of land

It is said that the royal oxen at the ceremony can use the nose to predict the quality of the harvest ahead. After the plow, the animals are given a choice of fodder in the form of rice, corn, green beans, sesame seeds, freshly-cut grass, water and rice whisky. The different offerings each have a meaning. For example, grain or rice means a good harvest, whisky is an indication of increased crime, water predicts there would be flood, and grass suggests animal diseases.

Read more: Cambodia Overview Tour

3. Pchum Ben – Festival Of The Dead

Pchum Ben, also known as Ancestor's Day or the Festival of the Dead, happens on the 15th day of the 10th Khmer month, or in September or October of the solar calendar. Cambodians believe that during this time, the doorway to hell will be opened, and the spirits of those who are unable to move on to the afterlife will come back to roam Earth. By offering food, gifts, and prayers, they honor their seven generations of ancestors and hope to alleviate any suffering the spirits may be experiencing.

Cambodia Festivals: Pchum Ben

The festival is the occasion for Cambodians to honor the ancestors

“Pchum” means “to gather together,” and “Ben” represents a “ball of food”. During Pchum Ben, families gather and visit temples and pagodas to pay their respects and offer food to monks, who will pass it on to the spirits. The merits earned are expected to reduce the sins of the ancestors.

Cambodian Festivals: Pchum Ben

People offer food to monks to have it passed to the spirits

While other festivals share some standard features with other traditions in other countries, Pchum Ben is a unique feature of Cambodia. The event is a deeply rooted and emotionally charged occasion that highlights Cambodia's rich spiritual and familial traditions, emphasizing the enduring connections between the living and the departed. If you are in Cambodia during this time, consider heading to a temple for an interesting look at a unique tradition.

4. Meak Bochea - Festival of the Monks

Meak Bochea is a sacred Buddhist festival celebrated in many countries such as Cambodia, Laos, or Thailand on the full moon day of the third lunar month, which means it falls in February. It is also referred to as Buddha’s Preachment Commemoration Ceremony. The event commemorates a spontaneous gathering of 1250 enlightened disciples of Buddha who came to hear his teachings. He is said to have ordered them to spread Buddhism’s principles, marking a major milestone in the religion’s development.

Cambodia Festivals: Meak Bochea

Meak Bochea is a sacred Buddhist festival in Cambodia

Meak Bochea celebrations start early, with offerings including necessities being given to monks. The monks meditate and pray in the morning. In the evening, locals flock to the temples to listen to preachings and perform a candle ceremony, where they walk around the temple three times with flowers, incense, and a candle. Each circuit represents one of the ideas of Buddhism: Buddha (the Holy God), Dharma (the community), and Sangha (the monks).

Cambodian Festivals: Meak Bochea

This is one of the biggest Buddhist events

The festival emphasizes the significance of moral discipline, mindfulness, and unity in the Buddhist faith. Meak Bochea is a time for reflection, spiritual renewal, and the reinforcement of Buddhist principles, bringing communities together in a shared pursuit of enlightenment.

Read more: Splendor of Cambodia Tour

5. Vesak Bochea - Buddha’s birth Celebration

Vesak Bochea, also known as Buddha's Birthday, is a significant Buddhist festival celebrated in Cambodia and other Buddhist-majority countries. Falling on the full moon day of the fourth Buddhist month, usually in April or May, the event commemorates the three major events in the life of Buddha, which are Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and his passing into nirvana. On this day, Buddhists in Cambodia pray to Lord Buddha and donate food and clothes to the local monks in the area.

Cambodia Festivals: Vesak Bochea

The ceremony is to commemorates the birth of Buddha

Devotees engage in spiritual activities such as visiting temples, making offerings, and participating in candlelit processions. The festival highlights the principles of compassion, peace, and mindfulness that Buddha advocated. Vesak Bochea serves as a time for reflection, meditation, and community service, emphasizing the moral and ethical teachings of Buddhism.

6. Bon Om Touk - Water Festival

Bon Om Touk, the Cambodian Water Festival, is an annual and grand celebration in Phnom Penh that marks the reversal of the flow between the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, which is an anomaly unique to the country. Typically occurring in November and lasting for 3 days, it commemorates the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the fishing season. This is also a way for Cambodians to thank the water god for bringing abundant water and to pray for the harvest next year.

Cambodia Festivals: Bon Om Touk

Vibrant activities draw many locals and travelers come to witness

The festival features colorful boat races, with teams from across the country competing on the Tonle Sap River. Illuminated floats, traditional music, colorful fireworks, and vibrant parades further contribute to the festive atmosphere. Cambodians gather in Phnom Penh to enjoy the festival, fostering a sense of national pride and unity. Bon Om Touk is a captivating display of Cambodia's rich cultural heritage.

Read more: Cambodia Passion Tour

More amazing adventures with Asia King Travel

In conclusion, Cambodian festivals are a captivating blend of tradition, spirituality, and communal celebration. Each event carries its own distinctive charm, offering a glimpse into the rich cultural tapestry that defines Cambodia. Whether it's the rhythmic drumbeats of a traditional dance or the serene ambiance of a candlelit procession, these festivals create a shared sense of identity and unity. These celebrations serve as a testament to the resilience, diversity, and profound cultural heritage that define the Cambodian people.

Cambodia Festivals: Explore with Asia King Travel

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