Festivals in Cambodia

JANUARY

Victory Day over Genocide is a national holiday in Cambodia. It marks the fall of the Khmer Rouge and an end to a dark and sad chapter in its history with remembrance services, exhibitions and cultural displays.

FEBRUARY

Meak Bochea Day which is known as “Fourfold Assembly” or “Sangha Day” is one of the most important Buddhist celebrations falling on the full moon day of the third lunar month (about last week of February or early of March).

It marks four historic occasions which happened nine months after the Enlightenment of the Lord Buddha at Veluvana Bamboo Grove, near Rajagaha in Northern India. In hist ory 2500 years ago, four events, which are considered miracles in Buddhist doctrine, took place. The first was the spontaneous getting together of 1,250 enlightened disciples or arahats of Buddha. They had heard through the grapevine that Buddha was going to be present at the Veluwan temple in what is now the state of Bihar in Northern India. Secondly, Buddha had personally ordained each of these monks. Thirdly, each monk turned up without making a prior appointment. Lastly, all these happened on the day of the full moon during the third lunar month. Buddha gave the assembly a discourse “Ovadha Patimokha” laying down the principles of His Teachings summarised into three acts, i.e. to do good, to abstain from bad action and to purify the mind.

Chinese New Year is the New Year of both the Chinese and Vietnamese lunar calendar. It’s not an official holiday, but widely celebrated in Cambodia, due to the large number of people of Chinese and Vietnamese descent who run much of Cambodia’s business enterprises. Many shops will close for a few days.

MARCH

International Women’s Day is celebrated with marches, gatherings and cultural event.

APRIL

Cambodian New Year (Chaul Chhnam Thmey). Cambodian New Year is celebrated for 3 days after the end of the harvest to mark the turn of the year according to the Buddhist lunar calendar and at the same time as the Thai New Year. Every home is decorated to please the Heaven God, shrines are filled with food and traditional games performed. Many people can be seen on the streets armed with small bags of water and water pistols to bless people passing by. Crowds congregate at the Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh and flock from the provinces to Angkor to petition for blessings in the year ahead.

During the first day or Koha Sonkran, the Cambodians make offerings and prayers at local temples and wash themselves with holy water at various times of the day. Wanabat or Day 2 is a day of service to the poor, homeless and needy, and on the final day or Long Sakk, the Cambodians clean their elders and Buddha statues with perfumed water as an act to invite good luck and happiness. In Phnom Penh, the Cambodian royal family calls upon the king to promise allegiance and to wish him good health. The day continues such entertainment as boxing, elephant and horse races and a royal procession.

 

 

MAY

Visaka Bochea Day is often referred to as “Buddha’s birthday”, the holiday actually takes in the birth, enlightenment and passing of Buddha. The faithful attend pagoda, make offerings and engage in kind and charitable acts and reverent behavior.

 Royal Ploughing Ceremony (Bonn Chroat Preah Nongkoal). Cambodia has a deep connnection with the Earth and farming, and there is a deep astrological belief that the Ox has an instrumental role in determining the fate of the agricultural harvest each year. So the Royal Ploughing ceremony marks the beginning of the rainy season and the planting season. The ceremony is led by the King or other high officia. Adorned sacred cows plough a sacred furrow and then are led to trays containing rice, corn, beans and other foods. Cows are given a variety of crops to eat. Based on the choices of crops eaten, predictions are made for the coming year’s harvest. Ceremonies are usually held next to the Royal Palace, in front of the National Museum. For this festival both men and women can be seen wearing brightly colored traditional Khmer costume.

Birthday of the King is the birthday of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromoneath NORODOM SIHAMONI’s. During the King’s birthday, no festivities, only a giant firework display is held close to the riverbanks in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.

JUNE/JULY

Royal Birthday of H.M Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk.

SEPTEMBER

Constitution Day is celebrated as a national holiday in Cambodia on September 24th each year. It marks the signing of a new constitution on that same day in 1993 by King Norodom Sihanouk, two years after the signing of the Paris Peace accords, during which all parties agreed to free and fair elections. It was shortly after this day that Sihanouk was reinstated as king, having abdicated in the throne 1955 to enter a career in politics. Consequently, Sept 24th is also identified as the Recoronation of H.M Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk. He ruled until 2004 when he abdicated in favor of his son, King Sihamoni Norodom.

Pchum Ben Day. This is the most culturally and religiously significant event of the year and is celebrated in September. This festival of souls concentrates on blessing the souls of ancestors, relatives, and friends who have passed away. All Buddhist temples, especially Wat Phnom, are the focal points for this festival. The next 15 days during Pchum Ben, Cambodians throughout the country walk around temples three times before dawn, carrying plates of coned-shaped sticky rice. They complete the ritual by flinging the rice into the air to feed the spirits of their ancestors who walk the earth during Pchum Ben, Cambodia’s Festival of the Dead.

OCTOBER

Former King Sihanouk’s Birthday

Royal Coronation of King Sihamoni. No festivities, only evening fireworks on the river front in Phnom Penh.

Bonn Kathen. A religious festival when monks come out of retreat, and people all over the country march in processions to the wats, following musicians loudly drumming the traditional Chha-Yam drums. Saffron robes are everywhere during this festival. Monks change their old saffron robes for the new ones offered by the devotees, an action that brings spiritual merit to all participants. This festival, also known as Monk’s Robes Festival, lasts for 29 days from October, with the actual start day determined by the lunar calendar. It commences 15 days after the completion of Bonn Pchum Ben, the Cambodian Festival of the Dead, and really marks the end of Buddhist Lent.

NOVEMBER

Water festival The annual three-day Water Festival competes with the Khmer New Year for being the most important holiday for Cambodians. The boat races on the Tonle Sap and the carnival atmosphere ashore attract millons of people from all over the country. A smaller Water Festival is held around Angkor Wat, but for the real thing you’ll have to go to Phnom Penh.

DECEMBER

Angkor Half Marathon. The international Half marathon is held at the world renowned Angkor Wat an event which attracts competitors from all over the world. With thousands of spectators and the wonder of Angkor Wat, it is a spectacular setting

International Human Rights Day

Angkor Festival. This festival is a showcase of performing arts with Angkor Wat as a backdrop. Performers from all over Asia attend this festival performing great epic stories from myths and legends, including the Ramayana, with their own national dance costumes and musical and rhythmic interpretations. Former King Sihanouk often attends when he is in residence in Siem Reap and other dignitaries come to witness this wonderful spectacle. In Khmer the annual Water Festival is called Bonn Om Toeuk. The festival marks the changing of the flow of the Tonle Sap and is also seen as thanksgiving to the Mekong River for providing the country with fertile land and abundant fish. It is at this time when the river flow reverts to its normal downstream direction. The remarkable phenomenon that is the Tonle Sap sees the river flowing upstream during the rainy season and then changes direction as the rains cease and the swollen Tonle Sap Lake empties back into the Mekong River leaving behind vast quantities of fish. Over three days starting with the last full moon day in October or the beginning of November up to a million people from all walks of life from all over the country flock to the banks of Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers in Phnom Penh to watch hundreds of brightly colored boats with over 50 paddlers battle it out for top honors. The boat racing dates back to ancient times marking the strengths of the powerful Khmer marine forces during the Khmer empire. In the evening brightly decorated floats cruise along the river prior to and complimenting the fireworks displays. There is often a parallel festival at Angkor Wat and although it is smaller in scale it is just as impressive due to the backdrop of Angkor Wat.

 

 

 

 

Independence Day is a national holiday on November 9th to celebrate the independence of Cambodia from France in 1953. This important ceremony takes place at the site of the Independence Monument at the juntion of Norodom and Sihanouk Boulevards. There are grand parades in front of the Royal Palace with spectacular floats, marching bands and banners are stretched across the boulevards as expressions of national pride. The center of the activity is the lotus shaped Independence Monument where the King lights the inside torch which will remain burning for three days, as a symbol of the nation’s soul and pride. All over the city flags adorn the shop fronts and bunting stretched over all the main thoroughfares as a sign of national pride. Fireworks at night on the river front

 

 

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