Events and festivals

There is something going on in Siem Reap almost throughout the year. Khmers’ love of family social events, with music and an abundance of food, is best seen at the numerous festivals which are now once again being held throughout the country. There follows a list of the more important national and regional festivals in the Khmer calendar, according to month:

Victory Day on the 7th of January is a national holiday commemorating the fall of Pol Pot’s regime on 7 January 1979. Meak Bochea, later same month, marks the four auspicious occasions, which happened nine months after the Enlightenment of the Lord Buddha at Veluvana Bamboo Grove, near Rajagaha in Northern India.

The Lunar or Chinese New Year in January-February is celebrated widely around the country by Cambodia's Chinese and Vietnamese communities. Although it is not a public holiday in Cambodia, many businesses are closed at this time. Due to the large number of people of Chinese descent who run much of Cambodia's business enterprises; and also Vietnamese immigrant communities, the Chinese New Year is widely celebrated, especially in Phnom Penh. No Chinese festival would be complete without fireworks and this time of year is no exception with many wealthy families organizing their own private displays which light up the skies for all to see.

Women's Day, 8 March, is a national holiday, and is marked by colourful parades. 

Bonn Chaul Chhnam – Khmer New Year, is celebrated for three days in the middle of April. Bonn Chaul Chhnam is the Khmer equivalent of Songkran in Thailand and Phimai in Laos. Marking the end of the harvest season, it generally lasts for three days, during which time Cambodians clean and decorate their houses, make offerings at the local temple and throw water at each other as a form of blessing. City streets are decorated and brightly lit in the evenings and special cultural, entertainment and sporting events are organised especially for the occasion.

Bonn Visak Bochea is a nationwide festival commemorating the day of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. Held during the sixth full moon of the lunar calendar, it involves chanting, sermons and a candlelit procession to the wat. Later the same month, Bonn Chrat Preah Nongkol, the “Royal Ploughing Ceremony”, is a festival that dates back to the times when the reigning king traced the first furrows in the capital's sacred rice field, thus inaugurating the ploughing season. Today, the ritual is performed at the start of the rainy season in late May each year, with representatives of the king taking the role of King Meakh, who leads the yoke and plough, and Queen Mehour, who sows the seeds. After circling the field three times, the procession stops at a shrine where Brahmins invoke the protection of the gods. Sacred cows are then brought to eat from seven silver trays containing such things as rice, corn, beans, sesame seeds, grass, water and wine, and predictions are made for the coming year based upon what they select. The harvest will be good if they choose the cereals, rain will be abundant if they drink water, but trouble is feared if they eat herbs or drink alcohol.

In June is the International Childrens' Day. Some NGO's organize special activities for children. For the rest the day goes by unnoticed.

Bonn Chol Vassa is the start of Buddhist Lent. It is held in mid July for two days and coincides with the eighth full moon of the lunar calendar. This festival marks the beginning of the three-month Buddhist lent, when Buddhist monks fast and meditate. Young men consider this festival auspicious for entering the monkhood.

Although there are no important festivals in August, there are always plenty of cultural events going on, be it exhibitions, live performances or other.

Mid Autumn Festival is held in September-October. Celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese communities throughout the country during the middle of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, the Mid Autumn Festival is a time for moon cakes and lanterns. The Constitution Day on the 24th of September is a national holiday celebrating the formal adoption of the Constitution of Cambodia in 1993.

In September-October, Bonn Pchum Ben, the “Spirits of the Dead Festival” is celebrated. Running for 15 days, this festival is dedicated to blessing the spirits of the dead, and is one of the most culturally significant events in Cambodia. Each household visits its local wat and offers food to the monks for their assistance in blessing the souls of late ancestors, relatives and friends. Pagodas are crowded with people taking their turn to make offerings, with many staying behind to listen to Buddhist sermons. Later, in October-November, Bonn Kathen - End of Buddhist Lent. It starts immediately after the last day of lent and lasting until the next full moon. This religious festival marks the emergence of monks from retreat. People all over the country form reverent slow processions to their local temple to offer them robes and other items, thereby bringing spiritual merit to all participants. 23rd October is a national holiday that celebrates the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement of 1991

Each year 9 November is a national holiday, held to celebrate the independence of Cambodia from France in 1953. A gala parade is held in front of the Royal Palace, which includes floats, marching bands and other entertaining festive activities. The Water Festival in November, Bonn Om Touk, also takes place in November. The Tonle Sap River is the only waterway in the world which flows in opposite directions at different times of the year. For most of the year the river flows out from the lake into the Mekong. However, during the rainy season from about June to October the Mekong rises, causing the Tonle Sap River to reverse its direction and the lake to swell to more than twice its regular size. At the end of the rainy season, when the water level of the Mekong drops again, the current reverts and flows back into the Mekong. This unique natural phenomenon is celebrated with three days of boat races, fairs, festivals, shows, parades, fireworks, music and dancing.

The Angkor Festival (November or December) 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. King Sihanouk often attended when he was in residence in Siem Reap and other dignatories come to witness this wonderful spectacle. The Angkor Wat International Half Marathon is also held in December. This International Half Marathon is held at Angkor Wat and attracts competitors from all over the world. Thousands of people come to see this international event held in the spectacular setting that is Angkor.

Web design - Xerintel
+855 (0)12 967 901
[email protected]
Earthwalkers’ · Sala Kanseng Village · Sangkat No. 2 · Siem Reap ·
Photogallery: TIM CROCKATT