Tips for travelers when visit Cambodia at Khmer New Year
Posted Date: 7/5/20134:04 AM
The holiday lasts for three days usually starting on April 13th or 14th. The farmers enjoy the fruits of their harvest and relax before the rainy season begins. It’s a very popular festival and is spread over three days:
• Maha Songkran: is the name of the first day of the new year celebrations. It is the ending of the year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up and light candles and burn incense sticks at temples. The members of each family offer thanks for the Buddha’s teachings and for good luck people wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed.
• Virak Wanabat is the second day of the Cambodian new year celebrations. People contribute charity to the less fortunate, help the poor, servants, homeless people, and low-income families. Families may also attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the monastery.
• Tngay Leang Saka is the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhists cleanse the Buddha images and elders with perfumed water. It is thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By bathing their grandparents and parents, children can obtain from them best wishes and good advice for the future.
Khmer New Year still stands apart as one of the major festivals in the calendar. There’s plenty of fun to be found, but visitors should be prepared for busy roads, closed banks and increased interest in their personal belongings.
Khmer New Year celebrations begin with a rush to the countryside. Families pack their SUVs and shared minibuses full to bursting with tinselled presents, pagoda offerings and new clothes to return to their home province for three days of celebrations. On village roads, barricades are set up by groups of youngsters armed with water bombs and white powder. Passing motorbikes are drenched and dusted to howls of delight, before a small fine is demanded to allow passage. These 500 riel dues are spent on yet more ammunition, ensuring the fun continues all day.
Houses are given some glitz with tinsel decorations and fairy lights, with an offering table of banana leaves, candles and incense placed outside. Families gather to drink, eat and dance to unbelievably loud music. Special games, reserved for the holiday, get underway with teams of enthusiastic teenagers making the most of flirting opportunities. Bos Chhoung involves two teams singing a traditional song and throwing a balled scarf at their love interests. A cross between petanque and bowling, Bos Angkunh uses big fruit seeds as targets and ball, with the losers having their knees pounded by two seeds knocking together. The name for the seed in Khmer sounds like the word for ‘knee’ so it’s perfectly logical, as well as painful.
In Phnom Penh, your best chance of seeing and joining in these games is at the Vietnamese Friendship park opposite Wat Botom, or coming across a bunch of teenagers playing in the streets in the evening. For a village experience, arrange a trip to Kandal province (just across the Mekong river) with a motodop or tuk tuk, and remember to take plenty of small notes for the ‘tolls’ and prepare to get wet (and while you’re in Kandal — check out the pagodas). There’s usually fireworks near the riverside and those who haven’t escaped the city will be making parties of their own, spilling out into the streets.
While Khmer New Year is fun, it can also be frustrating for visitors. Banks, embassies and many businesses will be closed, so if you need to get a visa or make onward travel plans, you’ll need to think ahead. Tourist attractions such as museums also shut down, and there’s less choice of restaurants and bars than usual. Those that are open will usually have less staff, so a little patience may be required. Transport providers also go home for the holidays — expect to be asked for a little extra on the fare when you do find a tuk tuk driver who’s willing to work.
Finally, the run up to Khmer New Year has been dubbed ‘robbery season‘ as bag snatching and thefts increase. Take extra care and be vigilant, so you don’t start the New Year subsidising someone else’s party.
Susadai Chnam Thmei! (Happy New Year!)