With some similarities to the Songkran new year festival celebrated in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, this year’s Khmer New Year takes place between Sunday 14 and Tuesday 16 April. Here’s our guide to enjoying the festivities in Cambodia’s temple town.
The three days of the traditional Khmer New Year
Other names for Khmer New Year include Chol Chnam Thmey and Angkor Songkran. Whatever you call it, you can expect a lively atmosphere and cheerful celebrations to take over the whole of Cambodia – including here in Siem Reap – as the country sees in the traditional new year. Khmer New Year celebrations place over three days, and each day of the festivities has particular significance.
Day one – Moha Songkran
Day one of the Khmer New Year celebrations is known as Moha Songkran, when traditional beliefs hold that a new god or angel takes responsibility for protecting the world in the coming year. Cambodians welcome this new god or angel, and set the stage for the new year to begin auspiciously, by cleaning and decorating their homes.
It’s common for Cambodian Buddhist families to visit their local temple to make merit at this time. Back home, they also put out a table of offerings such as fruits, cake, and special festival-worthy Khmer dishes. This offering table is also often decorated with incense sticks, flowers, and chains of flashing lights that are traditionally believed to hold the power to protect the house and its occupants over the coming 12 months.
Day two – Virak Wanabat
On the second day of Khmer New Year, known as Virak Wanabat, Cambodians remember others and do good deeds, particularly by offering gifts to one another, including to parents, grandparents, the elderly, children, and the less fortunate, as well as by visiting the local temple to receive blessings from monks and to remember ancestors. The hope is that performing these good deeds will set individuals up for good fortune themselves in the year to come.
Day three – Tanai Loeng Sak
By day three of Khmer New Year, it’s time for the focus to really turn to the new year itself. Tanai Loeng Sak, the name given to the third and final day of the festivities, is all about new beginnings. The occasion is marked by making more offerings to elders, and by returning to the local temple to bathe Buddha images and receive further blessings from monks.
The last day of Khmer New Year is also when the water pistols come out and things take on a livelier, more fun atmosphere. Don’t expect anything quite on the same scale as the raucousness of celebrations in Thailand and elsewhere, but it’s common for Cambodians – especially young people – to take to the streets for light-hearted water fights and the chance to really ring in the new year in a fun and festive way.
What to know about Khmer New Year in Siem Reap
There are few better places in Cambodia to celebrate Khmer New Year than Siem Reap. This already atmospheric and fun-loving town acquires extra festive energy for celebrations at this time of year. As well as the water fights you’re likely to witness (and join in with!) on the last day of Khmer New Year, Cambodians also like to roll-out traditional, light-hearted ball games and tug-of-war variants – passed down through generations – as a way to mark the occasion. And this wouldn’t be Cambodia without those games being accompanied by plenty of traditional Khmer singing and dancing.
That said, Cambodia remains a traditional agrarian society and, for vast swathes of the population, the Khmer New Year holiday marks the end of an exhausting farming season. It’s a chance to rest, recuperate, and spend time with loved ones. It’s common for Cambodians to live and work far from their families in the provinces where they grew up, and Khmer New Year gives them a rare opportunity to travel back to spend time with their family and friends – often for a week or more. That means it’s possible that your favourite coffee shop, bar or restaurant may be closed during the Khmer New Year period.
How to celebrate Khmer New Year 2019 in Siem Reap
Street parties for Khmer New Year fun
The best way to enjoy the Khmer New Year festivities is to join in with them! Keep an eye out for spontaneous street parties around Pub Street, along the Siem Reap river, and in the Royal Gardens – and then head along and partake in the fun. Expect the likes of live concerts, fireworks, and plenty of delicious Cambodian food and drink to tuck into.
Angkor Wat’s Angkor Sangkranta Festival
The annual Angkor Sangkranta Festival is a highlight of the Khmer New Year celebrations in Siem Reap. The festival takes place around Angkor Wat and elsewhere in the wider Angkor Archaeological Park, putting on traditional games, Cambodian martial arts, music, dancing, and plenty of the best Khmer street food you’ll find. Just be prepared to be part of a huge crowd from across the country looking to get involved!
Head to the local temple
There’s no better way to get a close-up on the traditional side to the Khmer New Year festivities – which arguably remains more accessible in Cambodia than in neighbouring countries like Thailand – than by simply taking a walk to the closest temple to your hotel in Siem Reap. Local temples and pagodas are always happy to welcome inquisitive visitors, and you’ll get a real feel for the day-by-day significance of the holiday to the Cambodian people.
Hotels in Siem Reap for Khmer New Year
Khmer New Year is a busy time in Siem Reap – attracting Cambodians from elsewhere around the country as well as foreign visitors – and it’s common for hotels and guest houses to be fully booked well ahead of time. Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel is perfectly placed to allow you to conveniently explore all the goings-on of Khmer New Year across Siem Reap, quickly reach the famous Angkor Wat temples, and enjoy seclusion when you want to just hide away and relax for a while.
Our 25 rooms cover every style of travel, from luxurious premium accommodations to affordable budget stays – all benefit from free breakfast (including vegetarian and vegan options, of course!), use of our gorgeous saltwater swimming pool, and access to our spa, breezy rooftop spaces, in-house yoga classes, and funky tropical restaurant, bar and garden, plus free airport pickup. Book direct with us for the best rates and perks every time – guaranteed.
Khmer New Year promotions at Baby Elephant
To help you celebrate Khmer New Year 2019 in style at Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel, we’re putting on an array of special promotions and deals for the festive season.
Our premium rooms have an additional 15% off our already extremely competitive online rates, all of which include daily à la carte breakfast, airport pickup, and a range of other perks. Our rates for direct booking already incorporate this 15% discount, and when you book direct with us you’ll also get a special welcome gift on arrival!
We’re also making it easier and more affordable than ever to have a great time by (or in!) our beautiful saltwater pool this Khmer New Year – enjoy two-for-one cocktails, spirits and mocktails during an extended happy hour from 12pm every day during Khmer New Year (usually 5-7pm daily), plus our deliciously refreshing house sangria for just $2 per glass all day long!
How will you be celebrating Khmer New Year in Siem Reap? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by Sam Sith; Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter; Mt.Nind; Narin BI