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Cambodian New Year: A Guide for Travelers

Article by GVI


Posted: February 6, 2023

Cambodian New Year, also known as Chaul Chnam Thmey, is a vibrant festival that celebrates the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a new year. This three-day festival is held in mid-April and is a time for families to come together, reflect on the past year, and look forward to the future with hope and happiness. Here’s a guide to help you understand and experience the best of Cambodian New Year.

The History and Significance of Cambodian New Year

Cambodian New Year has been celebrated for thousands of years and has deep roots in the country’s Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The festival is celebrated by all Cambodians, regardless of religion or background, and is a time for families to come together, clean and decorate their homes, and pay their respects to ancestors and the gods.

What to Expect During Cambodian New Year

Cambodian New Year, also known as Choul Chnam Thmey, is a time of celebration and reflection for the Cambodian people. This annual event takes place in April and is a time for families to come together and mark the end of one year and the start of another. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at the traditions and customs of Cambodian New Year and provide some travel tips for those looking to experience the festivities.

The Traditions of Cambodian New Year

  • Cleaning the House: Before the New Year begins, families will clean their homes to symbolise a fresh start and to sweep away any bad luck from the previous year.
  • Offering Food to Ancestors: It’s customary for families to make offerings of food and drinks to their ancestors, asking for their blessings and protection in the coming year.
  • Spending Time with Family: New Year is a time for families to come together, and many will take time off work to spend with their loved ones.
  • Water Festival: One of the most famous parts of Cambodian New Year is the water festival. During this time, people will splash water on one another to symbolise the washing away of bad luck and to bring good luck for the coming year.

Travel Tips for Celebrating Cambodian New Year

  • Book Accommodations Early: With so many people travelling to be with their families, it’s important to book your accommodations well in advance to avoid disappointment.
  • Be Respectful of Customs: When visiting Cambodia during New Year, it’s important to be mindful of the local customs and traditions. Dress modestly and avoid using your camera in religious settings.
  • Try the Local Food: New Year is a great time to try traditional Cambodian cuisine. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to sample dishes like fish amok, kdam chaa (stir-fried crabs), and bai sach chrouk (pork and rice).
  • Visit the Water Festival: If you’re in Cambodia during New Year, make sure to check out the water festival. It’s a unique and lively experience that you won’t want to miss.

Cambodian New Year is a time of celebration and reflection for the Cambodian people. Whether you’re visiting Cambodia or simply want to learn more about the country’s customs, this guide provides a comprehensive look at the traditions of New Year and some tips for experiencing the festivities. With its unique customs and lively atmosphere, Cambodian New Year is a celebration not to be missed.

Tips for Experiencing Cambodian New Year

  • Visit a Temple: One of the most beautiful and meaningful ways to experience Cambodian New Year is to visit a temple during the festival. Many temples host special ceremonies and celebrations, and offer visitors the chance to participate in water blessings and other rituals.
  • Try Traditional Foods: Cambodian New Year is a time of feasting, and there’s no better way to experience the festival than by trying some of the delicious traditional foods that are prepared. Be sure to try bamboo soup, rice cakes, and other specialties.
  • Watch a Traditional Dance Performance: Cambodian dance is an important part of the country’s cultural heritage, and there are many traditional dance performances to enjoy during the festival. Whether you’re watching a classical dance or a lively folk dance, you’re sure to be entertained.
  • Participate in the Games: Cambodian New Year is also a time for games and fun. Join in the celebrations by participating in traditional games, such as tug-of-war or jumping rope.
  • Respect the Culture: As a traveller, it’s important to show respect for the culture and customs of Cambodia. Dress modestly, be mindful of your surroundings, and always be polite and courteous.

Celebrating Cambodian New Year is a truly unforgettable experience, offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the country’s rich culture and history. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveller, this festival is a must-see event that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

If you’re looking for an even more immersive and meaningful way to experience Cambodian New Year, you could join a GVI volunteer program. GVI is a global organisation offering volunteer opportunities in Cambodia, including women’s empowerment, gender equality and teaching English.

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