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Festivals and Events

Festivals and Events

Cambodians are always celebrating a festival of some sort, heading out to the pagoda with family and friends or taking off for the provinces; unsurprisingly, festivals are the busiest times for shopping and travelling.

The most significant festival of the year is Bonn Chaul Chhnam (Khmer New Year; April 13 or 14), when families get together, homes are spring-cleaned and people flock to the temples with elaborate offerings. Bonn Pchum Ben (late Sept), or “Ancestors’ Day”, is another key date on the festive calendar. Families make offerings to their ancestors in the fifteen days leading up to it, and celebrations take place in temples on the day itself.

Marking the start of the planting season in May, the ceremony of Bonn Chroat Preah Nongkoal (Royal Ploughing Ceremony), held at Lean Preah Sre park in Phnom Penh, combines animism, Buddhism and plenty of pomp. It begins with chanting monks asking the earth spirits for permission to plough. Then ceremonial furrows are drawn, rice is scattered and offerings are made to the divinities. The most important part of the ceremony, however, is what the Royal Bulls choose when offered rice, grain, grass, water and wine. Rice or grain augur well; water signifies rain; grass is a sign that crops will be devastated by insects; and wine, that there will be drought.

Though it has been cancelled for the last few years, the Bonn Om Toeuk (early Nov) water festival has traditionally been celebrated when the current of the Tonle Sap River, which swells so much during the rainy season that it actually pushes water upstream, reverses and flows back into the Mekong. The centre of festivities is Phnom Penh’s riverbank, where everyone gathers to watch boat racing, an illuminated boat parade and fireworks.

Buddhist offering days (exact dates vary according to the lunar calendar) are also colourful occasions: stalls do a roaring trade in bunches of flowers that are taken to temples and used to decorate shrines at home. Lotus buds – the traditional offering flower to the Buddha – are artistically folded to expose their pale-pink inner petals, while jasmine buds are threaded onto sticks and strings as fragrant tokens.

Calendar of public holidays

January 1 International New Year’s Day

January 7 Victory Day, celebrating the liberation of Phnom Penh from the Khmer Rouge in 1979

February (variable) Meak Mochea, celebrating Buddhist teachings and precepts

March 8 International Women’s Day

April 13/14 (variable) Bonn Chaul Chhnam (Khmer New Year)

April/May (variable) Visaka Bochea, celebrating the birth, enlightenment and passing into nirvana of the Buddha

May 1 Labour Day

May (variable) Bonn Chroat Preah Nongkoal, the “Royal Ploughing Ceremony”

May 13–15 (variable) King Sihamoni’s Birthday

June 1 International Children’s Day

June 18 Her Majesty the Queen Mother’s Birthday

September 24 Constitution Day

Late September/early October (variable) Bonn Pchum Ben, “Ancestors’ Day”

October 15 King Father’s Commemoration Day, celebrating the memory of Norodom Sihanouk

October 23 Anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords

October 29–November 1 (variable) King’s Coronation Day

November 9 Independence Day

Early November Bonn Om Toeuk, “Water Festival”

December 10 UN Human Rights Day


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