Cambodia’s grandest celebration

Hiezle M. Bual / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Although Khmer New Year is not strictly a religious celebration, Cambodians go to pagodas and offer prayers. Chor Sokunthea

The Khmer New Year or Choul Chnam Thmey marks the end of the harvest season. But how is the New Year really celebrated in the country? Hiezle M. Bual tries to find out.

In this age of social media and selfies, no one dares to miss a single snap in every celebration –from Facebook Live to Instagram Stories to ATM (at the moment) Twitter updates – the celebrations extend from one screen to the rest of the world.

As the New Year approaches, we ask: have we remained faithful to the old ways of celebrating Choul Chnam Thmey? Or, has the digital evolution already infiltrated our traditions?

The Khmer New Year or Choul Chnam Thmey, which means “Enter New Year”, marks the end of the harvest season. It’s the time for farmers to take a break and have some well-deserved leisure time.

A traditonal Khmer New Year dance called ‘trot’ is performed to attract good luck and prosperity for the year. Photo: Chor Sokunthea

Unlike most celebrations which are set to the Lunar calendar, the Khmer New Year follows the Gregorian format.

In Phnom Penh, it’s expected to be quiet and normal as most of the people, locals and tourists alike, leave the capital to visit their provinces or travel to other parts of the country.

But of course, fun activities still abound across the city – from free concerts at Koh Pich to special offers from hotels and restaurants. Not to mention that our favourite stores go on big sales, too.

Some Khmers also visit the northeast to spend time with nature and plunge into natural waterfalls with family and friends.

The majority flock to Siem Reap, where the grand celebration takes place. Thousands of people are expected to join the festivity, which features traditional dances, games and rice cakes.

Of course, what’s the New Year celebration without the street food stalls around the park, the ball games, tug-of-war, buffalo and ox cart racing that draw crowds?

But more than the games, parties and crowded events, how is Khmer New Year really celebrated? Here are the different traditions on each day. (source:

Day 1: Maha Songkran

On the first day of Khmer New Year, people put fruit in front of their houses as an offering to the gods. They believe that the new gods will come to take nourishment from the fruits and give their blessings to the home.

Traditional games never fail to bring fun and excitement among Cambodians during the festivity. Photo: Chor Sokunthea

Day 2: Virak Vanabat

On the second day, people visit their relatives, give gifts to their parents, have a nice lunch with them or visit somewhere together.

Day 3: Vearak Loeng Sak

On the last day, people bathe statues of Buddha and their parents and grandparents with water blessed by monks. In Khmer language, we say “Srong Tek”. This is a way to respect the Buddha and your parents, wish them a healthy and long life, and ask their forgiveness for past wrongdoings.

But, as Cambodia tirelessly welcomes technological advances and foreign influences, do New Year traditions remain relevant? Have people, the young especially, switched to more convenient, ‘cooler’ and modern ways to join in the festivity?

Here’s what influential online personalities have to say about the Kingdom’s most important celebration:

Kounila Keo – founder of

Kounila Keo, best describes her plans for the holiday as a quiet time to relax and reflect on what has happened in the past months. It’s her way of evaluating herself and the things around her.

She’s excited about the road trips and adventures coming her way.

When asked how she’s going to promote the celebration to the rest of the world, she said, “Cambodia is a culturally rich country, and to attract tourists to visit the country, we should have ways to understand their needs when they visit ours. Creating digital contents about Phnom Penh and Cambodia is one of the ways to help them decide and plan their trip wisely”.

Neang Sovathana/DJ Nana – star at Radio 94 FM

Neang Sovathana or DJ Nana told her online and radio followers that Khmer New Year is the only time when all of her family members are present to bond and enjoy the holidays.

She looks forward to long drives and the rare time she can leave her phone unattended, free from work-related calls.

“Everything on my pages are for my Khmer fans, and that’s why I write everything in Khmer language. I usually write or post things related to valuing time with family, being proud to wear Khmer dress. For tourists, I would suggest of course to join all the main events being organised, but never forget to travel to the real village and witness the real celebration,” her thoughts when asked how is she going to use her online presence to promote the country and the festival.

Catherine Harry – “A Dose of Cath” video blogger

Catherine Harry best describes the holiday as “fun time with her boys”.

“I have four dogs, and I want to spend this upcoming Khmer New Year with them, my mom, and my boyfriend, so we’re trying to find a quiet place where we can all hang loose and enjoy the holiday.”

Students enjoy the long holiday by spending time with friends and play traditional games. Photo: Chor Sokunthea

The sense of festivity marking the beginning of the year gives her excitement while enjoying the peace and quiet Phnom Penh as well as the crowds in the holiday destinations.

When asked about what Cambodia has to offer through the Khmer New Year celebration, she said, “Despite everything that’s going on in Cambodia, it’s still a wonderful place to visit. There are still many places that remain untouched. I would suggest visiting the Northeast of the country, Kampot. There are secluded, yet beautiful parts of the country, should tourists look for a place to celebrate Khmer New Year in a low-key manner. Siem Reap would be huge during Khmer New Year. It’s something that they should experience at least once.”

Just like these personalities, you, too, can have a fruitful and fun-filled New Year celebration. You won’t run out of events to attend to as Cambodia has just so much to offer. And in whichever way you plan to spend it, always keep in mind the real essence and relevance of the celebration!

Sur S’dey, Chh’nam T’mey! May we all have a prosperous year ahead!


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