As with Cambodia’s neighbouring countries, the festivals of the country follow the lunar calendar, so the dates vary from year to year. Some of the most important festivals include:
Late January or early February
Chinese or Lunar New Year
Joul Chnam Khmai
Khmer New Year is the most important festival in the Cambodian calendar, like Christmas, New Year and birthdays all rolled into one. This three-day celebration often extends to a week. Cambodians make offerings at their local wat (temples), clean their homes and generally engage in much revelry. Water throwing, as in neighbouring Thailand, is neither part of the festival nor the culture so you will not see it during this holiday period.
Chat Preah Nengkal
The Royal Ploughing ceremony (which takes place in front of the National Museum in Phnom Penh) is a ritual agricultural festival in which the royal oxen determine whether it will be a good harvest or a bad one.
This celebrates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinibbana (passing into nirvana). The festival is best seen at Angkor Wat, where there is a candle-lit procession of monks.
Mid-September or early October
This festival is a kind of All Souls’ Day, when respects are paid to dead relatives through offerings made at the local temple. Most Cambodians return to their home provinces to pay their respects to their departed family.
Late-October or early-November
Bon Om Tuk or Water Festival
This commemorates Jayavarman VII’s victory over the Chams in 1177. It coincides with the unique event where the water from the Mekong River reverses in direction and empties into the mighty Tonle Sap lake. This is one of the most important festivals in the Khmer calendar and a lively time to be in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap where boat racing is the highlight of the 3-day festival. Teams of boat racers from all over the country descend on Phnom Penh to compete in the annual races with their families and fans, and the capital becomes overcrowded.