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Khmer New Year & Angkor Sankranta – 2017

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

April holds special significance for the Journeys Within team as Khmer New Year, or Choul Chnam Thmey, falls during this month.  Khmer New Year falls at the end of the dry (harvest) season in Cambodia, before the rains return.  Many locals head home to their villages to be with their families during this time, although hundreds of thousands of local people also flock to the Angkor Park to celebrate their heritage.  If you are visiting Cambodia, you may notice decorations such as stars and lights hung out in front of each house.  Khmer New Year represents a special opportunity for travelers to partake in the local culture and customs, but be advised that destinations such as Siem Reap will be particularly busy, and many businesses (such as banks) will likely be closed for the holiday.

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

Here is a brief overview of the three main days of Khmer New Year:

 Day 1: Maha Sangkran

Maha Sangkran is the first day of the Khmer New Year.  Locals dress up formally, and visit their local temples to offer thanks to Buddha for his teachings by lighting candles, burning incense, and kneeling three times before a statue of Buddha. To bring good luck in the New Year, Khmers wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening.

 Day 2: Virak Vanabat

Vireak Vanabat marks the second day of the New Year and this day set aside to help others by donating to charity, and paying respect to elders, parents, teachers by giving gifts.  Many families also attend dedication ceremonies at their local temples to pay respect to their ancestors.

 Day 3: Vearak Loeng Sak

The third day of the Khmer New Year is T’ngai Loeng Sak.  In order to wash away past negative deeds and to bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life, Buddha statues and family elders are washed with perfumed water.

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

Although Khmer New Year has been celebrated in the month of April since the end of the Angkor Period, this will only be the 5th year that the special celebrations at Angkor Wat will take place.  These celebrations are known as Angkor Sankranta, and the festivities are becoming more and more spectacular each year.  Last year, more than a million visitors took part in these celebrations, which include traditional dances, Bokator (Khmer martial arts), games such as rope-pulling, Bas Angkulh, Haol Chhoung  and Leak Kanseng, along with exhibitions and concerts.  You can catch a sneak preview of what to expect with this YouTube clip.  Travelers can also visit the Angkor Park after hours during the New Year to see the temples lit up at night, which is not permitted throughout the rest of the year, and no temple passes will be required for night entry.  During the day, guests can celebrate the New Year with the throngs of locals partaking in the traditional games.

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

If you are interested in partaking in the festivities – let us know and we can incorporate Khmer New Year into your tour, with a Journeys Within guide to explain the significance of each cultural activity, and to help translate for you.

Here is a quick overview of the Angkor Sankranta schedule this year:

April 13th:

8:00 am – Blessing Ceremony (Boung Soung)

April 14th:

3:12 am – Reception of the Arrival of the New Year Tevada

8:00 am – Opening Ceremony

4:00 pm – Angkor Sankranta Friendship Tug of War (Teanh Proat)

5:00 pm – Khmer Popular Games and Traditional Dance Show

6:00 pm – Floating Lanterns Ceremony

7:00 pm – Khmer Classical Theater: “One Century of History of the Cambodian Royal Ballet”

April 15th:

8:00 am – Visiting Pagoda and Sand Mounding Ceremony (Poon Phnom Khsach)

4:00 pm – Angkor Sankranta Parade “Sabathrath Khemara”

30 pm – Mask Theater (L’khoan Khaol) “Heroic of Hanuman”

April 16th:

8:00 am – Angkor Sankranta Chess Championship Final

11:00 am – Awarding Ceremony: Photo Competition “Selfie@ Angkor Sankranta”

2:00 pm – Bathing of Buddha Statue Ceremony (Srang Preah)

3:00 pm – Awarding Ceremony: Oxcart/Buffalo Racing at Road 60 Market – Kyung Yu Fun Fair

5:00 pm – Khmer Popular Games and Traditional Dance Show

6:30 pm – Angkor Sankranta Concert “We Believe in Cambodia”

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

These events will be ongoing from the 14th – 16th, from 8am to 8pm:

  1. Nearyrath Garden
  2. My Village
  3. “Happy Khmer New Year” Concert
  4. Khmer Popular Games
  5. Wet Zone
  6. Cambodian Product Fair
  7. Cultural Heritage Preservation
  8. Chess Tournament
  9. Floating Lanterns
  10. Bokator Martial Art Performance
  11. Classical, Traditional & Popular Games
  12. Kids Zone
  13. Live Painting
  14. Desert of Love “Bun Dalean Phumi Knhom” at Siem Reap’s Royal Gardens
  15. Oxcart/Buffalo Racing at Road 60 Market / Kyung Yu Fun Fair

You can find out a bit more about local Khmer New Year traditions in our previous blogs:

Khmer New Year Rolls Around Again!

Happy New Year — the remix

A Regional Celebration

Southeast Asia 2011: Cambodian festivals and events

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

A Regional Celebration

Those lucky enough to be travelling Southeast Asia this week are privy to a the area’s largest annual celebration. If you are travelling through Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar or Laos keep your eyes open for signs of Buddhist New Year celebrations. Even the elephants are looking forward to it…

2013 elephants

Thailand’s Songkran, Laos’ Bun Pi Mai, Cambodia’s Chol Chnam Tmei and Myanmar’s Thingyan are all celebrated over the course of the next week. Scheduled for the end of planting season, the New Year’s celebrations are akin to an Asian Christmas season.

Workers take time off to head back to their hometowns to spend time with their families — be warned  this may mean business closures! For those wanting to get in the spirit, the mild inconveniences of the holidays are outweighed by the opportunity to take in the brightly coloured decorations, jovial locals and the regional customs of the year’s biggest holiday.

Pagodas are a popular destination throughout the region, from Siem Reap to Mandalay, Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai, Buddhists take time to visit their local Pagodaa to make offerings, cleanse their spirits with water and reconnect.

New Year is also time for party. In Thailand, particularly Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Songkran is celebrated  with city-wide water fights while Angkor Wat gets illuminated and prepared for a three day dance party.

All are welcome to take part in these celebrations, both big and small. Like the Christmas season, the New Year is a time of generosity, warm smiles and cheer.

From Cambodia, Journeys Within would like to wish everyone a happy Khmer New Year!

Susdei Ch-nam Tmei !

For those looking for the closest celebration in your area, feel free to ask us on twitter @journeys_within!

Happy New Year — the remix

During a recent trip with Journeys Within, Christine Beebe and her daughter got to take part in a Baci ceremony while in Laos; it became one of the highlights of their time in Southeast Asia. With New Year celebrations taking place across the region, the upcoming weekend is the perfect time to get a feel for local festivities…

Lao Baci Ceremony, Ban Xing Village

One of the best parts about traveling and experiencing a cultures is the opportunity to take part in celebrations you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to.

For those lucky enough to be in Southeast Asia this time of year, it is definitely time to get out there and join in the party. This upcoming weekend is a big one for the region, with Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar all celebrating the solar New Year.

While the celebrations do mean minor inconveniences — business closures, busier roads and a lag in garbage collection — it is also the ultimate opportunity to join in the fun and surely make memories that will last a lifetime. You can also bet that some of the best meals of the year will be served in the upcoming week as families and friends gather around the table this holiday season.

While New Years in Southeast Asia may lack the glitz, glamour and champagne of its December 31 counterpart, it is an opportunity to see normally reserved communities cut loose. Why not join them?

Cambodia – Chol Chnam Thmey (Khmer New Year)

Khmer new year
Khmer New Year parade.

Marking the end of harvest season is Cambodia’s biggest holiday, Khmer New Year. The three-day celebration, running from April 13-15, is a time for Khmer families to reconnect.

Day one, Moha Songkran welcomes new angels for the upcoming year. Houses are cleaned, offerings are made and in traditional households, this day presents a rare opportunity for men and women to mingle freely — keep your eyes peeled for budding romances.

Day two, Vanabot or Wanabot, is the ‘day of giving.’ This is a day to honour your elders and to give to those less fortunate.

Day three, Tanai Lieang Saka, is the new ‘beginning.’ Officially the first day of the new year, this is the day families and friends join together to play games and celebrate the upcoming year.

These three holidays mark a break from the hard work of daily life for Cambodians, with farmers coming in from the fields and urban dwellers returning to their homelands. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh will seem deserted this time a year, though if you are looking for local colour, you could always visit the pagodas where Khmers will congregate to play ancient games and watch traditional performances. Just keep your eyes open for prankster throwing talcum powder!

For those in Phnom Penh, check out Wat Phnom to get in on the festivities, while those lucky enough to be in Siem Reap can head to Angkor, where a temporary village has been erected for the party.

Thailand – Songkran (Thai New Year)

During Sangkran, the Thai New Year, Banglaphu district, Bangkok, Thailand
A group of local kids taking part in the Thai tradition of ‘purifying’ with water on New Year’s Day.

Seal your cell phone in a plastic bag and waterproof your camera, because the Thai version of a New Year celebration is a wet one. Known as the Water Festival, Songkran runs from April 13-16. While it is a time for purification, the holiday is best known for being a wide-spread water fight.  Leave you whites and your good clothes at home if you plan to take part is this holiday. Those who are traveling with kids are encouraged to let them join in the fun!

Day one, Wan Sungkharn Long, Thais prepare for the new year by cleaning their homes and heading off to temple to make their offering.

Day two, Wan Nao, is the most delicious day, when foods are prepared to be brought to temples.

Day three, Wan Thaloeng Sok, is New Year’s Day notorious for its street water fights.

Day four, Wan Parg-bee, is to honour the elders. Rose water is often poured over their shoulders as a sign of respect.

Parades, dance performances and traditional ceremonies can be found all around Thailand, though the North is known for their joyous celebrations.

Fitting with the Thai belief that water washes away bad luck, they spend New Year’s Day days dousing one another, as well as passersby, from buckets, water guns and hoses.  Be prepare; if you are heading out onto the street you are considered fair game! Luckily the weather in April means you won’t stay wet for long.

Laos — Pi Mai Lao (Laos New Yeah)

laos new year
A couple of novice monks joke around during the Water Festival in Laos.

A more gentle version of the Thai New Year, Pi Mai Lao is another wet, albeit less wild, occasion. Like the other New Years taking place across the region, this three-day festival running April 13-15  is about rebirth and purification.

Day one, Sangkhan Luang, is for people to prepare for the New Year by cleaning their houses and seeking blessing by building sand alters decorated with small triangle flags or money.

Day two, Sangkhan Nao, is neither part of the old or new year. Known as the day of rest, feel free to relax because work is forbidden on this day. One of the fun activities that is allowed is the customary throwing of water on friends and passersby. The evenings are celebrated with food, drink and an abundance of traditional dancing.

Day three, Sangkhan Kheun Pi Mai, is the start of the new year and a day to gain merit. The youth rinse their elders with rose and jasmine scented water to show respect and offerings are brought to temples.

If you are looking to get into the spirit of thing, head to the capital city of Vientiane, the former capital Luang Prabang, Pakse or Savannakhet, where the major festivities will be concentrated.

If you aren’t near a major centre you can still take part in the fun. In homes through out the country, families will take part in blessing ceremonies (Suukhwan or Baci) that wish participants good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

Myanmar – Thingyan (Myanmar New Year)

Ethnic Rakhine girls play with water as they celebrate Thingyan, Myanmar's new year water festival, in central Yangon

Unlike the rest of the region, Thingyan is based on the Buddhist version of a Hindu myth. In keeping with its neighbors, Burma celebrates the New Year with similar style water festivals across the country. Taking place from April 13-16, Thingyan is said to break down the barrier between the old and young, the rich and poor; a day when cultural and economic barriers are eliminated.

This is also the time of year when people show their gratitude and seek blessing for the new year by giving offerings at temple.

While large scale concerts are planned for the major cities, like Yangon and Mandalay, villages across the country will be taking time together to celebrate, which means large scale water fights wherever you go. Remember to take the splashing in stride and to not appeared bothered less you risk angering the deity Thagyamin.

Tips to enjoying a Southeast Asian New Year:

– Dress accordingly. In Thailand, Laos and Myanmar you are likely to get wet so don’t go out in your Sunday best. By the same token, remember these are traditional holidays, so show respect by keeping shoulders and knees covered.

– Be prepared to give. Like the Christmas season elsewhere, the solar New Year is a time to be generous with those less fortunate.

– Get out there and have fun. If you put yourself out there and act respectfully, most locals will be more than happy to include you in their own celebrations.

Khmer New Year Rolls Around Again!

By: Heather Van Hull, Booking and Social Media Coordinator- Cambodia

Its New Years time again in Cambodia!  For 2012, the New Year dates are the 13-16 April (next week!).  The New Year will mark the end of Buddhist year 2555 and the start of year 2556, the year of the Dragon.

Traditionally in Cambodia, the New Year is celebrated over three days (although many Khmer people return to their villages for a full week to spend time with family), each of which holds a special meaning:

Day 1 – Maha Songkran

This day marks the start of the New Year.  Today, people dress in their finest to visit shrines or temples where they pay homage to Buddha and his teachings by leaving offerings of flowers and incense.  Food prepared during this time is also offered to monks at the temples.

Today people also start to build small mountains from sand on temple grounds.  The sand mountains symbolize Mount Meru (the same mountain represented in the architecture of Angkor Wat)- the mythical Hindu mountain thought to be the center of the universe and home of the gods.  Each bit of sand added to the mountain is believed to bring more health and happiness into people’s lives.

To bring in more good luck for the New Year, people also sprinkle holy water on each other’s faces in the morning, on their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening.

 Day 2 – Virak Wanabat

Today people do merit by helping the less fortunate, participating in service activities and forgiving others for past misdeeds.  They also pay respect to elders by giving gifts to parents, grandparents, teachers and others that play a large role in their lives.  Many families also attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the temple, paying respect to elders in a different way.

 Day 3 – Tngay Leang Saka

On the final day of the New Year celebrations, Buddhists cleanse their elders and statues of the Buddha with perfumed water; this act symbolizes hope for sufficient rainfall for the upcoming rice harvest and is also believed to bring longevity, good luck and happiness in life.   Today monks also bless the sand mountains that have grown in size since the first day of celebrations.

For travellers coming to Cambodia during this time it is a great chance to experience local life and customs.  However, be warned that public transportation schedules can be subject to change and transport prices tend to increase during the New Year week. 

Banks and many local businesses, especially those in non-touristic areas, will also be closed during this time.  Around more touristy areas in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh most restaurants and tourist-oriented businesses will remain open.   

Check back next week for photos and stories about New Years from our country directors!

Interested in how other parts of Southeast Asia welcome in the New Year?

Check out similar posts here: Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar

Southeast Asia 2011: Cambodian festivals and events

Here are the festivals and events that Narla and Brandon are looking forward to this year. Come over for a visit during one of them!

Any exciting events in your country in 2011? Festivals?  Special occasions?

Cambodia has more holidays than just about anywhere. From International Labor day, Woman’s rights day, Liberation day, to the birthday of the King or his Father, odds are it will be a holiday when you get here or you will have just missed one. But with all the holidays its impossible for Cambodians to make a big deal of them all, but there are three holidays that Cambodians go all out for.

1. The boat races. Each year in November teams go head to head paddling just as they would have during the time of Angkor. The population of Phnom Penh doubles and almost all of them are lined up along the river to watch and cheer the event. If the crowds in Phnom Penh are too much, Siem Reap has races down its small river with smaller boats and smaller crowd sizes. There are still lots of people, especially from the surrounding countryside, that come to enjoy the fun.  This festival will be November 9th to 11th.

Paddling hard to beat the competition in Siem Reap
The competition

2. Cambodian New Year. If you’re here for New Year don’t plan on getting a lot done, as most businesses close. This is the holiday where family gets together, and everyone is either going to a party or holding a party of their own. Despite the government’s efforts to stop it, there is a good chance you will have water thrown on you or powder put on your face; Cambodians believe everyone should be having as much fun as they are during this festival. April 14-16th.

Even Buddha gets washed on Khmer New Year

3. Pchum Ben holiday is not quite the party that New Years or the boat festival is because this holiday is a religious occasion. During Pchum Ben, Cambodians wake up early to get to their local Wat before sunrise and make an offering. If you are interested in Cambodian Buddhism or want to know more about the religion, this is a great time to come. The big ceremony will be celebrated on October 26th to 28th

Families make offerings at a local Wat for their ancestors