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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