History & Tradition
Cambodia is located in south-east Asia and is bordered by Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. The population is around 14 Million with the majority being Buddhists (95%), followed by Muslims (2%), Christians (2%), and Animists (1%).

Cambodia or Kampuchea is the land of the Khmer, the dominant ethnic group in the area stretching from the present day into pre-history. The Angkorian era Khmer empire was centered in Siem Reap, and dominated the region from the 9th-15th century (802AD-1431/1432AD); at its peak, the Empire stretched across most of mainland Southeast Asia but by the 15th century the Empire was in political and territorial decline and under challenge from the rising Siam Kingdom of Sokhothey/Sokhothai (Ayudhaya) in today’s Thailand. By the 14th century Ayudhaya was staging regular incursions, culminating in the sacking of Angkor in 1431-32. Shortly thereafter the Khmer court of King Ponhea Yat left the Angkor capital city and established a new capital at Phnom Penh. With a very brief exception, the capital would never return to Angkor.

The choice to move the capital to Phnom Penh at the confluence of the Mekong was probably not only a strategic response to Ayudhhaya’s aggression but may have also reflected a tectonic economic shift. The 15th century was the beginning of a general rise in international commerce throughout the region and Phnom Penh was an ideal location for a trade center. The move may have reflected the country changing focus from the old Angkorian agrarian economy based in the country’s interior to a trade oriented economy based in a port town.

During the first royal occupation of Phnom Penh in the mid of 15th century, King Ponhea Yat set the foundations of city, establishing several Wats and laying out the town along moats/rivers which approximate the area and layout of modern central Phnom Penh. Wat Ounalom on the riverfront near the Royal Palace may even slightly pre-date King Ponhea Yat, making it the oldest known Buddhist foundation in the city.

Phnom Penh
Trade with China and other Asian kingdoms was well established in the Angkorian-era long before Phnom Penh was the capital. Boats traveling upriver to Angkor would pass Tonle Chaktomuk (Phnom Penh) which, due to its favorable location, was probably an active settlement at the time. After the capital moved from Angkor to Phnom Penh in the mid - 15th century, the city remained the capital only briefly. Before the century was out, the capital had been relocated to Longvek 46km up Tonle Sap River. Though it moved a few more times in the subsequent centuries (primarily between Longvek and Oudong,) the capital always remained within a few tens of kilometers of the Tonle Chaktomuk area.

Maritime trade increased dramatically throughout the region in the late 15th century, with international players from as far as Japan. Though the capital had moved from Phnom Penh, the town remained the center of international commerce for Cambodia. Sixteenth century Spanish and Portuguese records paint a picture of small but cosmopolitan port of trade hosting significant populations of Chinese, Malay, Cham, Japanese and some Europeans, all living in separate camps in and around the Phnom Penh area. Structures of wood and bamboo crowded the west bank of the Tonle Sap River and the great stupa on the hill of Wat Phnom was visible from the river, marking the town to arriving visitors.

Arriving in the early 16th century, the Portuguese and Spanish were the first Europeans to make contact with Cambodia, sending missionaries, establishing trade and eventually becoming deeply involved in the affairs of the Cambodian court. At the center of the drama were two larger-than-life characters, Spaniard Blaz Ruiz, Portuguese Diogo Veloso and their band. Arriving in the 1580s they ingratiated themselves to the Cambodian King, served him as a sort of Praetorian guard, were captured by, and then escaped the Siamese, retuned and murdered the new Khmer leader, fled to Laos, installed a new Khmer king in Cambodia, and amidst rising tensions, both died in 1599 coming to the aid of their compatriots in a battle between the Malay and Cambodians against the Spanish in Phnom Penh. The battle resulted in a massacre of the Spanish, bringing Spanish influence in Cambodia to an abrupt and permanent end.

In the 17th century, Phnom Penh continued to prosper and the Dutch East India Company became the dominant European trading partner, but this relationship also came to a dire end in Phnom Penh. In a tale less colorful than the Spanish adventure, after a lengthy trade and diplomatic dispute between the Dutch and the King of Cambodia, negotiations turned to violence. A Company ambassador was killed and captives taken. The Company sent war ships to force the issue with the King at Longvek. Once the ships had passed Phnom Penh on their way up the Tonle Sap, the Cambodians built two bridges across the river behind them, effectively blocking the river. Upon returning downstream the Dutch ships were trapped by the bridges at Phnom Penh and besieged by fire from both banks. They fought their way through in a day long battle but suffered very heavy losses. Like the Spanish, Dutch influence in Cambodia never recovered. Though the first British and French explorers would arrive in the mid 17th century, European interest in Cambodia waned until the French returned in force in the late 19th century.

The 19th Century
Squeezed between Siam and Vietnam, the 18th and 19th centuries were hard on Cambodia. At the beginning of the 19th century the capital returned to Phnom Penh for the first time in 300 years, but again only briefly. In 1813, during a period of Vietnamese influence, King Ang Chan built the palace Banteay Kev in Phnom Penh, but it burned in 1834 when a retreating Siamese army razed the city. The capital subsequently moved back to Oudong 35km away. It was not until the French arrived in the 1860s that it returned to Phnom Penh once again, this time permanently. At the time the area had a population of about 10,000 including a large Chinese sector as well as many other foreigners. It was a multi-ethnic port town of floating villages and wooden and bamboo houses, huts, shops and vendors lining a complex of paths and a single main road paralleling the riverfront. After a brief visit in 1859, traveler Henri Mouhot dubbed Phnom Penh “the great market of Cambodia."

French Colonial Indochina Era 
France gained colonial control of much of mainland Southeast Asia beginning in the 1860s, first taking portions of Cochin-china (southern Vietnam,) then Cambodia and the remainder of Vietnam and Laos, finally coalescing in 1887 into a federation of protectorates called French Indochina. Cambodia first came into the French sphere in 1863. Seeking assistance fending off Siam and Vietnam, and under pressure from France, Cambodian King Norodom signed a Protectorate agreement with France in August 1863. On French encouragement, the seat of government was officially moved from Oudong to Phnom Penh in 1866. It was only then that the city first began to take on the appearance of modern Phnom Penh.

The first modern stone structure to be built was the Royal Palace, opening in 1870. Soon thereafter the first stone 'Chinese shophouse-style’ buildings were constructed, initially appearing along the riverside near the Palace. The shophouse design is present across Southeast Asia and ubiquitous in Phnom Penh, characterized by rows of a deep, narrow apartment made up of a combined ground-floor businessfront and upstairs residence.

By the 1880s, early colonial buildings clustered near Wat Phnom but most of the rest of the city was a swampy place of wooden and bamboo buildings. In the 1880/90s fires periodically swept through sections of town, capped by the Great Fire of May 1894. After that brick and cement became the standard for new buildings. The 1890s saw an expanding population (50,000) and accelerated development including draining wetlands, constructing canals and bridges, expanding the Grand Rue along the river and the addition of several buildings such as the Post Office and Treasury Building which still exist today. The city stretched from the French Quarter around Wat Phnom south to Sihanouk Blvd, most squeezed within a few hundred meters of the river.

The 20th Century
France remained in control of Cambodia for most of the first half of the 20th century. Many classic colonial buildings were constructed including the Police Station (next to the Post Office,) the Hotel Le Royal and the large villas around the Royal Palace. By the 1930s the canals had been filled and turned into garden boulevards, which are now parks along Sihanouk Blvd and also Streets 108/106. As the population grew (109,000 in 1939) the city continued to expand, mostly westward into the wetlands, which were drained accordingly.

In 1935 the Boeung Deco lake was filled and the distinctive, domed, art deco 'Central Market' (Phsar Thmey) was built in its place, originally known as the ‘Grand Market’ when it opened in 1937. That same year the cyclo-pousse, the iconic bicycle rickshaw known the ‘cyclo’ was first introduced in the city. This was Phnom Penh at its colonial peak, reputed to be the most beautiful city in French Indochina.

Independence from France came in 1954, issuing in a period of considerable urban and commercial development and the beginning of the distinctive 'New Khmer Architecture,' reflected in existing structures such as the Independence Monument and Chaktomuk Theatre. Factories, roads, markets, power plants and hundreds of shophouse-style apartments were built, giving the city much of its current appearance. This all came to an abrupt end with the Lon Nol coup of 1970 and Cambodia's descent into war between the government and the communist Khmer Rouge (KR.) As the Khmer Rouge took over the countryside in the early 1970s Phnom Penh became swollen with refugees. In 1974 the city was lain siege and eventually cut off, finally falling to the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975. Three days after the fall the city was totally evacuated, leading to thousands of deaths. Though some workers and Khmer Rouge remained in Phnom Penh, the city was essentially a ghost town until the Khmer Rouge fled the invading Vietnamese army in December 1978 - January 1979, leaving behind evidence of their horrors such as the S-21 facility, now known as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

When people returned to the city after the Khmer Rouge period, it was a shambles, largely intact but thoroughly looted and neglected. Restarting the city began from scratch. As low level war continued in the western provinces, the 1980s saw Phnom Penh repopulated and revitalization begun. The city was scoured and basic services were re-established. Phnom Penh’s population grew from 100,000 at the end of 1979 to 615,000 by 1990.

In 1991 UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) began its 2 year administration of the country as part of a UN brokered peace agreement leading to national elections in 1993. After years of isolation, Cambodia was suddenly open for business. International investment started to flow into the country and Cambodia was back the tourist map as the newest adventure destination. The city saw the beginning of a period of economic and urban development that has continued to this day. There was a flurry of new construction in the 1990's including most of the distinctive 'wedding cake villas.' With the final demise of the Khmer Rouge in 1998 and increased stability, development accelerated. The 2000's have seen another boom in Phnom Penh. The city’s population has increased to near 2,000,000, there has been significant infrastructure improvement and recently the first high rise structures have been built, giving considerable change to the skyline and architectural character of the city. Phnom Penh is now a city in the midst of rapid change.


21th Century
Cambodia holds the general election every five years and currently the country is ruled by Prime Minister Hun Sen from the CPP (Cambodia Peoples Party). The next election will be held on July 28th 2013.


Throughout Cambodia is one of the Oldest Counties in Southeast Asia as well as having a long and colourful history, religion has been a major source of cultural inspiration. Over nearly two millennia, Cambodians have developed a unique Khmer belief from the gradual merging of indigenous animistic spiritual beliefs and the Indian religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. Indian culture and civilization, including its languages and arts reached mainland Southeast Asia around the 1st century AD. It is generally believed that seafaring merchants brought Indian customs and culture to ports along the Gulf of Thailand and the Pacific en route to trade with China. The Kingdom of Funan was most probably the first Khmer state to benefit from this influx of Indian ideas.


The Apsara performance is the traditional Cambodian depiction of the mythology of the Golden Land. No visit to Cambodia is complete without attending at least one traditional Khmer dance performance, often referred to as 'Apsara Dance' after one of the most popular Classical dance pieces. Traditional Khmer dance is better described as 'dance-drama' in that the dances are not merely dance but are also meant to convey a story or message. There are four main modern genres of traditional Khmer dance: 1) Classical Dance, also known as Court or Palatine Dance; 2) Shadow theater/puppet show; 3) Lakhon Khol; 4) Folk Dance.

As evidenced in part by the innumerable Apsara dancers that adorn the walls of Khmer temples accross Cambodia, dance has been part of Khmer culture for well over a millennium, although there have been breaks in the tradition over the centuries, making it impossible to precisely trace the source. Much of the traditional dance (especially Classical) is inspired by Angkorian-era art and themes, but the tradition has not been passed unbroken from the age of Angkor. Most traditional dances seen today were developed in the 18th through 20th centuries, beginning in earnest with a mid-19th century revival championed by King Ang Duong (reigned 1841-1869). Subsequent Kings and other Khmer Royals also strongly supported the arts and dance, most particularly Queen Sisowath Kossamak Nearireach (retired King Norodom Sihanouk's mother) in the mid-20th century, who not only fostered a resurgence in the study and development of Khmer traditional dance, but also helped move it out of the Palace and popularize it. Queen Sisowath Kossamak trained her granddaughter Princess Bopha Devi in the art of traditional dance from early childhood, and she went on to become the face of Khmer traditional dance in the 1950s and 60s both in Cambodia and around the world. Many traditional dances that are seen in performances today were developed and refined between the 1940s and 1960s under the guidance and patronage of Queen Sisowath Kossamak at the Conservatory of Performing Arts and the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. Almost all of the Theatrical Folk dances that are presented in modern performances were developed during this period. Like so much of Cambodian art and culture, traditional dance was almost lost under the brutal repression of the Khmer Rouge regime of the late 1970s, only to be revived and reconstructed in the 1980s and 90s due, in large part, to the extraordinary efforts of Princess Bopha Devi.

Classical dance, including the famous 'Apsara dance,' has a grounded, subtle, even restrained, yet feather-light, ethereal appearance. Distinct in its ornate costuming, taut posture, arched back and feet, fingers flexed backwards, codified facial expressions, slow, close, deliberate but flowing movements, Classical dance is uniquely Khmer. It presents themes and stories inspired primarily by the Reamker (the Cambodian version of the Indian classic, the Ramayana) and the Age of Angkor.

Folk Dance comes in two forms: ceremonial and theatrical. As a general rule, only Theatrical Folk Dance is presented in public performances, with Ceremonial Folk Dances reserved for particular rituals, celebrations and holidays. Theatrical Folk Dances such as the popular Good Harvest Dance and the romantic Fishing Dance are usually adaptations of dances found in the countryside or inspired by rural life and practices. Most of the Theatrical Folk Dances that are seen in performances today were developed at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh in the 1960s as part of an effort to preserve and perpetuate Khmer culture and arts.

Shadow theatre comes in two forms: Sbeik Thom (big puppets that are actually panels depicting certain characters from the story) and Sbeik Toot (small articulated puppets). The black leather puppets are held in front of a light source, either in front or behind a screen, creating a shadow or silhouette effect. Sbeik Thom is the more uniquely Cambodian, more formal of the two types, restricting itself to stories from the Reamker. The performance is accompanied by a traditional orchestra and narration, and the puppeteers are silent, moving the panels with dance-like movements. Sbeik Toot has a far lighter feel, presenting popular stories of heroes, adventures, love and battles, with or without orchestra and with the puppeteers often doing the narration.

Lakhon Khol is an all male masked theatre presenting exclusively stories from the Reamker/Ramayana.
Most dance performances in Siem Reap offer a mixture of Classical and Theatrical Folk dances. A few venues offer Shadow Theater. Many of the dance performances in Siem Reap consist of 4-6 individual dances, often opening with an Apsara Dance, followed by two other Classical dances and two or three Theatrical Folk dances. The Apsara Dance is a Classical dance inspired by the apsara carvings and sculptures of Angkor and developed in the late 1940s by Queen Sisowath Kossamak. Her granddaughter and protégé, Princess Bopha Devi, was the first star of the Apsara Dance. The central character of the dance, the Apsara Mera, leads her group of Apsaras through a flower garden where they partake of the beauty of the garden. The movements of the dance are distinctly Classical yet, as the dance was developed for theatrical presentation, it is shorter and a bit more relaxed and flowing than most Classical dances, making it both an excellent example of the movements, manner and spirit of Classical dance and at the same time particularly accessible to a modern audience unaccustomed to the style and stories of Khmer dance-drama.

Another extremely popular dance included in most traditional dance performances in Siem Reap is the Theatrical Folk Dance known as the 'Fishing Dance.' The Fishing Dance is a playful, energetic folk dance with a strong, easy-to-follow story line. It was developed in the 1960s at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh and was inspired by the developer's interpretation of certain rather idealized and stereotyped aspects aspects of rural life and young love. Clad in rural attire, a group of young men and women fish with rattan baskets and scoops, dividing their attention between work and flirtatious glances. Women are portrayed as hardworking, shy, demurring and coy, whereas the young men are strong, unrestrained, roguish and assertive. As the dance continues a couple is separated from the group allowing the flirtations between them to intensify, only to be spoiled by the male character playing a bit too rough, leading to her coy rejection. He pokes and plays trying to win her back, bringing only further rejection. Eventually he gently apologizes on bended knee and after some effort, draws a smile and her attention once again. Just as they move together, the group returns, startling the couple and evoking embarrassment as they both rush to their 'proper' roles once again. The men and women exit at opposite sides of the stage, leaving the couple almost alone, but under pressure of the groups, they separate, leaving in opposite directions, yet with index finger placed to mouth, hint of a secret promise to meet again. (In an interesting side note, placing one's index finger to the lips to denote quiet or secrecy is not, generally speaking, a gesture found in Cambodia, but is common in the West. Its employment in the dance probably indicates a certain amount of 'foreign influence' amongst the Cambodian choreographers when the dance was developed in the 1960s.)         

Performance Venues in Siem Reap:
There are occasional dance performances at the temples but most visitors attend one of the nightly dinner performances at a local restaurant. Dinner ordinarily begins at 6:00 to 7:00PM and dance performances at 7:30PM to 8:30PM, consisting of 4 or 5 dances, lasting about an hour in all.


Preah Reach Pithi Chrot Preah Neangkol - Royal Ploughing Ceremony

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony is an ancient royal rite held in Cambodia and Thailand to mark the traditional beginning of the rice-growing season. In Khmer it is called "Preah Reach Pithi Chrot Preah Neangkol."

In the ceremony, two sacred oxen are hitched to a wooden plough, and they plough a furrow in the ceremonial ground, while rice seed is sown by court Brahmins. After the ploughing, the oxen are offered plates of food; including rice, corn, green beans, potato, sesame, fresh – cut grass, water and rice whisky. Depending on what the oxen eat, court soothsayers make a prediction on whether the coming growing season will be bountiful or not. The ceremony is rooted in Brahman belief, and is held to ensure a good harvest.


Bon Om Tuk - The Dragon Boat Festival
This festival marks the end of the rainy season and occurs in November for three nights during the full moon. There are boat races in Siem Reap, Battambang, Takeo, and in other towns in Cambodia, but the biggest feastival of all is in Phnom Penh. Each year thousands of Cambodians descend on Phnom Penh from all over the country for the Dragon Boat Racing Festival. Villages send teams with their dragon boats to compete during the 3 day event. Racing takes place from around noon till sunset and one after another, two boats race each other from the Japanese Friendship Bridge downstream to the finish line in front of the Royal Palace. Over 350 boats participate annually.



There were naval battles between the Khmer and the Cham, who hailed from the Kingdom of Champa once located in Central Vietnam, prior to the 14th-15th Century. The two ancient rival kingdoms battled on the Tonle Sap Lake in 1177 A.D., which had accounts of a lake filled with blood after the Khmer naval victory. There are accounts in the 17th Century of the Pirogue Racing Festival witnessed by the French during their exploration of Cambodia. There are also accounts from the 12th Century by Chou Ta-kuan in 1296 A.D., a Chinese envoy who stayed at Angkor for one year, describing the Khmer-Angkor navy paddling in long boats that looked like a snake or sea serpent. In the Angkorian Period there were many waterways, including canals, altered rivers, reservoirs called barays (ba-rai), and huge pools called "sras" in the Khmer language. In those days, towns and cities were built near waterways and some places with extensive waterways are Kompong Chang Province (3 hours north of Phnom Penh), Siem Reap, the Tonle Sap Lake & River region, and the Mekong Delta region inhabited by Khmer Krom (southern Khmer or lowland Khmer).

The use of boats (tuk pronounced "tuke" = boat in Khmer) was an essential mode of transportation in the everyday lives of the ancient Khmers. Boats transported the stones used to build the many temples, monuments, and bridges of Angkor, from the Kulen Mountains located in Siem Reap. Boats were also the main means of transport for trade goods from India and China that came up through the ancient Khmer seaport of Oc-Eo (pronounced O-Keo) which was located in Kampuchea Krom, now in present day southern Vietnam on the Mekong River.

Other major centers were Angkor Borei, an ancient capital of the Nokor Phnom (Funan) era near the present day Cambodian and Vietnam border, and Prei Nokor in Kampuchea Krom in present day Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Long before Thailand had its floating markets and was called the “Venice of the East," ancient Angkor already had many such locations in it's empire.

The use of the long, naga serpent boats were good for strategic naval warfare, and for officials and royalty to get from one place to another, just like the use of the war elephants or ox carts on land, which are depicted on the bas-reliefs walls of the 12th Century Bayon Temple.

Other places in Asia and South Asia that have traditional long boat races include: Khmer Krom (ethnic Khmers living in present day Southern Vietnam), Thailand, Hong Kong, Laos, and Myanmar. In India, it is called snake boat racing.


Bun Pchum Ben - Ancestor's Day Festival
This is always celebrated in October and is one of the biggest holidays in Cambodia. The fifteenth day, of the tenth month, of the Khmer Buddhist calendar marks the Pchum Ben festival. This is a time when the spirits of dead ancestors come back to the earth, and the living can ease their suffering by offering them food to eat.

At four in the morning, nearly all of the residents of Phnom Penh and other towns gather at various temples with offerings of rice, which they toss on the ground, feeding the dead ancestors. It seems that some of the spirits have small mouths, so they have to use special rice. Many of the people throw sticky rice, which, apparently is easier for the spirits to eat. According to Buddhist beliefs, our lives after death, are determined by the actions that we took when we were living. Minor infractions would be punished with small punishments, such as being an unattractive spirit, or having a small mouth. With a small mouth, it is hard to eat.

Other, more severe punishments could include being crippled or having no mouth at all. At 8:00am, people return to the temples, with offerings for the monks. They don't just give food, but they also bring money and other things that the monks need.

At 10:00am the people return with more food, which will be shared between the monks and poor people. Because many Buddhist traditions relate to feeding the poor, disabled people crowd around the temple at this hour, begging for alms. Giving help to the less-fortunate, particularly during Pchum Ben, is a way to acquire merit. Many people explain that the offerings they make during the festival are to cancel out past sins.

Between 5:00 & 7:00pm there are more prayers for the dead, and at about 8:00pm the monks go to bed, because the people will come back to the temple at 4:00am the next morning, and they have to be up at 3:00am. Nowadays the festival lasts fifteen days, ending on the fifteenth of the month, but in ancient times, the traditional festival lasted three months, ending on the fifteenth day, of the tenth month of the year.

In the old days during the festival, the monks remained in doors and did nothing for three months. It was a time for monks to pray and meditate, and go deeper into their practice of Buddhism. But there was also another reason. In the past, poor people were invited to plant crops inside of the temple grounds, to supplement their diet. If the monks were active and walking around, they could destroy the young plants, so, they were commanded to stay indoors.

For the monks, the festival represents a special time of reflection, during which they can concentrate and purify their minds. They want to be free of vice, and remember the Buddhist commandments. These commandments include: Do not do harm or kill; Abstain from sex; Do not lie; Do not drink alcohol; Do not steal. If monks commit an infraction during the festival, they would not be permitted to take part, which would mean that they would not get any offerings. The last four days of the festival are public holidays in Cambodia, and most people go back to their home province where they were born, to be with their family.

People who consider themselves only marginally religious still take the Pchum Ben festival seriously. They feel a real obligation to feed their ancestors, so their suffering should not continue. Even those who have converted to Christianity, and attended church regularly, take time to make the early morning pilgrimage to the temple, and feed the ancestors.

It is as if their choice to convert was a personal decision, but one that should not be imposed on the spirits of those who came before. Historic records show that even under the Khmer Rouge, and later under the communists, prohibitions against religious worship were unenforceable during Pchum Ben. In fact, the prohibitions were eventually lifted, with the result that high ranking party members felt obligated to go to the temple with their superiors.

The Buddhist religion is such an integral part of the Khmer culture that political upheaval, economic crisis, the spread of foreign religions, or the intervention of modern society cannot shake the fundamental beliefs. Although many aspects of Khmer culture were lost during the Khmer Rouge Regime, Cambodians have managed to maintain their religious devotion, and their family-centered way of life.


Choul Chnam Thmey - Cambodian New Year – Khmer New Year
Cambodian New Year, or Choul Chnam Thmey, is celebrated for three days according to the lunar Calendar, and starts on the 13th or 14th of April. The New Year in Cambodia celebrates the end of the harvest season. 

Khmer New Year Traditions

During this period, people visit temples to get blessings from the monks. The people also build five sand hills on the temple grounds and decorate them with religious flags, one on the top and four around the sides. These sand hills are said to represent nirvana. 
The people have a tradition of sprinkling water on each others faces in the morning, and on the chest at noon, and on the feet in the evening. These days people also pour colored water on their friends and relatives. This colored water symbolizes the different colors of life in the future. They also have a well-known tradition of throwing powder on each other at New Years. 
Khmer New Year Celebrations

The new year in Cambodia is celebrated by performing various rituals and playing a number of games. The three day New Years celebration include the following: 

1.       First Day Celebrations - Moha Sangkran

The first day of the New Year is called Moha Sangkran. It is believed that on this day the new deities who replace the older ones come to earth to take care of its creation. To welcome these deities, people clean and light up their houses, and members of the family place an image of Lord Buddha on an altar with flowers, candles, incense sticks, a bowl of scented water, food and drinks, and banana leaves. Much of the food prepared at the time of Moha Sangkran is offered to monks at the temples. 

2.       Second Day Celebrations – Vanabot

On the second day of the Khmer New Years celebrations, people offer charity and alms to the poor. It is also considered auspicious to present gifts to family members and relatives. At some government offices and departments, employees get gifts and other monetary incentives. 

3.       Third Day Celebrations - Leung Sakk

On the third day of the New Years celebrations, people wash all the statues of Lord Buddha with scented water. It is said that this will ensure good rains for the coming year. Children pay respect to their elders by washing their feet, and get blessings in return. This ceremony of giving a special bath to Buddha statues, monks and elders is called Pithi Srang Preah. 

Khmer New Year Traditional Games

After performing all the rituals and traditions to welcome in the new year, it's time to have some fun. Some activities have become part of New Years celebration, and popular games played at the time of New Years in Cambodia are listed below: 

1.    Tres
In this game, a ball is thrown and caught with one hand while catching sticks (pens, chopsticks) with the other hand. 

2.    Chol Choung
Played by groups of young men and women standing opposite each other. One group throws the Chol Chhoung (a kind of ball made from a Khmer scarf)) at the other group, and if someone gets hit by the ball or catches it, they can choose a girl boy and hit their backside. Then the group dances to get the Chhoung back, while the other group sings. 

3.    Chab Kon Kleng
In this game, one person imitates a hen protecting her chicks from a crow. It is played on the first night of the New Year. The crow tries to catch as many chicks as possible while both the groups sing a song. 

4.    Boss Angkunh
This game is played by groups of young men and women, and each group throws their angkunh (a kind of fruit seed) to hit the angkunh of the other group. The winners hit the knees of the losers with the angkunh. 



5.    Leak Kanseng
It is mostly played by a group of children, and is similar to Drop the Handkerchief. They sit in a circle, and one child holds the Kanseng (a Cambodian towel) twisted in a round shape and moves around the circle. The child moving around the circle secretly puts the Kanseng behind one of the children, and then has to run around the circle to get back to their place before being tagged by the one who had the Kanseng dropped behind them.