Phnom Penh water festival rowers, Cambodia


Cambodia holds a wealth of traditional and international festivals throughout the calendar year. Most of the time, visitors can participate in the celebrations with locals. It is during these festivals with the country comes together with a shared understanding of the values and traditions, and even during times of hardship, people will focus on these events and try their hardest to make it the best ever. Almost all of the traditional festivals are influenced by Buddhism, Hinduism and royal cultures. Cover-More will take you through the most important Cambodian festivals that take place throughout the year.

Water Festival

This vast festival is probably the most extravagant festival in the calendar. It runs a full three days, starting with the last day of the full moon in October. During the Water Festival, up to a million people will come to the banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. They come from all over the country and are from all different walks of life. Once in the area, there are hundreds of brightly-decorated boats ready to race. The boat racing dates back to ancient times, marking the strengths of the powerful Khmer marine forces during the Khmer Empire. Once the racing is done for the day, floats cruise along the river. At night, glorious fireworks displays fill the skies. The Water Festival gives thanks to the Mekong River for providing the country with fertile land and abundant fish.

Pchum Ben

This is the most culturally- and religiously-significant event of the year and it is celebrated in September. This festival focuses on blessing souls of ancestors, relatives, and friends who have passed away. During this time, most Cambodians will visit the temples to make their offerings and pray. While all Buddhist temples celebrate this holiday, the largest celebrations are focused on Wat Phnom.

King Sihanouk's Birthday Celebration

In late October (and sometimes early November), Cambodia takes time to celebrate their influential King. People from all over Cambodia come to the capital to take part in a number of smaller celebrations held throughout the city. More often than not, the King’s celebration and the Water Festival overlap, drawing even larger crowds of partyers looking to pay tribute to the King and give thanks to the river. When this happens, there is a large event in front of the Royal Palace. If there is any celebration that rural villagers will come in to town for, this is it.

Khmer New Year's Day

Celebrated at the same time as the Thai New Year all over the country, this festival marks the turn of the year based on the ancient Khmer calendar and also marks the end of the harvest done during the year. To recognize and celebrate the event, Cambodians decorate their homes to please the Heaven God and many people can be seen on the streets armed with small bags of water and water pistols to bless people passing by. This festival is one of the happiest times of the year in Cambodia where you’ll see smiling faces all around you.

Angkor Festival

Perhaps the most theatrical of the festivals on the list, Angkor Festival showcases the performing arts in Cambodia. Performed in from of Angkor Wat, actors from all over Asia come to the festival to portray epic stories from the country’s mythology and legends. There are elaborate costumes, choreographed dances, musical exhibitions and more. King Sihanouk often attends this festival when he is in residence in Siem Reap and other dignitaries from surrounding areas will often come to witness this wonderful spectacle as well.

Royal Ploughing Day

Cambodia has a deep connection with the Earth and farming, and there is a deep astrological belief that the ox has an instrumental role in determining the fate of the harvest. This is why every May, the Royal Ploughing Day ceremony takes place in the large park next to the Royal Palace and in front of the National Museum. The King plays a key role in driving the ox and depicting real ploughing activities in the process of growing rice. The ox is given a selection of food and beverages to consume and the royal soothsayers interpret what the ox has eaten.

Independence Day

This important ceremony takes place at the site of the Independence Monument at the junction of Norodom and Sihanouk Boulevards on 9 November each year. This ceremony celebrates Cambodia's gaining of independence from France in 1953. All over the city flags adorn the shop fronts and bunting stretched over all the main thoroughfares as a sign of national pride.

Ready to celebrate with Cambodia? We don’t blame you. Before you get too far into planning your holiday, be sure to include international travel insurance as an item on your “to-get” list. You’ll get to focus on the fun to be had instead of on the problems that could interfere with your holiday.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Photasia.