Festivals and events

There are some 30 public holidays celebrated each year in Cambodia. Most are celebrated with public parades and special events to commemorate the particular holiday. The largest holidays also see many Khmers - although less than used to be the case - firing their guns, to the extent that red tracer fills the sky. Several interesting festivals enliven the Cambodian calendar. The major festivals mark important events in the farming year, determined by seasonal changes in the weather, and are listed below.

January-February

New Year
 on 1 January is a public holiday.A celebration of the fall of the Khmer Rouge, victory over Pol Pot day, falls on 7 January and is also a public holiday. The Chinese and Vietnamese New Year and the Anniversary of the last sermon of Buddha are movable.

March

Women's Day on 8 March is a
 public holiday.
 There are processions, floats and banners in main towns.

April

Chaul Chhnam
 (movable) is a three-day celebration, involving the inevitable drenching, to welcome in the new year. A similar festival to Pimai in Laos and Songkran in Thailand.
 13-15 Apr
il is Bonn Chaul Chhnam (Cambodian New Year). A three-day celebration to mark the turn of the year and to show gratitude to the departing demi-god and to welcome the new one. Homes are spring cleaned, householders visit temples and traditional games like
boh angkunh
and
chhoal chhoung
are played, and ritual festivities are performed. Independence Day on 17 April celebrates the fall of the Lon Nol government.

April-May

Visak Bauchea
(public holiday, movable) is the anniversary of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and his Paranirvana (state of final bliss).

May

Genocide Day
, a public holiday on 9 May, remembers the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. The main ceremony is held at Choeng Ek. The movable Royal Ploughing Festival
 marks the beginning of the rainy season and traditionally is meant to alert farmers to the fact that the job of rice cultivation is set to begin. Known as
bonn chroat preah nongkoal
in Khmer, the ceremony is held on a field close to Phnom Penh.

June

Anniversary of the Founding of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Kampuchea
and
Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Revolutionary Party of Cambodia
. Founded in 1951, the main parades and celebrations are in Phnom Penh.

July

The rainy season retreat - a Buddhist Lent - for meditation is Chol Vassa (movable).

September

End of Buddhist Lent occurs and
in certain areas it is celebrated with boat races.
Prachum Ben
 is celebrated in remembrance of the dead and offerings are made to the ancestors.

October-November

Water Festival, Bon Om Tuk
 or
Festival of
 the Reversing Current
 celebrates the movement of the waters out of the TonlĂ© Sap and boat races are held in Phnom Penh. The festival dates back to the 12th century when King Jayavarman VII and his navy defeated water-borne invaders. Most wats have ceremonial canoes, which are rowed by the monks to summon the Naga King. Boat races extend over three days with more then 200 competitors, but the highlight is the evening gala in Phnom Penh when a fleet of boats, studded with lights, row out under the full moon. The festival was only revived in 1990. In addition to celebrating the reversing of the flow of the TonlĂ© Sap River, this festival marks the onset of the fishing season. 30 October-1 November is
King Sihanouk's Birthday and a public holiday. Public offices and museums close for about a week and a there is a firework display in Phnom Penh.

November

Independence Day
 on 9 November Marks Cambodia's independence from French colonial rule in 1953.

December

A half marathon is held at Angkor Wat, surely one of the most spectacular places to work up a sweat.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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