Cambodia is not only famous for being the country of various massive temples and attractions including Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap but also their unique festivals and holidays. Almost popular festivals in the stunning tourist destinations are related to Theravada Buddhist rituals which can’t be eradicated even by the bloody war of the Khmer Rouge. Therefore, these holidays became inseparable features in the daily life of Cambodians. Also, Cambodian festivals and holidays are ideal occasions to let your hair down and embrace the culture of this fun and festive Indochina nation.
Cambodian Traditional Festivals & Holidays by Months
Cambodian Festival & Holiday from January to April
Meak Bochea Day
This is the most important traditional festival of the monks and marks the beginning of all the religious festivals in Cambodia. Meak Bochea commemorates the final sermon given by Buddha, in which he summarized the “heart of Buddhism” in three principles: ceasing from the evil, doing good, purify the mind.
On this day, monks all over the country celebrate that time in history when Lord Buddha delivered his sermon to the 1250 monks who had spontaneously gathered at Rajagaha Valuwan Vihara. The Theravada Buddhists gather in a procession in a temple of Khlong Luang – Dhammakaya, meditate, and pray in the morning. Then they circle the central altar with incense sticks, candles, and flowers under the full moon night sky twice.
Date of Meak Bochea Day in 2021: February 16th
Khmer New Year (Chaul Chnam Thmey)
The whole of Cambodia jubilantly commemorates Chol Chnam Thmay or Cambodian New Year festival in the bustling atmosphere with brightened lights from the temples to the roads leading to the Royal Palace.
On New Year’s Eve, millions of Cambodian families organize a night festival complete with flower garlands and thousands of sparkling colored lanterns floated on the lake which will rapidly attract tourists’ attention. It is believed that if the lights of a family can light up obviously and brilliantly all night, the owners will receive good fortune in New Year. Moreover, instead of blessing good luck for each other during the year, the Khmers will welcome the New Year with a water splashing ceremony.
Date of Khmer New Year in 2021: April 14th to 16th
Cambodia Festival & Holiday from May to August
King Norodom Sihamoni’s Birthday
The festival is very important for the Cambodians as it reminds them about the outcome of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot when a government with limited powers was absent. This day is celebrated on the event of birth and coronation of the current monarch of Cambodia, King Norodom Sihamoni. The celebration continues for three days every year, over which the streets with practical dance with banners and billboards congratulating the King on this auspicious day.
Date of King Norodom Sihamoni’s Birthday in 2021: May 13th to 15th
Visaka Bochea Day (Buddha’s “Birthday”)
Visaka Bochea a single-day celebration of the three major events in the life of Buddha: Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and his passing into nirvana. On this day, Buddhists pray to Lord Buddha and donate food and clothes to the local monks. This is majorly celebrated in the areas where Buddhism has a strong following. The traditional festival is celebrated on the 6th month’s full moon night in accordance with the Khmer lunar calendar.
Date of Visaka Bochea Day in 2021: May 26th
Royal Ploughing Ceremony (Pithi Chrat Preah Neanng Korl)
Cambodia has a deep connection with the Earth and agriculture; hence there is a deep astrological belief that the ox has an instrumental role in determining the fate of the harvest. This is why the Royal Ploughing Ceremony takes place in the large park next to the Royal Palace every May. This festival is also one of the most remarkable celebrations marking the good start of the rice-growing season in Cambodia. On that day, a representative of the Cambodian King starts the ceremony by plowing with the royal oxen which mark the start of a good harvest season. No matter how modern life is, the ancient Khmers have long been believing that the ceremony can provide bumper crops and avoid the formation of droughts, floods, famine, and illness.
Date of Royal Ploughing Ceremony in 2021: May 10th
Cambodian Festival & Holiday from September to December
Ancestors’ Day (Pchum Ben)
Pchum Ben festival celebrated on the final day of the Dak Ben festival in the 4th week of September is an extremely sacred holiday for Cambodians. On this occasion, Cambodians often visit at least seven temples to pray for the loved ancestors, light the candles to guide the goners’ soul home, and spread rice on the grounds around the visiting temples for their wandering goners’ spirits to consume. Pchum Ben festival is even more meaningful to the celebrants who have their loved ones lost in the Khmer Rouge occupation in the late 1970s.
Date of Ancestor’s Day in 2021: October 5th to 7th
National Independence Day
This event marks the anniversary of Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. It takes place at the site of the Independence Monument at the center of Phnom Penh capital where the King lights a victory fire in the presence of the country’s politicians, generals, and diplomats. All over the city flags adorn the shop fronts and burning stretched over all the main thoroughfares as a sign of national pride. The celebration offers cultural activities, parades down Norodom Boulevard, and fireworks in the evening.
Date of National Independence Day in 2021: November 9th
Water Festival (Bonn Om Touk)
Once per year on the full moon day of the Buddhist month, Bon Om Touk festival is organized to memorize the backflow between Tonle Sap lake and the Mekong river. Visit Phnom Penh, tourists can enjoy festivities with the locals at Sisowath port on the Mekong River. 3 small ceremonies at the unique Bon Om Touk festival includes Loy Pratip- a night parade on the river’s bank, Sampeas Preah Khe- the praying rite for the full moon Auk Ambok- the ceremony at night with people concentrated to eat Ambok – a traditional dish with flatly rolled, fried rice with bananas and coconuts.
The 3-day festival is an excellent occasion for Cambodians to relax and for travelers to remember due to animated boat races with traditional Khmer music and special dance performances.
Date of Water Festival in 2021: November 18th to 20th
Other Entertaining Festivals & Holidays in Cambodia
Perhaps the most theatrical of the festivals on the list, Angkor Festival showcases the performing arts in Cambodia. Performed in from of Angkor Wat, performers 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.
Date of Angkor Festival in 2021: November/ December
Sea Festival is yearly celebrated in the month of December on any of the four Cambodian coastlines. The event, first taking place in 2011, organizes numerous sports events for tourists including motorboat racing, swimming, Cambodian martial arts, half marathon, and beach volleyball. The festival begins before the new year, starting at dawn and continuing till dusk. This is the 6th Sea Festival is scheduled to be celebrated in the Kep province of Cambodia.
Date of Sea Festival in 2021: December