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How to celebrate Khmer New Year

celebrate Khmer New Year

New Years are a bit like beers, theres a whole heap of different ones from around the world and not all are that good. I would therefore like to put forward not only what I feel to be the best of the bunch, but also how to celebrate Khmer New Year!

Be from the west we assume that there is only one New Year, but not only is that not true, but also our opinion that ours is the best is a bit arrogant! Basically December 31st, or amateur night as I like to call it involves people merely getting drunk.

Other new years though have slightly more fun themes, with Khmer New Year lasting a minimum of three days, having water fights, as well as also allowing you to get drunk.

So, what is Khmer New Year

Khmer New Year is Cambodian New Year, with Khmer meaning Cambodian. This meant the country was previously called Kampuchea, before a tinker called Pol Pot made this name somewhat unpopular.

Khmer New Year can also be called Buddhist New Year in some respects as Thailand, Myanmar and a whole heap of others also celebrate it. And yes they also have a whole heap of water fighting going on.

I will do another article on the meaning behind this, but for now I will concentrate on how you celebrate Khmer New Year.

Step 1……

You go home for Khmer New Year

While most people in Cambodia now are living in the big cities many still have a full on home town. Therefore during Khmer New Year everyone goes back there. This means that transport during certain days of the holiday is a complete nightmare. Although with that being said it is also not exactly to Chinese new year levels.

This often makes places such as Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville ghost towns, although not so much Siem Reap, which we will deal with later. For Khmer this obviously means going to see family, whilst for Barang (foreigners) it means having to put up with the fact a bunch of shit is closed.

You eat food at Khmer New Year

While many Cambodian celebrations have certain dishes associated with them such Pchum Ben and the “Hungry Ghosts Festival”, Khmer New Year is a little different. Basically the family get together, mum cooks a bunch of stiff and they spend 3 days eating and drinking both inside and outside of the house.

And boy do they drink! If you are hanging with country folk it is all about the Ganzberg beer, whose stock price must go through the roof at Khmer New Year. And yes, they drink from morning. If you plan to drink with a Khmer Family you will need to practice your eating, drinking and perhaps even signing and dancing…..

The highlight though is the water fighting…..

You “play with water” at Khmer New Year

At Khmer New Year you “play with water” as my friends put it, but this really does not do any justice to just how epic this is. Essentially the cities turn into military like exclosures from where gangs are formed with the sole intention of soaking people.

This means a lot of things, but mostly buying water guns, buckets, balloons and the like and just acting like a hoodlum. This is not the time to be playing on your phone, or carrying a laptop. In this instance it is better to have waterproof stuff, as well as putting your laptop in the trunk of the TukTuk.

Technically older people, monks and restaurant workers are exempt, but on reality you will get wet no matter who you are. I personally took great pleasure in soaking people that really did not want to get wet.

Water fighting in Siem Reap

Where should a barang go during this festival? Any self-respecting foreigner should be celebrating Khmer New Year in Siem Reap! Why is this? Well, while the rooms might be more expensive at thus time, this is where THE water fight occurs.

And if you need to know exactly where then the answer is everywhere, from the boreys, to the town center and of course pub street. This part becomes full to bring with people during Khmer New Year really taking their water fights seriously.

Best of all though? The bars and the restaurants such as Khmer Taste remain open and accessible, meaning you can still get fed during this period. And that is how you celebrate Khmer New Year!