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Khmer New Year in Cambodia

Khmer New Year, or ‘Bon Chol Chhnam Thmei’ in the Khmer language, is the greatest traditional festival and national holiday in Cambodia, and the celebration last for three days. Khmer New year starts on April the 13th, 14th or 15th depending on the ancient horoscope “Maha Sangkran”, 2014 it starts on 14th of April. The majority of the Cambodians are still farmers and Khmer New Year marks the end of the harvest season when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor and relax before the start of the rainy season.

Most of the Phnom Penh residents will pack their bags and get ready to head out to the countryside to celebrate Khmer New Year. Phnom Penh will be left seemingly pretty quite during these days so if you want to experience the celebration you should also pack your bag and head out to any of the villages on the country side.

In the villages the people engage in traditional Khmer games, they paly games such as the Bas Angkunh ‘seed throwing’, Chaol Chhoung ‘twisted-scarf throwing’, Leak Kanséng ‘twisted-scarf hide’ and dance to traditional Khmer songs.

The first day of Khmer new year is called “Maha Sangkran”, Sangkran means movement and refers to that the sun is moving into a new Zodiac sign and Maha means great. Some say that Maha Sangkran means welcome to the new spirits. In the morning the Cambodians will go to the temple and offer food to the monks and receive blessings. During this time the Cambodians clean and decorate their homes and prepare fruits and drinks on a table or in their spirit house to welcome the new spirits. Elderly people like to meditate or pray the Dharma because they believe that any spirit that comes to their home will stay with them throughout the whole year and take care of their family.

The second day is called “Wanabot” and it is the day that they offer gifts to parents, grandparents and elders. In the evening of this day many Cambodians will go to the temple and build a mountain of sand to remember their ancestors who have passed away and have the monks give them blessings of happiness and peace.

The third day is called “Leung Sakk” and this is the first day of the new year. In the morning the Cambodians go to the temple and perform a ceremony where the mountain of sand gets blessed. The last ceremony is called “Pithi Srang Preah” and the purpose of this ceremony is to honor and to give a special cleansing to Buddha Statues, the monks, elders, grandparents and parents. During this ceremony the participators apologize for any mistakes they have made during the last year.

The Khmer New Year is not only a great festival it is also an opportunity to pass on the Cambodian traditions to the next generation.

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Cambodian Holidays 2013

Cambodia has 27 days of public holidays per year and during these days most schools, local companies and administrative authorities are closed. Most schools and local companies work Monday to Saturday but Saturday is only a half day. The administrative authorities on the other hand are only open Monday to Friday and if any of the Public Holidays occur during the weekend they will have holiday on the Monday after instead.

Holiday in CambodiaThe two most important holidays during the year are Khmer New Year in April and Pchum Ben in end of September or beginning of October. These holidays are normally celebrated with family at home and at the local pagoda. The biggest festival is the Water Festival that take place in November, this festival is celebrated on the streets near the river in Phnom Penh.To have 27 days of public holidays can seem a lot if you compare it to the average of 10 days that the Western countries have, but in Cambodia most local companies do not offer their employees any vacation in excess of the public holidays.  Many of the western founded companies and organizations operating in Cambodia will not follow all the public holidays instead they make a mix of the most important Cambodian and Western Holidays and then offer vacation on top of that. For example some western founded companies in Phnom Penh that we have talked to have chosen  to have holidays during International New Year (1 January), Khmer New Year (14-16 April), Pchum Ben (03-05 October), Water Festival (16-18 November) and Christmas Day (25 December).

Cambodian-Holidays-Water-Festival-Independece-Day-Khmer-New-Year-Pchum-Ben

In excess to the Cambodian Holidays some Cambodians with Chinese origin also celebrate Chinese New Year (10-12 February), Qingming Festival (4-6 April)  and Mid-autumn Festival (19 September), and might want to have vacation during these holidays.

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Pchum Ben a festival for the ancestors’

Pchum Ben, the ancestors’ festival, is a Cambodian religious festival celebrated by Buddhists. It is one of the longest festivals in Cambodia, lasting for 15 days. A Ben is an offering. The first 14 days are called Kan Ben, where villages take turns making offerings, and the last day is Ben Thom, great offering, where all families make offerings. Pchum Ben is celebrated every year in the beginning of the 10th month, Phutrobot, of the Khmer calendar. (Around October in the western calendar.)

During the fourteen days of Kan Ben villages take turns bringing food to the temples and the pagodas.

The last four days of Pchum Ben are public holidays in Cambodia and most Khmer people will visit the province where they were born for family reunions.

The fifteen day, Ben Thom, is the special day when all families bring overflowing baskets of flowers, and children offer food, sticky rice cake and presents to the monks.

It is a colorful festival and everyone is dressed in their best clothes, women wear bright colored silk scarves, blouses and dresses. During the festival special rice offerings are made that are called ‘Bay Bens’. Bay Bens are balls of sticky rice cooked in coconut milk with various ingredients depending on local customs.

Cambodians celebrate Pchum Ben because they believe that after death they become ghosts whose earthly actions shape their appearance and that they walk the earth at this time. Everyone prays to help their ancestors pass on to a better life. According to Khmer belief, people who do not follow the practices of Pchum Ben will be cursed by angry ancestors. The living relatives ease their sufferings by offering them food. People also make offerings of money, dresses and other items to the monks in the temples. The offerings made are shared by the poor and the disabled during Pchum Ben and the donors acquire merit to cancel out past sins.

In this year Pchum Ben is on Friday to Sunday, 26 to 28 September 2014

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The Royal Ploughing Day in Cambodia – 9th of May 2012

The Royal Ploughing Day is an ancient royal rite to welcome the beginning of the growing season and determining the destiny of the harvest this year.

The ceremony takes place in the park in front of National Museum in the morning time and is led by the King or another high official and two sacred oxes. First the oxes plough a furrow of the park then they are led to seven trays containing rice, corn, beans, sesame, grass, water and alcohol. Depending on what the oxes choose to eat the chief astrologer will determine the fate of the harvest this year.

The Cambodians has a deep connection with the earth and farming, and a strong astrological belief and thousands of people will gather around the park to watch the sacred oxes and the royal astrologers.

This royal ceremony is celebrated to give blessings to the farming and to pray for a sufficient rainfall, which is essential to spurring the agricultural sector. The Royal Ploughing Day takes place every year in the beginning of May when the farmers start preparing their agricultural activities such as ploughing fields and sowing seeds.

Read more about the Cambodian Holidays here.

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Cambodian Mask Making

Cambodia has a long history of dance and theatre. Performances of ‘the Reamker’ date back to the 13th century. The Reamker is a Khmer version of the classic Indian Ramayan. It is an epic poem, exploring themes of good and evil, through encounters with monkeys, giants, princes and mermaids.

Mask making and the theatre are intrinsically linked in Cambodia. The masks transform the performers into their characters. In the past it was common for artists to make their masks and perform. The finished theatre masks are sacred and are treated with respect.

Mask making requires technical skill and patience. Most contemporary mask makers have studied at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. Finished theatre masks are considered as works of art.

En Sokha is a Phnom Penh based mask maker. He’s part of Sovanna Phum art association, a network of 120 artists. En Sokha works predominantly with the theatre, making traditional masks such as monkeys and giants. He tells me that he doesn’t come from a family of mask makers. En Sokha was a creative child and went on to study fine art at university, he finds his work very satisfying. En Sokha uses clay moulds to make his papier mache masks.  It takes between 5-7 days to complete a mask.

The best place to see these impressive masks, is at the theatre. Sovanna Phum host performances every Friday and Saturday. There’s a performance fusing modern and traditional drumming on 9th and 10th of March.  Entrance is $5 for foreigners, and $3 for Cambodians.

 

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Cambodian Film Making

Last week, I had the privilege of photographing an Oscars party in Phnom Penh. Actors and directors from the Sixties, the ‘golden age’ of Cambodian cinema, attended the event. In the Sixties, even King Sihanouk was a renowned film maker. The Cambodian film industry, like the arts in general, was severely set back by the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian film industry still hasn’t recovered its former glory.

At the Oscars party, there was a flurry of excitement when Dy Saveth arrived.  Dy Saveth starred in several films throughout the Sixties and was the first Miss Cambodia. She moved to France when the Khmer Rouge came to power. Dy Saveth returned to Cambodia in 1993. She still stars in Cambodian films. 

Photographing the event got me thinking about the Cambodian film industry. I spoke to Reaksmey, who works for the Cambodian Oscar Selection Committee. Reaksmey would like to see Cambodia putting forward films for the foreign language category at the Oscars. The problem is at the moment, the majority of films are low budget ghost/love stories, which are popular with teenagers. Reaksmey would like to see Cambodian actors receive better training, in order to improve the quality of films. He mentions Lost Loves (about the Khmer Rouge) and 25 Year-Old Girl (about a woman with amnesia) as standout Cambodian films.

Cambodian-made documentaries have received more investment and attention than feature films. Meta House regularly shows Cambodian-made documentaries. Several documentaries are being shown throughout March. Bophana also hosts weekly documentary screenings, many of which are Cambodian-made. Visitors can also search through Bophana’s extensive film archives. There’s fascinating footage from the twenties to the present day. You can even watch films directed by King Sihanouk himself. An understanding of Khmer or French is helpful when viewing the archives. The videos are fascinating, whether or not you can follow what people are saying.

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Happy Valentine’s Day Phnom Penh

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love but it is not just a day for lovers. Valentine’s Day is a day where friends and family can show how much they care for each other. With love being such a good reason to celebrate, why not surprise friends, family, or partner with something special.

For all chocolate lovers a box of chocolate is a must on Valentine’s Day and one of the best places to find quality chocolate in Phnom Penh is at Chocolate Shop on Street 240. They have a great variety of valentine’s boxes starting from 2 USD.

Or why not say “I love you” with a cupcake Bloom Café? Their cupcakes both look gorgeous and taste delicious and will definitely set the mood of love! You will find Bloom Café on Street 222 and their cupcakes cost 1, 5 USD per piece.

 

Roses are one of the most popular Valentine’s Day flowers, and are easy to find at any of the bigger markets around Phnom Penh, like Central Market, Oressey Market or Olympic Market.  Remember that different color on the rose symbolize different feelings; yellow is said to symbolize friendship, red to symbolize passion, and white – true love.

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Makha Bucha Day in Cambodia

Makha Bucha Day is a Buddhists holiday, celebrated on the full moon of the third lunar month in the Buddhist calendar. Makha is the name of the third lunar month and Bacha is the act of worshiping the Buddha. In Cambodia faithful Buddhists celebrate Makha Bucha day by gather in local temples to honor the Buddha and his teachings and to participate in traditional religious ceremonies.

The origin of Makha Bucha comes from an event that occurred nine month after the Enlightenment of Buddha when 1 250 of Buddha’s followers gathered without prior notice and listened to the Buddha. At this event Buddha elaborated on some of his most important teachings and laid down the three main principles of his religion, which are: 1. Give up evil and refrain from sinning, 2.Cultivate good, and 3. Cleanse one’s mind. This event is believed to have taken place on the full moon of the third lunar month.

The date of Makha Bucha Day changes from year to year since it follows the Buddhist calendar that is astrological in nature.

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Time for Wedding!

The most popular time of the year for weddings is from November to March, when the weather is dry and sunny. So do not get surprised if you get invited to a wedding during this time. A traditional Cambodian wedding lasts for three days but today most Cambodians only celebrate for one and a half day. You will probably be invited to the last part of the wedding which is the reception but let’s start from the beginning.

The wedding usually starts in the afternoon of the first day with Pithi Sout Mon, Monk Blessing. The monks are invited to pray and give blessing to the bridal couple. It is believed that the prayers will send a message to the soul of dead relatives that the couple is now celebrating their wedding and becoming husband and wife.

Next day starts early in the morning around 6-7am with the Hae Chamnoun ceremony, this is when the groom and his family go to the bride’s home with gifts. They wait outside the house until the bride comes out. When the bride comes out the groom offers the wedding flowers to her and they enter the house together. The groom’s parents offer fruit to the bride’s parents and a traditional Khmer singer will perform the “Fruit song”.

The whole day is filled with different ceremonies and for every new ceremony the bridal couple will change clothes. The first ceremony is the Ring exchange ceremony followed by Hair cutting ceremony, when the guests symbolically pretend to cut the couple’s hair and wishes them happiness and prosperity.  After that comes the Feet cleaning ceremony when the wife cleans her husband’s feet. The Cambodians with Chinese descent will then have a Tea ceremony when the couple drinks tea with their parents.

The day continues with the Bangvel Po (Seven Rotation), the couples are asked to sit around the bride and groom. Three candles are lit and handed over seven times around the bridal couple. Each participant passes his or her right hand over it in a sweeping motion towards the couple, a silent blessing to them. Only married couples are asked to join, as it is believed that they will pass along the special essence which will preserve the union.

The Pairing ceremony is normally one of the last ceremonies during the day before the evening party. In this ceremony family members and friends will tie the bride’s and groom’s left and right wrists with blessing strings and whishes the couple a lot of happiness, good health, success, prosperity, and a long-lasting love.

Last but not least is the reception and this is normally the part you get invited to. When you get your invitation make sure not to lose it because the tradition is to give back the envelope with money in it. The envelope will have your name on it, and at the reception there will be some relatives sitting by a special table collecting the gifts from the guest and writing down how much every guest gave. The more money you give the bigger blessing, as an expat going to a wedding in Phnom Penh you should probably give around 15-25 USD per person.

On the invitation it will probably say that the reception starts around 4pm but most guests do not arrive until after 6 pm. When you arrive to the party the parents of the bride and the groom will be standing outside and greet you.

Inside, it is usually free seating but custom is to fill up the tables where people are already sitting. When one table is filled with guest the food will be served. After most guests have finished their food the bridal couple will arrive. The guests will stand up and throw small flowers at the bridal couple as they walk in and up to podium where their parents will be waiting for them. They stop beneath their parents who also throw small flowers at them and give them a blessing in front of all the guests.

After the couple has got their parents blessing they will dance around a fruit table that is placed in front of the stage. When they have finished their dance all guests are invited to join the dance and it is party time!

How long time the party is going on is up to the couple who is getting married but many of the receptions in Phnom Penh finish already around 10 pm.

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Chinese New Year in Cambodia

Chinese New Year, or Chinese Spring Festival as some call it, is not one of the official holidays in Cambodia but it is still one of the most celebrated festivals during the year. The Festival is mostly celebrated by Cambodians with Chinese descent and ethnic Vietnamese but many Cambodians and other foreigners living in Cambodia will also join some parts of the celebration even though they do not have any relation to it.

In 2014 the New Chinese Year will start on the 31st of January and will be celebrated for 12 days ending with Lantern Festival. This year the year of the Snake will come to an end and the Year of the Horse begins.

Many of the Cambodians with Chinese descent work with commerce, having their own shop or stand at the market, so during Chinese New Year you will notices that a lot of shops and businesses in Phnom Penh are closed during this period.

The days before the New Year people are busy with cleaning and decorating their house with “Good Wish” banners in red, hanging couplets on their walls and preparing festive displays for offerings. They are also preparing food and buying presents and new clothes.

The Chinese New Year is a holiday that is celebrated with family so some people will return to their birth place in the country side of Cambodia to celebrate with their families, grandparents or friends. But you will still be able to spot quite a few  traditional “Lion and Dragon dancers” performing on the streets in front of someone’s house or businesses across Phnom Penh  for several days around New Years Day. And hear people say “Gong Xi Fa Cai!”  to each other, which means “Happy New Year” in Chinese.

On the night of New Year’s Eve people gather at the pagodas to make offerings. Wat Phnom is one of the busiest and most popular pagoda in Phnom Penh, especially on New Years Eve at midnight.

People flock to buy yellow-flowering bushes called Angkea Sel. They believe that if the trees blossom during the first three days of the New Year, the year will bring good fortune.

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Cambodian Holidays 2012

Cambodia has 26 days of public holidays per year and during these days most schools, local companies and administrative authorities are closed. Most schools and local companies work Monday to Saturday but Saturday is only a half day. The administrative authorities on the other hand are only open Monday to Friday and if any of the Public Holidays occur during the weekend they will have holiday on the Monday after instead. The two most important holidays during the year are Khmer New Year in April and Pchum Ben in end of September or beginning of October. These holidays are normally celebrated with family at home and at the local pagoda. The biggest festival is theWater Festival that take place in November, this festival is celebrated on the streets near the river in Phnom Penh.

To have 26 days of public holidays can seem a lot if you compare it to the average of 10 days that the Western countries have, but in Cambodia most local companies do not offer their employees any vacation in excess of the public holidays.  Many of the western founded companies and organizations operating in Cambodia will not follow all the public holidays instead they make a mix of the most important Cambodian and Western Holidays and then offer vacation on top of that. For example some western founded companies in Phnom Penh that we have talked to have chosen  to have holidays during International New Year (1 January), Khmer New Year (13-15 April), Pchum Ben (14-16 October), Water Festival (27-29 November) and Christmas Day (25 December).

In excess to the Cambodian Holidays some Cambodians with Chinese origin also celebrate Chinese New Year (23-25 January), Qingming Festival (2-4 April)  and Mid-autumn Festival (30 September), and might want to have vacation during these holidays.

Cambodia also have a Muslim minority that celebrate the Islamic holidays, the two biggest holidays for Cambodian Muslims are Eid-Ul-Fitr (End of Ramadan, 19 August) and Eid-Ul-Adha (Festival of sacrifice, 26 October).

 

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Celebrate 7 Makara – National Holiday – Jan 7th

Victory over Genocide Day (National Holiday Day) is celebrated on January 7th of every year in Cambodia. The Victory over Genocide Day commemorates the Vietnamese assault on Cambodia which brought an end to the Khmer Rouge’s bloody regime. From 1975 to 1979 Cambodia suffered from one of the most brutal murderous ultra-communist regimes under the government of the Democratic Kampuchea. Under the Khmer Rouge or red Khmers, almost two million Cambodians or a fourth of the country’s population died by arbitrary execution, starvation, exhaustion from overwork in labor camp, and untreated illnesses. The plan was to turn Cambodia back to Year Zero where the country will turn into large agricultural communes. Laborers were forced to work in labor camps from five in the morning well into the night, for 12 to 14 hours a day. On January 7, 1979, commemorates the end of the Khmer Rouge regime and get the freedom.

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Cambodian New Year

Khmer New Year is the greatest traditional festival and national holiday in Cambodia, and the celebration last for three days.

Khmer New year starts on April the 13th, 14th or 15th depending on the ancient horoscope “Maha Sangkran”. The majority of the Cambodians are still farmers and they work with sowing, maintaining and harvesting their rice and fruit fields all year long except in April when it is too hot and dry. Therefore, the farmers rest during April and celebrate the New Year.

The first day is called “Maha Sangkran”, Sangkran means movement and refers to that the sun is moving into a new Zodiac sign and Maha means great. Some say that Maha Sangkran means welcome to the new spirits.  In the morning the Cambodians will go to the temple and offer food to the monks and receive blessings. During this time the Cambodians clean and decorate their homes and prepare fruits and drinks on a table or in their spirit house to welcome the new spirits. Elderly people like to meditate or pray the Dharma because they believe that any spirit that comes to their home will stay with them throughout the whole year and take care of their family.

The second day is called “Wanabot” and it is the day that they offer gifts to parents, grandparents and elders.  In the evening of this day many Cambodians will go to the temple and build a mountain of sand to remember their ancestors who have passed away and have the monks give them blessings of happiness and peace.

The third day is called “Leung Sakk” and this is the first day of the new year. In the morning the Cambodians go to the temple and perform a ceremony where the mountain of sand gets blessed. The last ceremony is called “Pithi Srang Preah” and the purpose of this ceremony is to honor and to give a special cleansing to Buddha Statues, the monks, elders, grandparents and parents. During this ceremony the participators apologize for any mistakes they have made during the last year.

The Khmer New Year is not only a great festival it is also an opportunity to pass on the Cambodian traditions to the next generation.

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Water Festival

The Water Festival is the most festive festival in Cambodia, people from all over the country gather in Phnom Penh to see the boat race, the illuminated boats and the fireworks. The city is filled with people, food stands and live concerts.

The celebrations of the water festival dates back to the 12th century and was from the beginning a celebration to honor King Jayavarman VII and his marine army who defeated the Cham people. The Cham people are a Muslim ethnic group in Southeast Asia and they had occupied Angkor in 1177.

Today the Water Festival also marks the remarkable natural phenomenon of the reversal of the current of the Tonle Sap River and the start of the dry season. During the rainy season the Tonle Sap River floats north to the Tonle Sap Lake and during the dry season Tonle Sap River floats south and joins with the Mekong River in Phnom Penh.

The Water Festival is a 3-day long festival that occurs in November. All three days there will be boat races on the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh with colorfully decorated boats that hold 40 rowers. The final of the boat race will be held in the afternoon of the last day.

During the Water Festival the Cambodians also celebrate the 12th lunar month full moon by lighting lanterns containing offerings with flowers incense sticks and candles and let them float on the river. They will make their wishes before releasing the lantern and it is believed that sincere praying could become true. The biggest lantern is the Royal Lantern which will be released at the riverside in front of the Royal Palace exactly at 12 midnight of the full moon night.


At night time there will be a lot of fireworks that the Cambodian Government has sponsored and you can see beautifully decorated and illuminated boats called Loy Pratip on the river.  And people will be eating special rice with banana or coconut juice called Ork Ambok.


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Visit the oldest pagoda in Phnom Penh

Wat Phnom is the oldest and the tallest religious structure in Phnom Penh, it was built 1373 and it stands 27 meters. Wat Phnom means “Temple of the Mountains” or “Mountain Pagoda” and it is a Buddhist Temple.

Legend says that a wealthy widow, Daun Penh, found a large koki tree in the river. Inside the tree she found four bronze statues of the Buddha. Lady Penh constructed a small shrine on an artificial hill to protect the sacred statues. Eventually this became a sacred site and sanctuary where people would make blessings and pray.

Today, many people come here to pray for success and good luck. It is also one of Phnom Penh’s many tourist attractions so you will find a lot of beggars and women and children selling drinks, souvenirs and birds in cages. You buy the birds to let them free but the birds are trained to return to the cage afterwards.

You can also take a short elephant ride around the temple if you want.

You can find more detail about it’s address on Wat Phnom venue.