Cambodia's Festivals

Like many Southeast Asian nations, Cambodia celebrates a lot of important festivals. Quite a few of them are closely tied to Buddhism, the country's predominant religion.

Meak Bochea: On the day of the full moon in February, this festival commemorates the Buddha's first sermon to 1,250 of his disciples. In the evening, Buddhists parade three times around their respective pagodas.

Khmer New Year: Celebrated at the same time as the Thai and Lao lunar new year (mid-April), it's a new-moon festival spread over the three days following the winter rice harvest. People celebrate by cleaning and decorating their houses, making offerings at their home altars, going to Buddhist temples, and splashing lots and lots of water on each other. Be forewarned: foreigners are fair game.

Visakha Bochea: This Buddhist festival on the day of the full moon in May celebrates the Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and death.

Chrat Preah Nongkol: The Royal Plowing Ceremony, a celebration of the start of the summer planting season, is held in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh in May. The impressive ceremony includes soothsaying rites meant to predict the outcomes for the year's rice harvest.

Pchum Ben (All Souls' Day): In mid-October the spirits of deceased ancestors are honored according to Khmer tradition. People make special offerings at Buddhist temples to appease these spirits.

Bonn Om Touk: The Water Festival ushers in the fishing season, and marks the "miraculous" reversal of the Tonle Sap waters. It's celebrated in November throughout the country: longboat river races are held, and an illuminated flotilla of naga, or dragon boats, adds to the festive atmosphere. The biggest races are held in Phnom Penh in front of the Royal Palace, and the king traditionally presides.

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