New Khmer Year in Cambodia
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The Cambodian New Year or Choul Chnam Thmey in the Khmer language, literally "Entering the New Year", is the name of the Cambodian festival that celebrates the traditional Lunar New Year. The party lasts three days starting from New Year, which usually falls on the 13th or April 14, this period corresponds to the end of the harvest season, when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labour before the rainy season begins. The Khmer New Year coincides with the traditional solar year in different parts of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.
I've just arrived in Cambodia and I'm really curious to see how the Cambodians celebrate this New Year. So after visiting the temples of Angkor (https://www.marsontheroad.com/en/destinazioni/89/il-paradiso-in-terra-angkor-wat) and Battambang (https://www.marsontheroad.com/en/destinazioni/90/battambang-e-la-grotta-dei-pipistrelli), I decide to return to Siem Reap.
I arrive on April 13th and I stay at the Oops Hostel for $ 3.50. In the evening I go out for dinner and there is already festive air around even if the official date of the beginning of the New Year is 14.
"Pub Street" is the main street that will welcome this great celebration and where a simple walk has turned into a bath of water and talcum powder because of the festivities!
Here in Cambodia, in fact, it is usual to celebrate the new year with water guns and packs of talcum powder or to turn in the car with people with buckets full of water and bowls in order to start a real fight of water.
The next day I rent a bike for 2 $ and head towards the temple complex of Angkor (still having an entry available in the pass for 3 days previously purchased). Here the amount of people is indescribable. There is an event program for all 3 days. I start walking around the temple of Angkor Wat and there are many stalls, music, and most of the people are local. Many children have fun doing various games like tug of war with the frothy floor or in swimming pools.
I keep watching people and I enjoy watching their thousand games and ways of celebrating. I appreciate the fact that it is simple and genuine games, not led by alcohol; around, in fact, we see people drinking a few beers at most but there are no drunk or dangerous people.
Cambodia is, therefore, home to a variety of games organized to turn boring days into memorable occasions and they are very similar to those organized in Manipur, a north-eastern state of India. Throughout the Khmer New Year, the street corners are often crowded with friends and families enjoying a break from the routine, filling their free time with dances and games, also very useful for maintaining their physical and mental dexterity.
For example, a game that local kids invite me to participate in is the "Chol Chhoung" (similar to the Italian flag steals).
Explanation of the game: there are two groups of boys and girls, each of about ten or twenty people standing in two rows facing each other. A tree twig is placed in the centre and each person corresponds to a number. As soon as the number is screamed, the person who corresponds to what number of both teams must run, take the twig and then return to their team without being taken by the opposing team. The losing group must dance and sing in front of the other group.
But returning to the celebration of New Year's Eve, during the first day, around 6 pm, the floating lanterns ceremony takes place. It is the moment when people express their wishes for the new year. It takes place at the Angkor Wat temple and there are many people who throw the lantern in the little lake in front of the temple, creating a magical atmosphere.
After sunset, I return to the centre, but this time armed with a water gun and a real battle in the street begins. Indeed I've tried to immerse myself completely in this party and I've had a lot of fun. It is impossible to leave your home and not be involved even if you simply wanted to have dinner. The boys are all stationed on the side of the road and they start shooting without distinction.
Not to mention the new hits. You will listen to the same songs all day long and you will probably learn them by heart!
Ultimately, if you happen to be in Cambodia for the Khmer New Year and you want to have some fun, I highly recommend spending it in Siem Reap. If you want to opt for a quieter destination during the festivities, I then recommend you go to the capital Phnom Penh which is quite in this period because most of its inhabitants travel to go and visit their families outside the city.