Cambodia Gone Wild – The Amazing Khmer New Year Festival in Siem Reap

Asia has some of the world’s most amazing festivals, including the traditional and recent additions that have tacked themselves onto existing traditional holidays. One newcomer which looks set to become a globally renowned event is Siem Reap’s Angkor Sankranta Festival.

The event ties into the traditional Khmer New Year (based on Buddhist calendar) which celebrates the end of harvest season and the coming of the rainy season. There are some quite old traditions at play and families will have their own celebrations following those age-old traditions in their homes and also now head to the Sangkrata festival held at Angkor Wat.

The festival is in its fifth year and sees almost 2 million visitors head to Siem Reap from all over Cambodia, neighboring countries and beyond. It’s not as well known as popular festivals in China and Thailand but that’s undoubtedly going to change.

The festival runs for 3 days but you may find many locals take extended breaks during this time. During the day several events are held around Angkor Wat including traditional dancing and games, a chess competition, exhibitions, local cultural displays and more.

Every year they also make an attempt to break a Guinness Book world record by making something huge such as this year’s giant chicken nest and giant guitar.

It’s free to go and you also don’t need to buy an ‘Angkor Pass’ unless you intend on actually going to look at the temples. I will give you a word of warning, the roads going to and from the event are usually packed and you may find it easier to use Aspara Road to go to and from Angkor Wat rather than the main road. I rode a scooter out there and managed to zip through. It was busy but everyone is pretty relaxed and it’s doable as long as you are confident on a scooter. Be prepared for roadside water splashers! Although, from what I saw, they spared foreigners and were mostly interested in other their young compatriots. I wouldn’t expect such grace later in the night 🙂

The festival is well worth the time and you’ll be sure to experience more of the local culture and be a part of what is a very special time for local people. There are loads of great photo ops, so do take camera, and although you can’t visit Angkor Wat you can get a great photo of it and it’s especially lit up at night.

The festivities at Angkor Wat start at 8AM and end at 8PM every day. Following that the celebrations people head to their family home or to the city center where locals take over Pub Street and surrounding areas to stage massive all-night celebrations.

A stage is setup in the center of Pub Street hosting DJ’s and live singers and the sides of the streets are lined with people selling drinks although drinking alcohol is not a heavy part of the celebration. The area starts to fill up from 7PM onwards with hoards of people arriving, water pistols and water guns in tow. By 8-9PM it’s packed and the atmosphere starts to go sky high, with a frenzy of water splashing spraying and dancing to some really cool beats. Talcum powder is for sale everywhere and expect to get covered in that too! Smiling locals will be all too happy to involve you in the fun and festivity wiping talcum powder on your cheeks and hosing you with their water cannon.

You can’t help but get into, no matter your age, there’s young kids here right through to the 50’s all having the absolute time of their life that will be guaranteed to live in their heart for a long time.

There are also stages at Kings Road, near the Made in Cambodia Market and another on the riverfront near to FCC. Even if you don’t go to these areas, don’t expect to miss out on get hosed. All around the streets of Siem Reap there will be young and old out to spray the passers-by, and plenty of passers-by spraying them back.

Prepare yourself by being prepared to get drenched, and be sure to have your electrics in a sealed bag which are available everywhere on the day.

It’s a time that I guarantee you will remember for the rest of your life, and every time you think about it, the warmest widest smile will come to your face. The amazing thing, it’s all completely free. Beat that.

Khmer New Year and the Angkor Sankranta festival in Siem Reap is celebrated over three days beginning on New Year’s Day, which usually falls on April 13th or 14th of every year.