Southeast Asian Spotlight: Khmer (Cambodian) New Year

Cambodian or Khmer New Year is held in April each year and is one of the biggest celebrations for the region. The timing is thought to coincide with the end of the Khmer farmer’s harvesting season and a time in the year when Cambodians take the opportunity to relax and celebrate their hard work. The festivities run for three special days with each day having particular significance and activities ranging from traditional vibrant ceremonies in beautiful temples to spending time with family and friends.

Day one is known as Maha Songkran and represents the ending of the old year and beginning of the new year. Houses are cleaned and colorfully decorated with lights and candles. Incense are lit at shrines and people wear their best clothes to thank Buddha for his teachings. Each member of the family will bow, kneel and prostrate themselves three times before an image of Buddha. For good luck, holy water is used to wash the face in the morning, the chest at noon and the feet at night before going to bed. Offerings are also prepared, including flowers, fruits and garlands, to give to the new goddess.

Day two of the celebrations is called Virak Wanabat and people spend this day helping those less fortunate. It is common for people to dress up in traditional costumes and take food to monks at the monastery. Families will take time to visit monasteries and celebrate their ancestors.

Day three of the festivities is called T’ngai Leang Saka. On this day Buddha statues and elders are cleansed with perfumed water as a symbol of its preciousness and how it is a necessity for all living things. These “water blessings” are said to bring good luck, longevity, prosperity and happiness. Children play games, like scarf-throwing and tug-of-war or participate in traditional dancing.

Throughout the three days of celebrations it is not uncommon to see small sand hills built near temples and shrines decorated with five flags that represent Buddha’s five disciplines – abstaining from harming living things, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.

Special dishes, including Kralan – a bamboo stick of steamed rice, grated coconut, coconut milk and peas or beans, slowly roasted to create a cake – are prepared and enjoyed over the three days.

Celebrations for Khmer New Year are thrown throughout the world, including the United States, with large ones held in San Francisco and Long Beach.

If you would like more information on how to experience the wonders and delights of Southeast Asia, and possibly even see their New Year celebration firsthand through an incentive program or event with JNR Incorporated, please email We cannot wait to send our team and clients to this region later in the year for the trip of a lifetime.

For further reading, please read “Up and Coming Luxury Travel Hotspots: Vietnam and Cambodia” here to see how this region is growing its tourism due to the unique combination of lavish hotels and authentic experiences.

By JNR Incorporated

Written by Stephanie Thomas


JNR Incorporated is a results-based, globally recognized leader that specializes in creating custom travel, meeting, event, prepaid card and merchandise programs that motivate, engage and inspire the employees, customers and channel members of our clients. We have over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies of many diverse industries. Our programs are tailored to fit the specific needs of marketing, sales, management and human resource professionals. The unique solutions we apply are measurable and proven to increase performance, loyalty and revenues.

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