Culture and Festival


Buddhism has been part of Cambodian life for almost a thousand years. Buddhism originated inNepal and northern India and stemmed from the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama, the Indian prince and ‘first’ Buddha who achieved enlightenment around the late 6th century B.C. By the early 5th century B.C. the Buddha has passed his knowledge to a growing number of disciples and the faith spread rapidly through South-east Asia. The two great faiths of Buddhism and Hinduism dominated Cambodian religious life for centuries and the ancient Khmer alternated between these faiths depending on the religious beliefs of the reigning monarch.



Mahayana Buddhism: Buddhism’s broad geographic scope led to differing interpretations of the faith. Initially Cambodian Buddhists practiced Mahayana Buddhism, a form of Buddhism that maintains other individuals besides the Buddha are capable to the achieving enlightenment. It also led to the acceptance of certain texts that other forms of Buddhism do not recognise as the word of the Buddha. The principal focus of Mahayana Buddhism is on achieving perfected states of understanding and compassion in order to lead others to enlightenment.

Theravada Buddhism (Teaching of Elders): Around the 13th century A.D. Cambodiaconverted to a more conservative form of Buddhism known as Theravada. Theravada Buddhism adheres closely to the teachings (dharmas) prescribed by Siddhartha Gautama and places great emphasis on monasticism and meditation. It recognises different paths to enlightenment but maintains that the Buddha’s dharm as must be central to a follower’s spiritual development. Theravada Buddhism remains the dominant faith in Cambodia.



Khmer language

The Khmer language is part of the Mon-Khmer family and has its origins in Sanskrit and Pali. It is spoken all over the country except in some tribal areas where local indigenous languages are used. In larger towns and cities English is spoken by an increasing number of educated people. French is spoken by some of the older members of society and Chinese by many of the business people. All facilities catering to tourists employ English-speaking staffs who more often than not speak several other local and international languages including German, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and even Russian.

Festival day

1/The Three days of Khmer New Year

Maha Songkran
Maha Songkran, derived from Sanskrit Maha Sankranti, is the name of the first day of the new year celebration. It is the ending of the year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up and light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines. The members of each family pay homage to offer thanks for the Buddha’s teachings by bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three times before his image. For good luck people wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed.


Wanabat is the name of the second day of the new year celebration. People contribute charity to the less fortunate, help the poor, servants, homeless people, and low-income families. Families attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the monastery.

Tngay Leang Saka

Tngay Leang Saka is the name of the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhist cleanse the Buddha statues and elders with perfumed water. Bathing the Buddha images is the symbol that water will be needed for all kinds of plants and lives. It is also thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By bathing their grandparents and parents, children can obtain from them best wishes and good advice for the future.

New Year Traditions

In temples, people erect a sand hillock on temple grounds. They mound up a big pointed hill of sand or dome in the center which represents sakyamuni satya, the stupa at Tavatimsa, where the Buddha’s hair and diadem are buried. The big stupa is surrounded by four small ones, which represent the stupas of the Buddha’s favorite disciples which are Sariputta, Moggallana, Ananda, and Maha Kassapa. There is another tradition, that is pouring water or plaster on someone.

Khmer New Year is a time to prepare special dishes. One of these is kralan, a cake made from steamed rice mixed with beans or peas, grated coconut and coconut milk. The mixture is stuffed inside a bamboo stick and slowly roasted.

 Khmer games

Cambodia is home to a variety of games played to transform the dullest days into a memorable occasion. Through-out the Khmer New Year, street corners often are crowded with friends and families enjoying a break from routine, filling their free time dancing and play. Typically Khmer games help maintain one’s mental and physical dexterity. The body’s blood pressure, muscle system and brain all are challenged and strengthened in the name of fun.

  • “Tres”

A game played by throwing and catching a ball with one hand while trying to catch an increasing number of sticks with the other hand. Usually, pens or chopsticks are used as the sticks to be caught.

  • “Chol Chhoung”

    A game played especially on the first nightfall of the Khmer New Year by two groups of boys and girls. Ten or 20 people comprise each group, standing in two rows opposite each other. One group throws the “chhoung” to the other group. When it is caught, it will be rapidly thrown back to the first group. If someone is hit by the “chhoung,” the whole group must dance to get the “chhoung” back while the other group sings.

  • “Chab Kon Kleng”
    A game played by imitating a hen as she protects her chicks from a crow. Adults typically play this game on the night of the first New Year’s Day. Participants usually appoint a person with a strong build to play the hen leading many chicks. Another person is picked to be the crow. While both sides sing a song of bargaining, the crow tries to catch as many chicks as possible as they hide behind the hen.
  • “Bos Angkunh”
    A game played by two groups of boys and girls. Each group throws their own “angkunh” to hit the master “angkunhs,” which belong to the other group and are placed on the ground. The winners must knock the knee of the losers with the “angkunh.” “Angkunh” is the name of an inedible fruit seed, which looks like the knee bone.
  • “Leak Kanseng”
    A game played by a group of children sitting in circle. Someone holding a “kanseng” (Cambodian towel) twisted into a round shape walks around the circle while singing a song. The person walking secretly tries to place the “kanseng” behind one of the children. If that chosen child realizes what is happening, he or she must pick up the “kanseng” and beat the person sitting next to him or her.
  • “Bay Khom”
    A game played by two children in rural or urban areas during their free time. Ten holes are dug in the shape of an oval into a board in the ground. The game is played with 42 small beads, stones or fruit seeds. Before starting the game, five beads are put into each of the two holes located at the tip of the board. Four beads are placed in each of the remaining eight holes. The first player takes all the beads from any hole and drops them one by one in the other holes. He or she must repeat this process until they have dropped the last bead into a hole lying beside an empty one. Then they must take all the beads in the hole that follows the empty one. At this point, the second player begins to play. The game ends when all the holes are empty. The player with the greatest number of beads wins the game
  • “Klah Klok”
    A game played by Cambodians of all ages. It is a gambling game that is fun for all ages. There is a mat & dice. You put money on the object that you believe the person rolling the dice (which is usually shaken in a type of bowl) and you wait. If the objects face up on the dice are the same as the objects you put money on. You double it. If there are two of yours you triple, and so on.
    2/Bon Om Touk – Water and Moon Festival (01-03 November 2009)

    For the people of Cambodia, the water Festival (The pirogue Racing Festival) in Phnom Penhis the most magnificent traditional festival. For three days Phnom Penh citizens, foreign tourists and peasants from various provinces gather in the capital to celebrate festival night day.

    The water festival had background for so long time. The water festival ceremony is the army training to do attest of the army for preparing to do a battle. In the history, Khmer King always does the battle with enemies by sailing. So he prepares this water festival ceremony every year to choose Champion of sailing battle, as in Bayon Temple, Batteay Chhmar in the Preah Bat Jayvarman VII. We had seen a lot of statues about sailing battle under leading of Jayvarman VII. The custom of this is to have from then up to the present. On the other hand the water is celebrated every years in November to honor the victory of Cambodian Naval forces in the reign of King JayvarmanVII, during Angkor period of the 12th century. and this ceremony is to history about military exercise of our navy force in the course of national defense and to express thanks to the 3 Buddhist symbols Gods and holy thing which helped us and agriculture field and serves as an opportunity to pray for our lord for the happiness and sufficient rain for rice cultivation.

    Besides the regatta, the water festival also includes three other ceremonies: Illuminated float (Loy Pratip), Moon salutation (Sampeas Preah Khe) and the eating of pestle new special rice with banana or coconut juice (Ork Ambok). The ceremony last three days to provide opportunity for people to by part in competition that there were to types of boats from near and far of provinces, taking part in the races, the pirogue and the rowing boat. Each boat was manned by about thirty to forty men or women. The boat with a man or a woman dancing softly and gracefully to the rhythm of the drums on the bow as an encouragement to the rowers moved swiftly through the water.

    There as the race winners will be rewarded a lot of  good such as: drink, money, clothes, rice, cigarettes and the commission of the boat racing day must seek donations in order to provide this prize for participants.During the nighttime at about seven o’clock the river was lit by jazzy illuminated boats, which floated slowly, and smoothly on the water’s surface. Each of them was equipped with thousands of flashy neon lights arranged in different colorful, fancy patterns representing state institutions, ministries and services.
    After a little time fireworks and multi color were lit to entertain people. Some of people made loud noises. They burst into different shapes and colors in the sky under the clapped and cheered with joy each time at the sight of the fireworks.

    Finally the water festival is the festivity for the Cambodian people who celebrated every years and going for a walk during the ceremony days really refreshed our mood. The lively festive atmosphere helped relive our tension and trouble.