Cambodia is a country that enjoys an abundance of public and religious holidays with more than 20 scheduled annually.
Any time of the year is the perfect time for you to plan for a professional volunteering experience in Cambodia, where you could do good by sharing your skills and expertise for meaningful projects and respectable organisations while experiencing new cultural, religious, or sporting events.
We have selected for you the most important events and celebrations.
Please note that while Cambodian public holidays always happen on the same day, religious holidays are linked to the moon cycle and change every year. You can use this calendar to check the dates for 2021.
IMPORTANT: Due to COVID19, many of these celebrations have been canceled, postponed, or scaled down.
New Year’s Day: January 1st
While it is now an official holiday, it wasn’t widely celebrated in Cambodia until a few years ago. On New Year’s Eve, thousands of Khmers, expats and tourists welcome the new year by gathering to view the fireworks at the riverside. Modern establishments such as clubs and bars now often bring in live music for party-goers keen on celebrating the new year.
Chinese New Year – starting January 25th
Chinese New Year is not an official holiday in Cambodia but it is still one of the most celebrated festivals during the year, mostly by Khmers with Chinese descent. However, many Cambodians and other foreigners living in Cambodia will also join some parts of the celebration.
Khmer New Year: April 14th-15th-16th
Khmer New Year, also known as Cambodian New Year, is usually a three-day public holiday in Cambodia. In Khmer, it is called ‘Chaul Chnam Thmey’, which means ‘enter the new year’. Khmer New Year marks the end of the harvesting season before the beginning of the rainy season.
Activities and celebrations are held in the major cities of Cambodia. Activities include religious ceremonies and traditional games and dances.
Visak Bochea Day : April – May
Visak Bochea, also known internationally as Lord Buddha Day, celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death (nirvana) of Buddha. It is an important Buddhist festival, and a public holiday as well, held on the full moon in the third month of the traditional Khmer calendar, generally sometime between April or May on the Gregorian Calendar.
It is an occasion when Buddha prophesied his death and where Buddhist followers remember Buddha and his teachings.
Many Cambodian Buddhists visit local temples and shrines; many also bring food, candles, and flowers to monks at monasteries to give them as gifts. The monks chant from Buddhist scriptures, teach on the ways of Buddha, and lead people in meditations.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony: May
Traditionally held in Cambodia every year in May, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is an ancient royal rite held in many Asian countries to mark the traditional beginning of the rice-growing season and the rainy season.
It celebrates a time when the Cambodian people began preparations for their farming activities. The ceremony is commemorated to give blessings to the farming sector and to pray for a bountiful harvest season.
The actual date of the ceremony may vary slightly every year as it’s a holiday in the lunar calendar. The Ploughing Ceremony is also a holiday, so banks or public offices are closed during this day.
Pchum Ben (Ancestor’s Day): Depends on the moon cycle
Pchum Ben is a Cambodian Buddhist holiday when people remember and honor the souls of their ancestors as well as deceased family members and friends. Household members present colourful food offerings at Buddhist temples and pagodas, or simply cast them in the fields for the deceased. Many locals travel back to their home cities in order to celebrate with their families.
Travelers are welcome to visit the pagodas to observe the Pchum Ben ceremonies, as long as they follow temple etiquette. Remember to dress respectfully (with shoulders and legs covered), take your shoes off before entering the temple, and refrain from touching the monks.
Bon Om Touk (Water and Moon Festival with Boat Racing): Depends on the moon cycle
Bon Om Touk marks the ascent of the Harvest Moon as well as the reversal of the Tonle Sap River’s current. The highlight of the event is the boat races that are held over the three days, which commemorates the naval forces established by the king to protect the empire in Angkorian times.
When night falls, fireworks light up the sky, and a lighted flotilla of boats sail along the water for good luck. People from all walks of life gather on the banks of rivers in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap for several days and nights to enjoy the festivities.
Angkor Wat International Half Marathon: December
The Angkor Wat International Half Marathon has been held at the Angkor Wat ruins every year 1996. Near the end of the year, runners (including landmine victims) from all over the world come together at Angkor Wat to protest the inhumane use of antipersonnel mines through participation in the race. The entry fees and additional financial aids help support landmine victims by funding the provision of prosthetic limbs, social reintegration programs, and other relevant programs.
The race consists of a flat course with trees and ancient temples along the route. It’s a unique, scenic run on a world heritage site.