Khmer New Year in Siem Reap in Cambodia 2024

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  • Post last modified:18/06/2024
Multi-coloured star decoration for Khmer New Year in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Happy Khmer New Year, Happy Cambodia New Year, ‘Soursdey Chnam Thmey’! We love joining in local festivals when we travel, and during our time living in Cambodia in 2017, we were lucky enough to experience Khmer New Year in Siem Reap.

2024 marks the third Khmer New Year celebrations to take place in Cambodia since the two-year COVID-19 hiatus. Sadly, due to a lack of resources, the popular Angkor Sankranta celebrations are will not be taking place at the Anchor Archaeological Park, as they were in 2017 when we attended. Instead it will be held in various locations in the Royal Gardens Park and either side of the river in the city centre.

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Khmer New Year in Siem Reap

Multi-coloured star light for Khmer New Year in Siem Reap, Cambodia

From what we were told Phnom Penh resembles a ghost town during this time as businesses close to allow staff to visit their families in the provinces and at the beaches. However, Khmer New Year in Siem Reap was a different story entirely. Brightly coloured stars and lights adorned the riverside and roads, whilst displays of fruit and vegetables decorated the entrance of most houses and workplaces.

We woke up a couple of mornings before the celebrations to find our landlords (a Khmer family whose top half of their house we lived in) had hung a big multi-coloured star light on our balcony and several smaller ones around the property. Khmers from all over Cambodia flooded the town to visit relatives and to join in the Cambodian New Year festivities. The number of tourists also steadily increased as they arrived to experience this celebration.

For many, the highlight of Khmer New Year is the water and talcum powder fights that have become the norm in recent years. For three days people roam the streets armed with brightly coloured, plastic water guns, buckets, hoses and talcum powder. There are also Buddhist ceremonies, family, school and staff parties, celebrations around the city centre and in the past, the massive Angkor Sangkranta Festival held in the Angkor Archaeological Park.

When is Khmer New Year in 2024?

Along with several other countries and cultures, Cambodia doesn’t follow the Gregorian calendar. This means Cambodians or Khmers don’t celebrate New Year on January 1st. Instead, it is usually celebrated for three days in April. This is due to the adoption of the solar calendar; and also signals the end of the dry season and harvest and the start of the rainy season. It’s recently been announced that in 2024 Khmer New Year in Siem Reap will actually be for four days, from 13th to 16th April.

Khmer New Year History and Traditions

The three days of Khmer New Year follow strict social and religious traditions. Many of these are still observed by a lot of people in Cambodia.

Day 1 – Maha Songkran

Khmer New Year offering, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Table of fruit, vegetables, incense and drinks

Maha Songkran means ‘big change’ and this day officially marks the end of one year and the start of a new one. Each year one of seven angels is assigned (depending on the day New Year falls on) to protect the World for the coming year.

In 2024 the holiday falls on a Saturday, so the angel Mohurea Tevy will be chosen. She is said to ride a peacock and wear a trokeat flower tucked behind her ear, sapphires around her neck and eats deer meat. In her right hand, she carries a disc of power and in her left hand a trident. To welcome the angel, people clean and tidy their homes, bathe themselves and dress up in their best clothes. Our landlords’ families’ children were bathed in large tin bowls with hoses in the garden.

Tables of offerings for the angel are displayed at the entrance to homes; they include fruit, candles, incense sticks, flowers and twinkling lights. The offering changes depending on the angel. Families ‘compete’ to have the best display to ensure their house is protected for that year. Many families also visit their local pagoda to pray and to give gifts of food, drink, incense, and money to the monks. I accompanied my friend and her Khmer fiance to his local Pagoda, we took the monks a box of bottled water, a slab of Fantas and bundles of incense wrapped in $5 USD notes. 

Day 2 – Virak Wanabat

Sand mountain covered in red, yellow and blue flags and bunting at Wat Bo Pagoda for Khmer New Year in Siem Reap 2024

Wanabat means ‘day of giving’; on the second day of Khmer New Year, the tradition is for children to give gifts to their parents and grandparents. Sometimes money and clothes are donated to those less fortunate than themselves! People gather at pagodas to build a sand mountain to honour their ancestors. It has a peak at the top surrounded by four smaller peaks that represent Buddha and his disciples. In the evening monks at the pagodas give water blessings.

Day 3 – Tanai Lieng Saka

Tanai Lieng Saka means ‘new beginning’. On the third day of the celebrations, statues of Buddha are bathed with scented water to encourage good rains in the coming months. Some people also bathe monks, their parents, and grandparents in the same way to bring good luck and long life.

The afternoon turns into a party as families and friends celebrate New Year with food and drinks in their homes and in the streets. Traditionally children and youths would pour water and dust each other with white talcum powder as a symbol of cleanliness. This has now been adopted by all ages and is where the water and talcum powder fights originate from.

Cambodia New Year Games

Cambodian New Year (Khmer New Year) is traditionally the only time when young and teenage Cambodian boys and girls are supposed to play together. Young men also take this as an opportunity to look for possible brides. These are some of the many traditional games that are played during this time, mainly by younger Cambodians, but sometimes by adults too.

Chol Chhoung

This game is popular with children and teenagers as it’s often based on which girl likes which boy and vice versa. It’s played with two teams, a boys team and a girls team, who stand in lines opposite each other. The ‘chhoung’ which is a tied-up scarf, is thrown between the row of girls and the row of boys. When a team member catches it they throw it quickly at someone they like in the opposite row.

If the chhoung hits that person they lead the whole team in singing and dancing until the chhoung is passed back to the other team. The process then starts all over again.


Otherwise known as ‘boy meets girl’, this is again played with two teams, boys against girls. The Ongkhun is a Cambodia vine that produces hard, round, flat(ish) seeds, resembling a large flat horse chestnut (or conker, as we call them in the UK).

One team pushes their ongkhun seeds into the ground for targets, the other team throws their ongkhuns to try to hit the targets. The team hitting the most targets wins and then hits the knees of the losing team members with an ongkhun…they’re really hard and it hurts!

Leak Kanseng

A group of children playing Leak Kanseng during Khmer Nedw Year in Siem Reapo. They are sitting in a circle on the floor, whilst one runs round the outside holding a ‘kanseng‘ a Cambodian towel screwed into a ball.

To play this game a group of children arranges themselves in a circle sitting on the floor. One of the children holding a kanseng, a Cambodian towel twisted into a ball, sings a song whilst running around the circle. They then try to secretly put the kanseng behind one of the other children, without them noticing. If they notice, they grab the kanseng and hits the person next to them with it.  

Siem Reap Khmer New Year Celebrations 

The social and religious traditions of Khmer New Year are these days, mixed up with the madness of modern-day Khmer New Year. Especially for Khmer New Year in Siem Reap which has become a tourist hub for travellers visiting the Angkor Archaeological Complex. It gets extremely busy so if you want a choice of accommodation make sure you book it well in advance.

The same goes for booking transport to and around Cambodia, don’t leave it too late to book.


For the three days of celebrations, we couldn’t walk along any street without being soaked with water or covered in talcum powder. There were water guns, buckets, hoses and eskies full of icy cold water ready to drench both expectant and unsuspecting passers-by. It’s irrelevant whether you’re on foot, cycle, motorcycle or in a tuk tuk, everyone’s a target. 

Royal Gardens Concerts

Bright red lights on Royal Gardens concert stage during Khmer New Year in Siem Reap

Alongside the river, Royal Gardens were transformed into a cross between a huge market and concert arena. Stalls were set up selling everything from mattresses, to household items, to street food. Concert stages also appeared, allowing several bands to entertain the crowds with thumping music of all genres, from Khmer pop to heavy metal.

Surrounding the stages, scores of tables and chairs were set up for people to sit and listen to the music or to enjoy the food and drink on offer from the many different food vendors. We had a great meal of stir-fried beef with rice, prawn soup, and a bottle of water. fried chicken and roasted chestnuts.

We also sampled fried chicken and roasted chestnuts, all washed down with a couple of Cambodia beers. Sometimes you really can’t beat some street food! 

What struck me most, was how friendly all the locals were, they were more than happy to involve us and invite us to join in their partying with a “chul moy” (“cheers”) or two over a can of beer.

Water and Talcum Powder Fights

Three locals standing in front of a white van with water guns during Khmer New Year water fights in Siem Reap

After dark street parties happen all over town and things get really crazy, especially in the touristy areas of Old Market and Pub Street. We’d been warned it was a nightmare but had to see it for ourselves. We ventured out with some friends and made our way along the riverside towards Pub Street.

Within seconds we looked like drowned rats and were covered in talcum powder. There was no malice though, everyone was jovial and laughing, having fun. 

The closer we got to Pub Street, the busier it became, to the point where we struggled to keep track of each other. Pub Street itself was chaotic, as revellers spilt out into the road from bars and restaurants. Loud Khmer New Year songs pumped out from all directions competing with each other for volume.

The entire street was crowded with people shoulder to shoulder, crammed in like a tin of sardines with a big water and talcum powder fight in full flow.

It was a bit much for some of us as you couldn’t move an inch. We soon decided to admit defeat and retreated away from the main strip to the safety of a nearby, less crowded bar.

Angkor Sankranta Festival

Another highlight of Khmer New Year in Siem Reap in the past has been the Angkor Sankranta Festival; this festival had taken place in the Angkor Archaeological Park since 2013. It was three days full of events, shows, ceremonies, activities, games, food and drink all around the stunning Angkor Temples.

IMPORTANT: As mentioned above, the Angkor Sankrantata festival will not be held in the Angkor Archaeological Complex in 2024, instead it will be held in the Royal Gardens Park and either side of the river in Siem Reap city centre.

The actual Angkor Ankranta celebrations are likely to be similar to previous years, despite the location change. Therefore the following I’ve shared is based on our experience in the Archaeological Park to give you some idea what to expect.

There’s always a jam-packed schedule for the three days, but as it’s such a challenge to get there and back due to the traffic we just went on the second day of the celebrations.

We got tuk tuks from Siem Reap town which cost $8 USD (£6.20) per tuk tuk and took around 45 minutes to get there. The traffic was pretty bad, especially as we neared the entrance to the Temple complex, but eventually, we made it.

After looking at the map and programme we decided it would be too difficult to try to be in set places at set times, so we opted to just wander to see what was going on.

Giant chapei dong veng instrument at Angkor Sankranta in Siem Reap for Khmer New Year

On the opposite side of the moat to Angkor Wat we came across an area with lots of traditional Khmer New Year games taking place; some of us quickly got involved in a giant tug of war. We then watched some other games that were in progress.

Soon after we stumbled upon a traditional music and dance show and were quickly dragged into the centre and encouraged to join in the traditional dancing. After we pottered around a bit more looking and sampling some of the local street food… it was the first time I’d ever tried palm fruit.

Next up was a bit of a walk past the Terrace of the Elephants and past the Bayon Temple to another section of the Festival. Here they were displaying the Guinness Book of Record attempts for the year. A giant chicken’s nest and a giant ‘chapei dong veng’, which is a traditional two-stringed, long-necked guitar. 

At this point, despite there still being much more to see we decided to head back to Siem Reap in a ploy to avoid the crowds when everyone else left later!

Our ploy wasn’t that successful. We managed to find tuk tuks but they took us the long way round to avoid the worst of the traffic. It took us a good hour and a half to get back to town.

Despite this the journey back was very entertaining, the roads were lined with local families who attacked the passing traffic with deluges of water and showers of talcum powder. There were even groups of people in the back of pickups armed with watery weapons.

It was hilarious (if a little dangerous) and by the time we got back to Siem Reap we were soaked to the skin!

Andy made a vlog on Angkor Sankranta which you may find interesting.

Siem Reap Khmer New Year 2024 Programme and Map

Below are images of the Siem Reap Khmer New Year 2024 Programme and Map. Keep reading for the programme translated into English.

Khmer New Tear Siem Reap 2024 Programme
Khmer New Tear Siem Reap 2024 Map

Siem Reap Khmer New Year Programme in English

Here is the above programme for Khmer New Year in Siem Reap translated into English. This is as accurate as possible, but I do apologise if anything has been lost in translation, or if there are any last minute changes to the programme.

12th April 2024

  • 08:00 – 3:30 Happiness Prayer Ceremony
  • 09:00 – 21:00 Food Exhibition Stall
  • 14:00 – 21:00 Leisure Boating Programme

13th April 2024

  • 06:40 – 11:30 Offical Opening Ceremonу
  • 09:00 – 18:30 Cultural Heritage Village
  • 09:00 – 18:30 Khmer Heritage Kite Exhibition and Training
  • 09:00 – 18:30 Food Exhibition Stall
  • 14:00 – 17:00 Traditional Khmer Talk With Games and Activities
  • 14:00 – 19:00 Cool Zone Refreshing Water Activities and Leisure Boating Programme
  • 14:00 – 15:30 Hand Drum Band Music
  • 15:30 – 20:30 Traditional Khmer Dance Performance
  • 10:00 – 21:00 Starlight Movies

14th April 2024

  • 09:00 – 18:30 Cultural Heritage Village
  • 09:00 – 21:00 Khmer Heritage Kite Exhibition and Training
  • 09:00 – 21:00 Food Exhibition Stall
  • 16:00 – 21:00 Khmer New Year Concert
  • 21:00 – 21:30 Starlight Movies

15th April 2024

  • 6.40 – 11:30 Siem Reap Sankranta Golf Tournament 2024
  • 8:30 – 10:00 Religious Program, Sandhill Ceremony
  • 9:00 – 18:30 Cultural Heritage Village
  • 10:00 – 21:00 Leisure Boating Programme and Traditional Khmer Games and Activities
  • 14:00 – 19:00 Cool Zone Refreshing Water Activities
  • 10:00 – 11:30 Hand Drum Band Music and Traditional Khmer Dance Performance
  • 10:00 – 21:00 Khmer New Year Concert
  • 19:30 – 16:30 Traditional Dance Performance
  • 10:00 – 21:00 Movies
  • 17:00 – 20:00 Floating Lanterns and Happiness Prayers
  • 18:30 – 21:00 Leather Puppet Show

16th April 2024

  • 8:30 – 9:30 Hand Drum Band Music and Traditional Khmer Dance Performance
  • 9:30 – 11:30 Traditional Khmer Games and Activities
  • 9:00 – 21:00 Food Exhibition Stall
  • 9:00 – 18:30 Cultural Heritage Village Activities and Lucky Haircuts
  • 9:00 – 21:00 Khmer Heritage Kite Exhibition and Training
  • 12:00 – 21:00 Buddha Bathing Ceremony
  • 12:00 – 21:00 Cool Zone Refreshing Water Activities
  • 10:00 – 21:00 Leisure Boating Programme; Hand Drum Band Music and Concert
  • 18:00 – 21:00 Movies Screening under the Starlight

Safety for Khmer New Year in Siem Reap

Khmer New Year in Siem Reap was a fantastic, friendly, lively festival to be a part of, but due to the water and talcum powder throwing, and alcohol it can also be dangerous on the roads.

There’s an increase in road traffic accidents caused by people swerving or being surprised by water attacks when on their motos or cycles. The combination of water and talcum powder also makes the road surface slippery resulting in skidding and crashes, especially when mixed with speeding and drink driving.

Personally, I would avoid riding a bicycle or motorcycle during Khmer New Year. After being squirted directly in the face when riding my bicycle on the first day of the festival and nearly coming off it I decided the bike would remain safely at home for the rest of the celebrations. You also need to stay alert when walking around town as normal road rules don’t apply…keep your wits about you.

There’s little violent crime during Khmer New Year but one thing to be aware of is an increase in opportunistic pickpockets and bag snatchers, especially in crowds.

There’s probably not much chance of it happening but to be on the safe side I’d recommend the following: don’t take a bag out with you, don’t carry large amounts of money and don’t walk around with your camera or phone out.

I just stashed my money in my bra and kept my iPhone in the waistband of my jeans. If you take these precautions you should be fine.

One other thing to remember is that Khmer New Year falls at the hottest time of the year, so be sure to drink lots of water and wear sunscreen when out and about.

Where to Stay in Siem Reap

It’s difficult to recommend places to stay in Siem Reap because there are just so many hotels, guesthouses and hotels in and around town. Which you choose very much depends on what you’re looking for, so be sure to do some research before arriving.

Popular hostels include Lub D, Onederz, and Pool Party Hostel.

If you’re looking for something a bit quieter, there are many guest houses. Of these, our favourite guesthouse isBaby Elephant Boutique Hotel, which we absolutely love. I even took a birthday staycation there which was amazing.

Other good guesthouses are Eureka Villas and Babel Guesthouse.

Then of course there are many hotels which range wildly in price depending on the location, quality and facilities. Jaya House River Park, Navutu Dreams Resort and Wellness Retreat, Victoria Central Residence are all great options at the higher end of the scale.


We thoroughly enjoyed our experience of the celebrations for Khmer New Year in Siem Reap, both the traditions and partying. By the time it was over though we were more than ready for a rest.

Have you spent Khmer New Year in Siem Reap or been anywhere else in Cambodia during Khmer New Year? If so, please do tell us about it in the comments.

Planning Your Trip to Siem Reap?

Planning your trip to Siem Reap in Cambodia? Here are some of our recommended useful resources to help you have the best time possible.

TRAVEL INSURANCE IS AN IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION! World Nomads offers cover for travellers in over 100 countries and True Traveller is a great option if you’re from the UK or EU.

SafetyWing is another solution, particularly for digital nomads and long-term travellers.

● Use Wise (formerly Transferwise) for sending or receiving money internationally. It’s cheap, easy and transparent.

● Find amazing flight deals on SkyscannerKayak, and AirAsia

● Compare rental car prices on

Book buses, taxis, ferries and trains with Camboticket, 12Go, and Bookaway.

● usually have the best hotel prices.

● Our go-to for self-catering accommodation is Vrbo.

● Discover fantastic trips and activities with Klook, Viator and GetYourGuide.

● Check out Bookmundi, G Adventures, and  Intrepid Travel for group holidays and tours.

Read More Cambodia 

How to Get a Cambodia Visa on Arrival

Swimming Pools in Siem Reap

Ultimate Guide to Cambodia’s Beaches and Islands

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Khmer New Year in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Khmer New Year in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Khmer New Year in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Tanya Korteling

Tanya is the founder and head content creator for Can Travel Will Travel. She combines freelance SEO, CRO, Data and Marketing consultancy with exploring the world. Passionate about adventure, nature, wildlife and food, she incorporates these in her travels as much as possible. She also loves immersing herself in new cultures. She's visited hundreds of destinations in 50+ countries and lived in 4 countries. Tanya worked as a Data Planning Manager and Digital Marketing Strategist before leaving the UK in 2016 with her husband Andy, to travel, live and work abroad indefinitely. Together they share their experiences and useful information to inspire and encourage others to do the same.

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Youdish

    Explore the tropical islands of the Indian Ocean. From choosing your accommodation, places to visit and travelling tips, we will guide you throughout to make your holidays a memorable one. V

  2. Pau

    Thank you for sharing, I had never heard about Khmer New Year and this has been enlightning. Great post!!!

    1. TanyaKorteling


  3. Gary Rogue

    Wow! That’s a proper way of celebrating New Year, 3 days straight! I’ve spent some time travelling in Southeast Asia but haven’t managed to visit Cambodia yet. Your post definitely entices me to go during the colourful time of Khmer, just need to take a water cover for my camera 😉

    1. TanyaKorteling

      You’d love it – it’s a fantastic festival. Another great Cambodian festival is Water Festival in October/ November with lots of dragon boat racing. Great fun!

  4. Nicolien Yates

    Thanks for writing this – I only just found out that we will be there during this year’s new Year celebrations – we are with 2 kids 9+11 who i am sure will love the water fights! good tips of what to avoid – I am not that confident in big masses

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Thank you – I’m glad it was useful. The kids will love it, as will you. Definitely try and get out to Angkor Wat for the day – we really enjoyed that!

  5. Johna

    Interesting! I dont know much about Khmer New Year although I do have a few Cambodian friends. Learnt a lot from your post though.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Thanks – I’m glad you found it interesting 🙂

  6. Suruchi

    The Khmer new festival is so interesting and your post is a complete detail about it. The water guns and Talcum powder fights are like Holi in India.So, I can very well relate much how fun it will be. Wish to attend this one day for sure.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Hi, I’d love to experience Holi in India one day. Hopefully soon!

  7. Jen Ambrose

    Very cool! We were actually in Kampot during the Khmer New Year’s, and didn’t see too much going on, at least not in the area we were staying in (and a lot of the businesses there were closed).

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Thanks – several of our friends from Siem Reap went to Kampot during Khmer New Year too as it was quieter there!

  8. Darlene

    Interesting! Didnt know the Khmer New Year is celebrated in April. Would like to experience New Year there too!

  9. Sandy N Vyjay

    It’s great to know that no matter how fast the world is changing and no

    matter how many tourists visits Cambodia it’s old traditions remains intact. Festivities like

    the Khmer New Year shows how Cambodians respect and follow their old traditions. And

    by this, it also shows their beautiful traditions to visitors.

  10. Wow, I never heard about this kind of celebration in Cambodia before and this sounds like a happy celebration knowing that this has been a ghost town before. This is what I like about reading blogs cause I get to experience other cultures and beliefs by just reading blogs. Thank you so much for sharing such a detail blog post about Khemer New Year. I hope the festival could be controlled as well to avoid road accidents. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Thankyou…I love sharing my experiences , this year (as far as I know) there weren’t too many accidents which is good!

  11. Joanna

    I love reading about different traditions and cultures from different countries. I have been to SE Asia but I never made it to Cambodia. I wish I could take part in the new year’s ceremonies, they looks like so much fun.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      If you ever get chance to visit Cambodia, it’s so worth it. An amazing country and people!

  12. celine

    Interesting! Looking forward to visit Cambodia soon

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Thanks, if you ever visit and have any questions be sure to message me!

  13. SindhuMurthy

    It felt great reading about the local traditional celebrations of the new year in Cambodia. Some of the games like the talcum powder and water play seemed quite interesting 🙂 The celebrations are so much fun.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      It was such fun and also great to learn about all the old traditions, as well as the more modern ones.

  14. Andi

    The water gun stuff is similar to Thailand and Philippines festival where you just throw water to anyone. It’s nice to know this kind of stuff like the new year culture and the fact that they don’t follow Gregorian Calendar. Nice post!

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Thanks Andi,

      It’s not quite such a huge water fight as Thailand yet thankfully. I hope it doesn’t get to that point
      as at least currently there’s still many of the old traditions retained.

  15. Cathy

    I have been to Cambodia once and I loved it. It’s cheap and a very simple town. Temples are majestic. This new year feat is quite similar to our new year in the Philippines. We dress nicely and tidy our houses to attract good luck. It’s such a great experience to be part of this event in a foreign country ?

    1. TanyaKorteling

      I’d love to experience the New Year in the Phillipines too, maybe one day!

  16. Fábio Inácio

    I will one day to be at Khmer New Year and its celebrations for sure, it looks so much fun, its so interesting the New Year games were the boys begin looking at the girls as a future bride. Thanks for share, learned a lot 🙂

    1. TanyaKorteling

      I’m glad you found it interesting – thanks for reading 🙂

  17. Elisa

    I have been to Cambodia but I did not know anything about a Khmer New Year and its celebrations. So today I learnt something new thanks to this post! Not sure I’d like to be in Siam Reap during those days, it is already a crazy place all the year round 😉

    1. TanyaKorteling

      It was definitely an experience for sure. The main craziness was around Pub Street which was just too much, the rest was great…and being part of the traditions was interesting especially the pagoda visit!

      Living here we rarely go near Pub Street which I find is the only crazy area here. The rest we love! Thanks for reading ?

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