cambodian ceremonies

The Complete Adventure Travelers Guide To Traditional Cambodian Ceremonies

cambodian ceremonies

Cambodian Ceremonies | Matches, Hatches and Dispatches

Of all the Khmer ceremonies; births, weddings and deaths are the ones a visitor to Cambodia is most likely to bump into or participate in; for better or worse or death do you part. Cambodian ceremonies sometimes have tents thrown up on streets; not to be confused with a mobile phone sale. Some ceremonies have raucous music and chanting lasting for days where other traditional Cambodian activities can simply be observed. Be prepared, as these events have longevity, even in death.

cambodian ceremonies

Cambodian Ceremonies | Hatches

Traditions and customs begin early in the game in Cambodia; even babies are included. Superstitions abound after delivery and they start on the first day of pregnancy. Mothers and traditional healers play a pivotal role in maintaining traditional practices in Cambodia and are considered the true experts by many women who deliver at home. Traditionally, giving birth is a very convoluted affair with three parts to the process: before birth, during birth, and after the baby is born.

During Pregnancy

Before giving birth, a Cambodian mother will always make sure that she is in top shape and ready to give birth. To this end, a mother follows many traditional practices that adhere to specific instructions and prohibitions. For starters, a pregnant woman should avoid eating spicy food because locals believe it puts the infant’s survival in jeopardy. Porridge is off the list as the superstition is that eating porridge during pregnancy gives the infant a bad complexion: dull not bright. Milk is another no-no as the belief is it will make the baby “fat” and problematic to deliver.

No tight clothes for the expectant mother or attempting to remove something from a high shelf. Lunar and solar eclipses are a problem and if they occur, the mother must rub calcium carbonate on her stomach to narrow the baby’s eyes and prevent it from seeing Rahu, an evil ugly-faced Hindu demon. Failing this, her baby is born lacking intelligence because the demon frightens the baby, resulting in a loss of intelligence and memory. Many pregnant women refuse to sleep on their left side as they fear the baby will have a “flat” face or nose.

But it Doesn’t Stop There.

The mother is forbidden to take a nap or bathe at night because the baby will grow bigger, which could mean a difficult delivery. Additionally, a pregnant woman must get up before her husband, otherwise the baby will be lazy and not have the energy for delivery. Instead, the mother must push harder making birth difficult.

Many women still believe that drinking beer during the last months of pregnancy will “lighten” the baby’s skin. Some even drink rice wine to have “smaller” babies that are easier to deliver. Cheers!

After A Birth

After the delivery, a mother is usually kept warm from three to seven days. But, it really depends on the money available to buy charcoal. A custom, named Ang pleung, is performed where a small fire is placed under the mother’s bed to keep her warm. “Hot” food–lots of salt, peppers, and almost no fruit – is prescribed, and every family has its own magic recipe. The mother stays at home for at least a month.

Cambodians call post-delivery sor sai kchey, which literally means “weak blood vessels”.

The Cambodian idea of maternal health is based on restoring the ‘hot’ state of the mother, who is believed to have lost heat during delivery; suddenly left in a weak state. Failing to regenerate the mother’s heat in the following weeks exposes her to health problems known as toa in Khmer.

Post Natal Wine Drinking

It is not uncommon for women to drink up to ten litres of rice wine in the month following delivery, even when they breastfeed. Many are simply drunk for weeks and, since there’s no quality control of the wine, severe intoxication is frequent.

And the custom of Ang pleung also leads the mother to drink more wine.

The baby’s first hair is cut or sometimes its head shaved to symbolically remove all the bad luck from the previous life. A small holy red string is put around the baby’s arm to keep the mother from the baby’s previous life from returning and telling stories about that life.

Last but not least, the midwife has to be paid. If the family doesn’t pay, then the mother will become the midwife’s assistant in the next life. A grim end indeed.

Cambodian Ceremonies | Weddings

Weddings are also elaborate affairs, and they typically last a couple days. The wedding season accompanies the dry season. But more obviously, you know it is wedding time by the tents that pop up around town. Weddings are accompanied by loud music and a crowd of hungry people, there is a festive atmosphere to this event, and an elaborate event it is.

The wedding begins with the groom and his family traveling to the bride’s home with the bride’s dowry. Relatives and friends are introduced, and wedding rings exchanged.

The first part of the ceremony is three traditional songs. The first song announces the arrival of the groom, the next is the giving of the dowry, and a song to invite elders to chew betel nut. This is followed by the Tea Ceremony, where bride and groom offer tea to the spirits of their ancestors.

Wedding Hair Cut

To prepare the bride and groom for married life, their hair is symbolically cut to represent a fresh beginning to their life together. The MC makes the first cut, then the couple’s parents, relatives, and friends take turns to cut the couple’s hair and give them blessings and good wishes.

The finale is where family and friends take turns to tie the couple’s left and right wrists with “blessing strings”. After this, people wish the couple good health, prosperity and a long life. This is accompanied by a loud gong and cheering. Guests then throw palm flowers over the couple accompanied by another traditional song. After the couple is pronounced husband and wife, the newlyweds go into a bridal room while a traditional song is sung.

Then the party begins. Usually many round tables have been set up for guests. As guests arrive they hand over their envelope with cash inside. The amount is recorded, and an account made.

Some weddings will go for days. Typically, day one is for the immediate family, relatives and rich friends who cough up fat envelopes for the newlyweds; day two is for those with smaller bank accounts and day three and beyond, well, it’s for the rest.

Cambodian Ceremonies | Funerals

Funerals in Cambodia, like most ceremonies, involve a lot of preparation and ritual. The first sign of a funereal is the black and white tent and accompanying kitchen tent being flung up on your or a neighbouring street. That street is usually blocked to cars with traffic congestion ensuing for the next couple of days. Tables and chairs are set up, a picture of the deceased placed out front of the tent, and a stack of beer cans put in place. But there is more.

To Begin With, Somebody Dies.

Superstitions abound. One critical superstition is about keeping the body away from animals because if the deceased hears an animal cry, their soul attaches to that animal. It gets worse. Don’t let a cat jump over the body. If it does, the deceased’s soul becomes an evil spirit and doesn’t enter the rebirth cycle.

Having sorted that out, members of the immediate family wash and dress the body then place it in a coffin surrounded by flowers and photos of the deceased. White flags, called “White Crocodile Flags”, are usually hung outside the home to show a person has died.

The body is left al naturale, as any disfiguration could negatively affects the rebirth. Traditionally, the body stayed at home for seven days or longer, but now it’s usually only three days. While the body is at home, monks visit during the evening to chant by the body. Mourners, usually the deceased’s spouse and children, may shave their heads to symbolise their grief. Other mourners may wear white clothing as a sign of grief.

Often chanting can go on for a couple of days. Chanting even begins very early in morning.

People often send flowers to the funeral or donate five up to one hundred dollars. The amount depends on the relationship to the deceased. It is not appropriate to give food or a bottle of wine as gifts.

Cambodian Funeral Procession

After the chanting and the acceptance of offers of respect, a funeral procession takes place. A Cambodian funeral procession is made up of a priest; also known as an achar; monks and family members, who take the body to a crematorium in a local temple. The family carries the coffin around the temple three times during the third to seventh day of the funeral. The oldest daughter drops coins behind her back and doesn’t look back during the procession.

After the cremation, everyone collects and cleans the ashes and bones. They may be put in a stupa inside a temple that’s close to Buddha and the monks to help begin the rebirth cycle, or the family may choose to take the ashes home.

Final Honours After Funeral

On the 7th and 100th day after death, other Cambodian ceremonies take place to honour the deceased.

Cambodian Ceremonies Our Final Say

It is an honour to be invited. You should accept and rejoice at being at a unique celebration. The memory will be a lasting one that will bring you back to this remarkable and breathtaking Kingdom.  

tonle bati lake

How To Explore Awesome Tonle Bati Lake And Temples

tonle bati lake

Amazing and Alluring Tonle Bati

Not far from Phnom Penh is Tonle Bati, which is a lake popular with locals who go there to enjoy a day out by the water and for a couple of twelfth century Angkorian temples in the area. This adventure can be achieved on a day trip from the capital by bike, Cambodian bus, or taxi.

Getting to Tonle Bati By Bus

phnom penh to tonle bati

To get there is straightforward. There are buses that depart for Takeo every hour from the Phnom Penh Sorya bus station, which is near Central Market. Get off at Tonlé Bati at the 35km road marker then take a motodup to the base of the temples. Getting back, well, be patient as you try to hail a passing bus. Or, with your own transport, take National Highway 2 from Phnom Penh and follow the signs to Phnom Chisor: the way is well sign-posted.

Ta Prohm

The Tonlé Bati countryside is a lively area that attracts Cambodians to fish, relax and, of course, visit the Khmer temples of Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau. Both temples were built under Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century during the same period that Siem Reap’s Bayon and Angkor Thom were constructed. The area has been occupied and temples present since the pre-Angkorian Funan period.

Ta Prohm is the more extensive and impressive of the two, displaying a number of very well-preserved carvings. Ta Prohm was built on the site of a 6th century Khmer shrine, and the main sanctuary consists of five chambers, each with a lingam inside, and there are trees that grow on and around the temple. The temple was modified and extended as late as the 16th century.

The temple is very well preserved and covered with beautiful bas-reliefs. It is one of the best preserved and most intricate temples between Siem Reap and the Vietnam border to the south.

Worshipping at Tonle Bati

Tonlé Bati is also a place of worship and, apart from the two ancient temples, also has a pagoda, Wat Tonlé Bati, which was built in 1576.

Yeay Peau is a single sandstone tower situated next to the pagoda and has a display of carvings. It is behind Wat Tonle Bati, about 100 meters from Ta Prohm temple. Constructed of sandstone in the twelfth century, it is seven metres square and faces east. Apart from the temple is a house on the bank of Tonle Bati, about 200 metres from the temple, that once was used by the royal family as a residence during holidays.

The small Yeay Peau temple has been integrated into the modern pagoda that now stands in it’s place. Look for the Buddhist lintel on the eastern door, and the beautiful pediment depicting the Hindu god Vishnu in the rear.

Yeay Peau temple has a legend attached, and is named after King Ta Prohm’s mother. Legend has it that Peau gave birth to a son, Prohm. When Prohm discovered his father was King Preah Ket Mealea, he set off to live with the king. After a few years, he returned to his mother but did not recognise her. The King was taken by her beauty, and asked her to become his wife. He refused to believe Peau’s protests that she was in fact his mother. To fend off his advances, she suggested a contest to avoid the impending marriage.

Cambodian Silk Weaving

After you have seen these temples, visit a silk weaving village where you can see how silk is produced. A bit further down the track, where the turn off to Phnom Chisor is found. There is the temple of Prasat Neang Khmao, the temple of the Black Virgin, which you can visit.

Apart from the temples; you can hang out by Tonlé Bati where there are bamboo picnic stands with mats and small floating wooden pavilions. The lake is a great place to escape the city for a day and go for a swim and relax. At weekends and holidays the lake is popular with locals. So it is best to go on a weekday to avoid the crowds.

Rent a Cottage Near Tonle Bati

Renting a water cottage is $3 for the whole day but more on holidays. There is also food for sale. A pleasant place to go with your friends and family. Bring along small amounts of Riel and dollars and check the prices beforehand on everything. The touts here are notorious for dishing out outrageously high checks when you depart. And, of course, enjoy a swim in the lake.


You can order food from the sampan ladies floating by or a waiter will come to you. There are also pedal boats and boat rides. The floating pavilions are a relaxing way to spend an afternoon where you can enjoy beautiful sunsets and great food. However, beggars can be a problem; they just will not go away, and the salespeople tend to be very pushy.

Takeo and Phnom Chisor

If after a visit to Tonlé Bati you feel like visiting some other places, then head to Takeo town or Phnom Chisor, which are both just down the road. These out-of-the-way places are rarely visited by tourists, but both are surprising, you know, those little gems everybody mentions when talking about their overseas adventure: fascinating hill-top temple with unbelievable views, Ta Mok of Khmer Rouge infamy’s prison, Phnom Da and you can try the delicious freshwater prawns in Takeo town. Check it out.

cambodian ceremonies

How To Easily Understand and Respect Cambodian Etiquette

Cambodian Etiquette. Visaka Bochea Day

Cambodian Etiquette

Many visitors to Cambodia are often baffled by Cambodian etiquette. Why do they always smile? Why are they always bowing? Or why are they so loud? Well, they are Cambodian and that is the way they go about things. Of course, there is a bit more to it than that.

cambodian etiquette

Keep reading and we will make it an adventure and pleasure for you. You will score some respect with our tips.

Cambodian etiquette and customs have had a rich history. It is a culture whose way of life has also influenced the peoples of the region, as those societies have influenced Cambodia. Over the years, the people of Cambodia have developed a set of unique traditions especially influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism. The legacy of this can be seen every day in contemporary Cambodia.

Cambodian greeting

‘Chumreap Suor’

The traditional greeting, a “Sampeah”, which involves pressing the palms together before the chest with a slight bow and saying “Chumreap Suor”. The higher the hands are held and the lower the bow, the more respect is given. Of course, when meeting government officials and between men, this custom has usually been replaced by a handshake. However, women typically greet both men and women with “Chumreap Suor”. For foreigners, the handshake is acceptable, but if you really want to impress the locals then respond with a ‘Chumreap Suor’. However, many Cambodians like to shake hands with Westerners. Avoid shaking hands with monks unless they offer you their hand.

And goodbye … well, goodbye is goodbye but the same as above but say “Choum reap lear”.

Cambodian Etiquette and Keeping Face

A custom that often baffles foreigners is “face”. In Cambodia, there is an expression, “lose face, lose mouth”, which emphasises how important it is to maintain one’s image. Nobody wants to “lose face”, and a person will go to great lengths to avoid making themselves or others look bad.

The downside to this is “yes” can mean “yes, maybe or no”. This can be confusing to people unfamiliar with the “skill of non-confrontation”. However, if a response to a question is non-committal then you quickly learn to read between the lines. Regardless of the answer, make sure not to express anger or frustration and keep smiling.

Cambodian Etiquette Essentials

A big no is no public displays of affection such as kissing; even holding hands for some Cambodians is not on. Cambodia etiquette allows friends of the same gender to old hands- do not read anything into this action; it does not mean they are gay. The former kinds of behaviour are scandalous for many conservative Cambodians. So, watch out.

There is a saying that, “men are like diamonds, women are like cloth” which means that a Cambodian female’s dignity should not be questioned. So, tread carefully with Cambodian women and do not be forward, as you’ll embarrass yourself big time.

Always remove your shoes before entering a house or certain buildings. If unsure then if there are piles of shoes outside the front door, remove your shoes. This rule also applies to temples, where hats and other items that cover the head are also expected to be removed.

Of course, touching somebody’s head is impolite as it is the purest part of the body, a reflection of Buddhist beliefs. On the other hand, feet are the lowest part of the body so don’t point the soles of your feet at another person, especially monks and statues of Buddha.

No alcohol or cigarettes inside pagodas and temples, but that seems obvious.

Because of religious reasons women must never touch a monk. Monks usually have no problem with chatting or having their photo taken with foreigners, just pay attention to their personal space.

Keep Calm and Carry on

Buddhism is the ruling religion in Cambodia, and people across the country practise its beliefs. By nature, Cambodians are typically gentle and will avoid anger, confrontation and anger at all costs. Shouting, raising your voice and aggressive behaviour will get you nowhere in the Kingdom because it causes loss of face, and may even lessen any chances of solving a problem. Remember, keep calm and smile.

Business Cambodian Style

Cambodians have not been left behind as far as business is concerned. Cambodian etiquette and business cards. Hand over and receive cards with two hands, pause for a moment or two as you read over the card’s details then place it prominently on the meeting table.

In fact, avoid handing anything with your left hand alone, as the polite way to pass objects is with both hands. Another way to politely pass things is to touch your right elbow with your left arm and hand over the item with your right hand.

The Khmers love to have a personal get-to-know-you party with potential business partners. Be prepared to guzzle whiskey and sing Karaoke … and on that note.

Cheers – Cambodian Style

Most countries have the custom of “cheers” before having a drink. In Cambodia, it is taken to another level. “Chul Mouy” means cheers in Khmer, and it is common for this to be conveyed to everyone sitting at a table before a swig is taken. Be prepared for some fun times with Cambodians you meet, which often happens over a meal.

Cambodian Etiquette for the Dining Table

When you arrive in Cambodia, it is the noise that first strikes you: it is a noisy place. This also applies to mealtimes. While westerners are obsessed with eating quietly with a closed mouth, Cambodian etiquette allows for eating, chatting and drinking with mouths wide open at meals, and the louder the lip-smacking, slurping and chewing, the more the locals are enjoying the meal—makes sense. Blowing your nose during a meal is a big no-no, but picking your nose is okay. Making use of toothpicks found on tables is not unusual, and it is considered polite to cover your mouth with your hand while picking away.

At the end of the day, as with everything in the Kingdom of Wonder there is a learning curve, but if you are polite, smile and go with the flow then you will be fine. Some of the above are extreme situations and you will find that often the people are not that concerned, especially ones used to foreigners and their odd behaviour. And Cambodians are a tolerant people, so if you trip up, you will find that you get a second or even third chance.

cambodian festivals

The Best Travelers Guide to Cambodian Festivals

Visaka Bochea Day

Cambodian Festivals are a joy to be a part of. Smiles, laughter, and food are essential components. JOIN IN. No matter the size of a village, they are bound to join in any festival without much persuasion.

One international list that Cambodia tops is the country with the most holidays. The Kingdom has 28 public holidays per year. Many of these public holidays are Buddhist occasions, but there are also celebrations for Independence from France, Human Rights Day or International Labour Day to name a few. Many of the latter often pass by without much ado. Yet, there are others where cities and towns either empty or fill up, the countryside comes alive with festivities and there are fireworks. It is also a good time to be in-country and experience the Cambodian way of life.

Table Of Contents

Here are some of the national Cambodian Festivals

Happy New Years x 3

Cambodia has not one, NOT TWO but three New Years: Khmer New Year, Chinese New Year and International New Year. The traditional calendar in Cambodia is the Khmer calendar, which is a lunar one, and this means that the many holidays are subject to change every year.

Chaul Chhnam Thmey

Khmer New Year

Usually the Khmer New Year, or Chaul Chhnam Thmey starts on either April 14th, 15th or 16th. The Khmer New Year is, along with Ph’chum Benh and the Water Festival, one of the most important and popular holidays of the year. The holiday lasts for at least three days, which is the end of the harvest, so farmers can enjoy the bounty of their work, and it is also before the rainy season begins.

The event is festive with parties and visits to the pagoda. In the days and weeks leading up to the holiday, children play special holiday games in the streets.

Come New Year’s Eve offerings of food, drink and incense are set on tables bedecked with palm leaves in front of homes. The New Year happens at an hour set by the lunar calendar, which is not necessarily when the clock strikes midnight. New Year is also traditionally accompanied by throwing water and powder on friends and passers-by. Although this is frowned upon in Phnom Pehn, the area around Wat Phnom still sees a lot of aqua-vivre on New Year’s.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is not an official holiday in Cambodia; however, it is widely celebrated because of Cambodians with Chinese descent and ethnic Vietnamese. Depending on the lunar calendar, the celebration is held sometime between January and February. During this time, the lucky and auspicious red and yellow colours are on display.

Walking around Phnom Penh or other towns and villages, you will see homes and businesses decorated with red banners with gold Chinese characters and tables full of offerings such as  red pig, drinks, fruits, cigarettes and other treats. “Lion dancers” can be seen performing at homes and businesses, accepting a wad of cash after performing at an establishment. On the night of New Year’s Eve people crowd pagodas to make offerings. Wat Phnom is a busy place during this time.

International New Year

Party Time! the first and last celebration. Be thankful for what has been asn what is to come. Phnom Penh is the place to be for this joyous event.

Meak Bochea (Magha Puja Day)

This celebration falls on the day of the full moon of the third lunar month, and it commemorates a meeting between Buddha and some monks in which there were four significant events. It is where Buddha gave a speech laying out the principles of his teachings. Meak Bochea is an important Buddhist holiday though it is not as conspicuously celebrated as other holidays. As you can imagine, the pagodas are very busy and colourful on this day.

Visaka Bochea Day

This day, which falls on April 29th, is often referred to as ‘Buddha’s birthday’. The occasion is actually the birth, enlightenment and passing of Buddha; the complete life cycle. It is a time when Cambodians go to the pagoda, make offerings and perform kind, generous and charitable acts, and reverent behaviour to earn merit.

Royal Ploughing Ceremony

This event, or the Bonn Chroat Preah Nongkoal, marks the beginning of the rainy season and the planting season. In a ceremony led by the King or other high official, highly adorned sacred cows plough a furrow and then are led to trays containing rice, corn, beans and other food. Predictions about the next crops are made based on the how much and in what order the cows eat the food. Traditionally, ceremonies were held next to the Royal Palace. However, the ceremony is now held at different locations.

Bonn Pchum Ben

One of the biggies, Pchum Ben closes the country down and is a great time to enjoy places such as Phnom Penh when it is quiet and traffic-free. There is also an air of spiritual reverence and holiday expectation throughout the country. One of the most important Khmer holidays of the year, it is a time to honour and care for ancestors, whose spirits are said to return to earth during this time. People travel far and wide to visit pagodas and make offerings of food, incense and money. All government offices and many businesses close for the holiday.

Water and Moon Cambodian Festivals

Bonn Om Touk, also known as the Water Festival and the Boat Race Festival, celebrates the reversing of the current in the Tonle Sap River and marks the beginning of the fishing season. Traditional long-boat races are held on the Tonle Sap River centred in front of the Royal Palace. Dozens of colourful boats compete for prizes and honours. Fireworks and a water-borne parade of festooned barges cap events in the early evening. People and vendors pack Riverside to watch the races and the whole area takes on a carnival atmosphere. The best views are from hotel balconies and the restaurants such as the FCC overlooking the river. Another great spot is the Phnom Penh Port.

The King’s Holidays

The monarchy is held in high regard by many Cambodians and, as such, there are many commemorative days celebrating the royal family.

From May 13th to 15th, Khmers celebrate the birthday of the King. This is followed by the birthday of former Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk. Cambodians also remember the late King Norodom Sihanouk’s birthday on October 15th. And finally, on October 29, it is the anniversary of Coronation Day for the current King. At this time, the Palace is lit up at night and looks spectacular.

More Cambodian Festivals

There is also a slew of other holidays, which can be a raucous affair or pass by without much ado. A festival in Cambidoa is a joy to behold. Check your calendar before you arrice in Cambodia.

January 7th is Victory Day over Genocide Day, or liberation day. This day commemorates the fall of the Khmer Rouge on January and remembers those who were killed in the genocide and those who lost their lives in retaking the country. There are ceremonies held at Independence Monument.

There are also several Cambodian festivals that pass without much fanfare and they are International Women’s Day on March 8th, International Labour Day on March 1st, International Children’s Day on June 1st, Paris Peace Agreement on Cambodia on October 23rd, Independence Day on November 9th. On this day, ceremonies are held at Independence Monument in the morning and fireworks by Riverside in the evening. Finally, there is Human Rights Day on December 10th.

Always remember that whenever travelling to Cambodia or within the Kingdom, take note of any public holidays; it will make your time in the country more enjoyable.

List Of Cambodian Festivals

International New YearJanuary 1st
Victory Day over Genocide Day (Liberation Day)January 7th
Meak Bochea DayDate depends on lunar cycle
 International Women’s DayMarch 8th
Khmer New YearDate depends on lunar cycle
Visaka Bochea DayApril 29th
International Labour DayMay 1st
Royal Ploughing CeremonyMay 3rd
Birthday of the King (KING NORODOM SIHAMONI)May 13th  to 15th
Day of RemembranceMay 20th
International Children’s DayJune 1st
Constitution’s DaySeptember 24th
Bonn P’chum BenOctober 8th to 10th
King Sihanouk Commemoration DayOctober 15th
Paris Peace Agreement on CambodiaOctober 23rd
Coronation Day Anniversary (KING NORODOM SIHAMONI)October 29th
Independence DayNovember 9th
Water and Moon FestivalNovember 21st to 23rd
Human Rights DayDecember 10th