A three day* festival enjoyed by the whole country, where crowds flock to select destinations & homelands to celebrate with their friends & relatives. Many tourists and ex-pats avoid any travel during this holiday as the whole country is on the move,it is,however a great opportunity to observe Khmer culture first hand.Be aware that many services are significantly reduced and that prices rise for the more popular destinations.
Songkran, Khmer New Year, was traditionally celebrated on the first Khmer lunar month, December – January (10th Chinese lunar month). However, during troubled times under the ruling of Ang Doung, it was moved to mid April**, coinciding with the solar Hindu New Year. Times were hard and it was thought beneficial to move the new years celebrations to after the rice harvesting and before the oncoming monsoon season when farmers could rest and enjoy the festivities.
Traditionally, celebrations are for three days. The first day, Maha Sangkran, marking the end of the year, Khmers will make offerings and receive blessings from the monks at the local pagoda’s. The second day, Wanabot, gifts are offered to parents & elders. Day three, Leung Sakk, marks the first day of the new year, where again the Khmers will give offerings to Buddha at the pagodas and temples.
Unlike the western calendar, where midnight sees the turning of a new year, the Khmers have based their system on solar activity, the turning of the new year seems to be at some random time each year (not midnight), however it is based on a complex calculation involving the sun’s position & aligning to a star constellation. This is a rather complex to understand, probably just as easy to read the table given in this link. The time of this alignment is said to be when an angel, Kimitea Tevi, travels to earth for the new year.
Recent years has seen large scale celebrations for Songkran at Angkor Wat lead by the Khmer Youth Federation, televised throughout the nation with large numbers of Khmers traveling from around the country to attend. Activities include simple, fun games such as sack racing, giant chess, tug of war, all enjoyed with good Khmer humor & spirit. You can also expect to see many khmer traditions performed such as cart racing and Bokator, Khmer martial arts. It is a great time to witness the culture for the photographer, however the crowds can be overwhelming. If you’r planning a trip to the temples over this period, it may be a good idea to avoid these dates. If you do insist on going to Angkor, accept that you may get stuck in traffic. A moto or bicycle is preferred over a car or tuk tuk as it’s easier to get through, the locals also know this, be aware!
*The festival is sometimes four days. At first I thought this was random, but there is a calculation to determine this!
**Some text suggests this was moved centuries earlier
Khmer New Year 2017 falls on April 14,15,16th The turning of the year at 03.12 on the 14th.