Khmer New Year in Phnom Penh

What to do in an empty city

What we say: 4 stars

Khmer New Year is one of the most important festivals in the Cambodian calendar and a popular public holiday. From Saturday April 12 to Wednesday April 16, Phnom Penh will empty out and markets will be closed. So as Phnom Penhers rush for the countryside and the highways clog up with minibuses, here are ideas for spending a quiet few days in the city.

Let's have the party right here!

Let’s have the party right here!

Do lunch
Many riverside restaurants remain open during the holiday, and this is the perfect opportunity to do some exploring about town. Find a shady hotel garden, order some food, cosy up with a book, and get in another beer. Menu options might be limited, but who cares? It’s New Year. Again!

Catch a movie
The Flicks movie houses and The Empire boutique cinema are open over the holidays. Catch up with the latest Game of Thrones action or pick from a full schedule of recent, interesting movies.

Go for a walk
Many of the usual sidewalk businesses will close up for at least part of the holidays. While that means you’ll have to hunt down a pork and rice breakfast, it does make for an excellent time to explore Phnom Penh on foot.

Relax by the pool
With many expats heading to the beach or Kampot, you should find space around the pool at any of the larger hotels, if your guesthouse doesn’t have one. The large pools at Himawari Hotel and Cambodiana Hotel are lovely but pricy. Eighty8 Backpackers, The Plantation‘s guest pool or The Patio are good alternatives.

Ride a bike
The usual state of Phnom Penh traffic can be off-putting if you haven’t been in the saddle for a while. Enjoy the shortlived peace from two wheels, without fearing for your life. Bicycles and scooters can be hired from guesthouses — if yours doesn’t have any, ask for a recommendation.

Where is everybody?

Where is everybody?

Find a party
Cambodians love to party! While most people will return to their homeland province, original Phnom Penhers start the party right outside their house. Don’t be shy if you’re offered a beer or invited to dance, but do look after your kneecaps if you get involved in a game of Bos Angkunh.

Visit a pagoda
Although the markets are closed, the other hub of Phnom Penh life, the pagodas, will be business as usual. Khmer New Year can be a fascinating time to visit Wat Phnom or Wat Lanka, but do remember to keep shoulders, midriffs and thighs covered (that goes for girls AND boys!).

A ferry fun way to travel.

A ferry fun way to travel.

Make for the countryside
You don’t have to go far from the city for some genuine Cambodian countryside. Catch the ferry behind the Nagaworld casino to cross the Mekong to Kandal province. It’s a lovely place for a bike ride, or find a friendly tuk tuk driver who’s working the holiday and is happy to take you around — perhaps check out the pagodas. If you’re lucky, you’ll get caught in a party roadblock, soaked with water or covered in talcum powder, and charged 500 riel (about 12 cents) for the privilege.

Whatever you choose to do, these three words will help you get in the holiday spirit: Susadei Chhnam Thmei! (Happy New Year!)

The Empire, 34 Street 130, Phnom Penh, T: (077) 488 243 ,
The Flicks 1, 39b Street 95, Phnom Penh,
The Flicks 2, 90 Street 136, Phnom Penh,

Last updated: 19th September, 2014

About the author:
Abigail has been stoned by villagers in India, become an honorary Kenyan tribeswoman, sweet talked border guards and had close encounters with black mambas. Her motto is: “Live to tell the tale.”
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