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A guide to spending Khmer New Year in Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, which will operate usual opening hours over the Khmer New Year.
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, which will operate usual opening hours over the Khmer New Year. Hong Menea

A guide to spending Khmer New Year in Phnom Penh

One of the biggest holidays of the Cambodian calendar, Khmer New Year, kicks off this week, as people around the country prepare to eat and drink with family, play traditional games, and visit a pagoda with food as a blessing.

Though it officially runs from the 14th until the 16th, many have already returned to their home provinces to celebrate. As many around the city will tell you, Phnom Penh will shortly become a ‘ghost town’ – at least compared to its usual chaotic self. The capital devoid of traffic jams and bustle may sound like a dream for some, but those worried about boredom over the holiday will still find plenty of options available.

The city’s main visitor sites – Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the Royal Palace and the Killing Fields – will all be open over the new year, and boat trips will continue to run.

It will be business as usual at the majority of Riverside’s bars, restaurants and clubs, including FCC (#313 Sisowath Quay), Oscar's on the Corner (Streets 13 and 104), and Riverhouse Lounge Night Club (#157 Sisowath Quay). Find live music at Tacos Kokopelli for its regular Sundowner Sessions on Sunday, or drinks and bar games every night at Sharky Bar.

Bar and restaurant Chinese House (#45 Sisowath Quay) is putting on a range of events in its beautifully renovated old Chinese shop house, from DJ sets on Friday to an all-you-can-eat BBQ from 12pm till 3pm on Saturday and a traditional lamb roast dinner on Sunday for those wanting to celebrate Easter (as well as those who just want to try the food).

The city’s night market and popular new container market are likely to have only a few stalls open, according to some vendors The Post spoke to, as the majority head to the provinces – but head to the container night market on Wednesday from 11pm for a mass water fight to ring in the New Year. Be prepared to get soaked!

Away from Riverside, the newly-refurbished Bouchon Wine Bar (Street 174) will stay open until Sunday for those seeking fine French dining in a sophisticated setting. Though closed over the weekend, from 4pm on Thursday Show Box bar and restaurant (Street 330) will host a Khmer New Year party featuring games such as Taein Proat (tug of war), Roam don derm kao ey (musical chairs) and Chab ku jnam plaei cher (a two-person fruit eating race); plus Khmer food and dancing late into the evening.

Over in Russian Market, try Seabird’s Place (Street 410) for a chilled atmosphere and selection of locally-brewed craft ales, including coconut and grapefruit-infused brews, or head to Long After Dark (Street 450) on Thursday to hear DJ sets until the early hours.

Beyond eating and drinking, join games masters at The Puzzle Chamber (Street 174) for free sessions of traditional Khmer games from 4pm till 8pm over the weekend. Catch emerging young artist Phe Sophon’s exhibition Waterworks at The Asia Foundation's Community Art Gallery on Thursday or Friday from 10am-5pm, featuring a striking collection of shapes sculpted from used plastic bottles. Or stretch your legs while learning more about the city and its history of social housing with a two-hour walking tour taking you around the Bassac area and inside the iconic White Building’s archive room. Email [email protected] for more information and to book a place for $8 per person.

There will be no interruption to the schedules of sports fans, who can find screenings from around the world at Score Bar (Street 282). Cosy cinemas The Flicks 1 (Street 95) and The Flicks 2 (Street 136) will be showing films each night of the holiday, including the Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures and gritty British drama I, Daniel Blake.

And if you do make a last-minute decision to jump ship and get out of the capital this week, provinces including Prey Veng and Kampong Cham will be hosting Sangkran An celebrations in a bid to ease increased overcrowding in Siem Reap. Visit Phnom Penh’s tourist information centre for more details.

Got another tip for travellers over the New Year? Share it in a comment below.

Sour Sdey Chhnam Thmey!

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