With the 15-day Pchum Ben Observance now underway, Prime Minster Hun Sen called on authorities at all levels to focus on public safety and order as well as improving traffic flow to ease people’s travel during the festival.

Hun Sen said Pchum Ben this year is a good opportunity for people to gather with families and build merit to dedicate to their ancestors, with no strict Covid-19 restrictions imposed as were the cases at the peak of the pandemic.

“September 11 is the first-day of the Pchum Ben Observance, which has been a tradition here since ancient times. This is a time when Buddhist followers have the opportunity to build and accumulate merit and gather their relatives together at pagodas from near and far,” he said in a September 11 social media post.

For the 15 days following the harvest moon, Cambodian Buddhists observe Pchum Ben – which falls from September 11 to 26 this year – the first 14 days of which are enumerated as the first-through-14th Kan Ben Days, where families typically gather at pagodas, bringing food and other offerings for monks.

The main festivities will be celebrated from September 24-26, starting on the 14th Kan Ben Day and ending a day after the primary day of “great offering”, or Ben Thom, on September25, which coincides with the new moon. The holiday is dedicated to blessing the spirits of the dead and is an occasion for families to get together.

Separately, the Ministry of Health advised the public to take all necessary measures to prevent Covid-19 transmission and incidents of food poisoning, which sometimes occur on a larger scale than usual near the holidays due to all of the gatherings and the large amounts of food donated at pagodas.

Its September 10 notice said hygiene is an important factor for avoiding food poisoning.

“Food should be stored at a safe temperature [less than 5 degrees Celsius or above 60]. Cook one meal at a time with clean water and fresh ingredients. Chemicals should not be added to food,” it said.

The ministry advised authorities across the country to assign staff to ensure food safety measures are being employed, particularly at large gathering places such as pagodas.

Siem Reap provincial police chief Teng Channath said on September 11 that during the festival this year, officers are prepared to carry out their duties diligently.

He added that authorities in the province have had plans in place to improve traffic flows and make it easier for people and tourists to travel.

Buddhist devotees take part in rituals at Prek Leap Pagoda in the capital’s Chroy Changvar district for the 1st Kan Ben Day, the first of the 15-day Pchum Ben observance, on September 11. Hong Menea

“Some congestion is inevitable, but we have to improve traffic flow so that people can get to where they are going without it taking forever,” he continued.

He also said that police forces have been deployed to each pagoda according to plan and in cooperation with the village security guards, who will also help keep public order and improve traffic flows as well as instruct people to maintain personal hygiene and take precautions to prevent food poisoning.

Nov Sombo, a Buddhist clergyman at Ang Sdok Pagoda in Kampot province’s Angkor Chey district, said thermometers and alcohol hand sanitiser have been prepared at the exits and entrances as a precautionary measure.

“Through a loudspeaker, we’ll further instruct them on where to place food they are offering to the monks and keep everything orderly,” he added.

Royal Academy of Cambodia economics researcher Ky Sereyvath said Cambodians generally spend money building merit according to their own budgets and most prepared for the holiday in advance.

“It is a combination of factors because it is the culture and traditions since ancient times. Whether we have any money or not, we go to a pagoda to make offerings. After the reopening of socio-economic activities last year, some people are earning quite good incomes again and if they have saved money all year, the offerings won’t present a problem that disrupts their building of merit,” he said.

Pov Nheb, a Phnom Penh resident, said the contributions towards the ritual celebration are not limited by the wealth of an individual, and that a person can contribute even just 1,000 riel ($0.25) towards building the pagoda and temple if that is all they can afford.

“There is a saying that goes “Do bad receive bad, do good receive good”. If we don’t do the right thing and make some contribution, then we’ve lost our traditions and we don’t know what is right and wrong. Although the pagodas are full of food from Buddhist followers, waste is not a concern because the monks always share the food with the needy,” she said.

Seng Somony, a spokesman for the Ministry of Cults and Religion, said that on the first day of Kan Ben this year, large numbers of Buddhists had visited pagodas across the Kingdom, thanks to the Kingdom’s successful fight against Covid-19.