Going big for Khmer New Year party in Siem Reap

Last year’s giant rice cake weighed 2.8 tonnes
Last year’s giant rice cake weighed 2.8 tonnes. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Going big for Khmer New Year party in Siem Reap

Celebrations are set to feature traditional games and dancing along with a giant rice cake, Khmer hat, palm pipe and chess game

More than 500,000 people are expected to descend on Siem Reap for this coming week’s Khmer New Year celebrations, which will feature traditional dances, games and a giant rice cake.

Unlike in neighbouring Thailand, which becomes one long wet T-shirt competition at this time of year, in Siem Reap traditions still take priority, with Cambodians taking over the temples and Pub Street for a change.

The pagodas around town and in the villages are the main focus of fairly solemn events for three days, with different rituals taking place at different times of the day for local communities and families. Visitors are welcome and early mornings are the best time to see the most activity.

More festive activities will take place as part of the Angkor Sangkranta events at Angkor Archaeological Park from April 14-16, starting in the morning around 8:30am and continuing until 9:30pm.

Dancing up a storm last year
Dancing up a storm last year. TERENCE CARTER

This is the time of year when Cambodians from across the country descend upon the temples, and Angkor Wat is filled with Khmer families and friends.

Activities that traditionally occur in villages will take place throughout the day over all three days, on the grassy areas around the Angkor Wat moat and in Angkor Thom, near the Royal Palace and Bayon as well as in town.

“We expect to welcome 500,000 people to join the event, because this year we have a lot of great things to see and do,” said Angkor Sangkranta spokesman Som Ratana.

He said Angkor Sangkranta had about 180,000 visitors in 2013, while in 2014, there were more than 380,000 visitors who injected $30 million into the local economy. “The visitors will have a chance to see a giant Khmer sticky rice cake that weighs 3.2 tonnes, a giant Khmer hat, a giant palm pipe and a giant chess game.”

Angkora Sangkranta is organised by the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia which is headed by Hun Many, son of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Last month, Hun Sen said judges from Guinness World Records would be invited to judge the cake for a world record. Last year, a 2.8 tonne cake was cooked for the festival.

Apart from the giant things, expect to also see traditional ball games and tug of war, and ox cart and buffalo racing. The highlights for many, however, are the bokator and dancing, including traditional round-dancing and the Cambodian Madison. The non-stop bokator demonstrations take place throughout the day, with hundreds of practitioners of the medieval martial art participating in bouts and also encouraging the public to try their hand at the sport.

The dancing also takes place in a number of areas, peaking in the late afternoon, especially on the final day.

A Cambodian event wouldn’t be complete without street food, and stalls will be set up right around the park, most in the area across from Angkor Wat, along with more commercial displays, as numerous businesses use Khmer New Year as a hook to attract new customers.

Concerts are planned for the evenings with several stages being set up in Angkor Archaeological Park, the biggest near the Bayon. However, Cambodians, as well as expats and tourists, will fill the streets of the Old Market area, particularly Pub Street, which should see its biggest crowds on the final night, with a massive street party punctuated by fireworks.

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