Khmer New Year, Cambodian New Year, Choul Chnam Thmey, បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំខ្មែ, or quite simply the Cambodian Water Fight Festival has been rung in throughout Cambodia, but the place to be was without a doubt Siem Reap!
WTF is Khmer New Year?
It turns out Jesus did not invent New Year, the Chinese have one, Jews and Sikhs have them and so do the Khmer. According to them its like 2566 right now, so a bit like living in the future, although when you’re dancing away in a field next to an ancient temple.
The festival technically takes 3 days, but in reality lasts a good few weeks. We won’t go into huge details about the meaning and all the hullaballoo, for as my third year in Cambodia I have written about it before.
You can read about Khmer New Year here.
The dates this year at least though were from April 14th-16th, with new year occurring at 10 am on the 14th. Ironically two other very auspicious dates fall over this festive period, namely the death of Pol Pot (April 15th) and the fall of Phnom Penh (17th). Something which will gain some prominence later in the story….
To read about the anniversary of the death of Pol Pot click here.
Is Khmer New Year a water fight festival?
No of course it is not, but water and harvest play a key role. As part of it you get ritually cleansed by having water poured over you on the morning of new year, as well as at temples by monks. It’s all a cleansing process you see related to religion, but much as Christmas used to be a pious affair before being coopted by Coca-Cola Santa Clause and commercialism, thus Khmer New has followed suit.
And what is the equivalent brand to demonstrate this? Well of course the super soaker! People are selling and using the best and most up to date water squirting systems in the world, in what can only be described as the most sophisticated water war in the world. And no one is safe.
The Cambodian Water Fight festival 2022
Essentially people get water guns, pistols, bazookas, buckets, bombs, tubs. crates and then either find a place on the road, or drive around in pick-up trucks with the aim being to soak people as much as possible. and that is pretty much all people, with exceptions potentially being made for the elderly, or at least those with small babies, although even this is very much far from being absolute. Also not being “armed” helps to some extent, although again if you don’t want to get wet then pretty much the best rule of thumb is to simply not go out, or at best have a a protective bag for your phone, which of course are for sale everywhere.
Cambodian Water Fight Festival – Siem Reap 2022
Siem Reap was really screwed by the pandemic and for almost 3 years has resembled a building site and and empty one at that. Things though have slowly started to improve and with this being the first Khmer New Year that waterboarding would be allowed there was definitely a storm brewing.
To say the streets were somewhat ram-packed would be an understatement, I have done West Street in Yangshuo on a Chinese holiday, I did the millennium in Trafalgar square and numerous other of the worlds top festivals and frankly this was bang on up there with the best.
I have never seen so many people on the streets of Siem Reap, so many pickup trucks with revellers on the open topped backs, street food everywhere, booze flowing and just an atmosphere that was undesirable.
Think, carnival, think street party, think new year, think street raves and then throw in perhaps the worlds biggest water fight and you are some way there. It really is hard to pinpoint what exactly makes it so good, but I would go out on a limb and say the good natured element to people not giving two shits about being soaked.
Of course the fact that beautiful young people were running around in soaked tops and short shorts did not hurt at all, but you do truly have to question how some people made their clothing choices before going out that day.
I really was not expecting all that much from the Cambodian Water Fight Festival, but quite simply I was blown away, does it make my top ten list of festivals you have to see before you die? It most certainly does.
And the night was ended with a countryside rave!
I’ll at some point do an article about celebrating Khmer New Year in a rural setting, or the provinces we town folk call it, but I will add at least one cool part to things. My night was duly ended at a Khmer style rave, with people of all ages dancing around a tree as the DJ cranked out Khmer classics, with of course more Ganzberg than you could shake a stick at!
To read about Ganzberg click here.
The Cambodian Water Fight Festival is back, Covid-20 not withstanding…….