The laid-back city of Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia may not be as busy as the capital city of Phnom Penh, but it has its fair share of fun events that deserve an international audience. Events of local culture and festivals in Sihanoukville run throughout the year and are looked forward to by locals and tourists.
Cambodia has a number of festivals and one of the most popular is the Bonn Kathen Festival that is held in Sihanoukville during the whole month of October (although dates may change depending on the Lunar calendar). It is a revered religious festival that marks the end of Buddhist Lent. The highlight is the sight of monks lining up the streets as they slowly march to the temples. This is one of the few occasions when monks come out of retreat and take off their old yellow-orange saffron robes to put on new ones that have been offered by devotees. Devotees see this as an opportunity to gain spiritual merits. People from all over Sihanouk and nearby towns join the monks in the slow and solemn processions.
Buddhism arrived in Cambodia as early as the 5th Century and today the country’s official religion is Thravada Buddhism. The two most important Buddhist temples in the world are found here. They are the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (also known as Silver Pagoda) in Phnom Penh and the magnificent Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. About 96% of the total population practice Buddhism, but this does not stop the people from observing and celebrating Christmas Day.
The Christmas Season and New Year are celebrated all over Sihanouk from December 20 to January 7 the next year. Locals and tourists engage in a number of special events, dinners, and parties held in several locations around the city, most especially in hotels, restaurants and on the beaches. It is a week of fun and merrymaking joined by foreigners and locals, Christians and Buddhists.
In addition to the Christian New Year, locals celebrate Khmer New Year on April 14 to 16. Locally called Chaul Chnam Thmey, the Khmer New Year is marked by three important events: the Maha Songkran (first day) wherein people dress up, light candles, and burn incense sticks at the temples. Buddhist families begin this day by washing their faces in the morning, their chests at noontime, and finally their feet before they go to bed in the evening. This is done for good luck as the New Year approaches. Virak Manabat (second day) is when people traditionally give charity to the poor, servants, homeless, and low-income families; and Tngay Leang Saka (third day) is when devotees clean Buddha images using perfumed water. The children also bathe their parents and grandparents to obtain blessings from the elderly.
Another major Cambodian festival is Bon Om Teuk or Cambodian Water Festival in November, marking the flow reversal of the Tonle Sap River. Although the major water events happen in the capital city of Phnom Penh, every other Cambodian province and city, including Sihanoukville, joins the celebrations. The most widely attended event is the boat race along Sisowath Quay.
In addition to these four observances in culture and festivals in Sihanoukville, locals also celebrate Liberation Day on January 7, Meak Bochea Day on February 18, King Sihanouk’s Birthday on May 13-15, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony on May 21, Queen’s Birthday on June 21, Constitution Day on September 24, and King Sihanouk’s Birthday on October 31.