Why New Year in Cambodia is Three Times The Fun

As the sun goes down on the 31st of December 2016 my plan is to be in same place that I was last year: sipping champagne at the rooftop bar of one of Phnom Penh’s tallest skyscrapers surrounded by friends as I watch fireworks light up the night skyline of the city.

For just $20 the ticket to this International New Year’s Party includes free welcome drinks as well as various canapes and platters of meats and cheese. My friends and I gathered around a great table and saw in the new year together from 22 floors above the city, enjoying an unrivalled view of the capital.

We decided there was room for one more at our table so we ordered a $50 bottle of chilled champagne to usher in the new year in style.

It’s parties like this, where I get to enjoy a taste of the good life at a snip of the cost of back home, that make my life in Phnom Penh so much more fun and interesting than before.

And while in most countries the new year is celebrated just once, in Cambodia we have the fun of getting to bring in the new year on three separate occasions­­.

Here, International New Year is simply a warm up event for a four-month period of ongoing parties, starting with Chinese New Year in February and running all the way to April when it concludes with major national celebrations for Khmer New Year.

Chinese New Year is not an officially recognised holiday in Cambodia but that certainly doesn’t stop the celebrations—especially in Phnom Penh where I get to experience the festivities first-hand as my Chinese-Cambodian friends hang vibrant red decorations in their homes and burn paper images of Mercedes and iPhones as offerings for their ancestors. I usually get invited to enjoy a special Chinese feast at one of my friend’s houses where we savour specialties like whole roast pig and duck before a dazzling fireworks display brings the night to a fun conclusion.

And then comes Khmer New Year—the biggest party of the three. Families from across the country join together for a week of celebrations with all kinds of traditional events taking place at nearby temples and an ongoing stream of parties being held at people’s houses.

This is a country where ‘sabai’ or ‘fun’ is part of the national character—right next to friendliness—so expats here are pretty much guaranteed a chance to join a ‘Cambodian style’ party thanks to invites from friends and neighbours.

The fact the Cambodia has 28 public holidays a year is a good indicator that this country likes to enjoy itself—and I do my best to join in. I get invited to around 30 local parties and events each year—and I’m more than happy to indulge year-round—but my experience is that the best parties happen during these new year celebrations when local friends are throwing get-togethers and are more than happy to include a foreign guest like me!

Image: ©iStock.com/luvvstudio 

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