The event of new year around the world is usually marked with various excitement, joy, gratitude and also best wishes and prayers. It’s a celebration as a wish to start a better life than the previous year. It happens also in Cambodia. However, unlike most people in the world who celebrate the New Year’s eve in December 31 to welcome the first day of the new year, Cambodian people welcome the New Year in the middle of April, following the Buddhist calendar. It happens also in many countries where the majority of the population follows Buddhism, like Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Nepal etc.
And you know, I visited Cambodia in 2018 right in the middle of the excitement of their new year 😀
Although my main destination was Banteay Chhmar temple, I also visited the Angkor Archaeological Park where Angkor Wat is located, which was the center of the nationwide New Year celebration in Cambodia. What made me surprise was, I saw incredible crowds everywhere, in the complex of Angkor and Banteay Chhmar, as well.
There was a long traffic-jam which was more than 2 kilometers before of the entrance of Angkor Wat from both directions. The road along the moat of Angkor Wat was full of cars, minibuses, tuktuks, motorbikes and of course, people who were walking. So after being trapped for a long time, my tuktuk driver tried to find another road as alternative solution which unfortunately was not much different.
I visited Angkor Wat frequently and so far, the traffic in Angkor Archaeological Park was always managed well enough, but during the Khmer New Year the traffic was totally stuck. Usually it might be lots of people and cars, but never jammed like what I have experienced in Khmer New Year. For me, it was a little bit extreme because I could hardly recognize the famous sites which are located in Angkor Archaeological Park.
The road that connects Royal Palace and Victory Gate (East Gate) of Angkor Thom, -it’s usually empty and I have taken photos of it without any vehicle or people-, at New Year was full of temporary tents, flags, banners, cars and of course people wandering here and there. Really unrecognizable. The similar situation happened also in the ancient buildings in front of Royal Palace which called The Kleangs and also Bayon temple. I could hardly recognize those Kleangs because there was full of people, cars, podiums, banners and other celebratory attributes. I couldn’t imagine the work of the temple guards and policemen who were on duty at that time. They must be hectic with that situation.
It was no different from the situation at Banteay Chhmar temple, a late 12th or early 13th century which was built during the reign of Jayavarman VII. As a very remote temple, -around 160 kms from Siem Reap or around 3 hours drive-, the new year event changed the atmosphere of the ancient site which is only 20 km from the Thai border.
As a remote temple which is usually very quiet and less visited by tourists, especially foreign tourists, Banteay Chhmar temple was visited by many people during the New Year holiday. There were so many people that, for me, the crowds had surprised me. Again, I could not imagine how busy the guards and the parking guys were because there were so many cars and minivans. The guards and the parking guys must be so hectic.
The situation of a remote temple in Cambodia was changed 180 degrees. Many people perhaps do not believe it, but if I had not experienced myself, probably I won’t also believe that a remote temple could be that kind of situation, full of people and cars.
Back to Angkor Archaeological Park …
Almost all the major temples in Angkor Archaeological Park were full of visitors during the holiday of Khmer New Year, especially the temples that are favorite to visit. Like Phnom Bakheng temple, which is known as a favorite temple to watch sunset. During the Khmer new Year, it was also very crowded on top of the 9th-century stone building (I thought about the existence of the temple for the future, the weight of those people will burden the temple). And fortunately (I consider it’s lucky for the temple), the clouds on the horizon before sunset has made the visitors rushed down because a beautiful sunset would not happen.
Returning from Phnom Bakheng, my tuktuk driver had to do his best to reach the hotel to pick up my backpack and then continued to the bus station. Unfortunately, the road in front of Angkor Wat was totally jammed and I was trapped on the road for a long time. After sunset, it began to dark. The tuktuk was moved forward very slowly. I saw the uplighted Angkor Wat had been turned on. It was very beautiful. The amazing sight of Angkor Wat which was illuminated, was only occurred at Khmer New Year, not at any other time. But unfortunately, I was trapped in my tuktuk in the traffic-jam (And sorry for the blurred photos)
Trapped in a long traffic jam, people were getting more impatient, more often a car’s or motorcycle’s horn were heard, many bikers pushed forward and asked the other drivers to give them some space. The people who were walking, were forced to stand still because they could not move forward at all. The atmosphere there was very chaotic. I knew the traffic officers and policemen were very hectic managing the traffic to get back on track. Salute and respect them.
Lucky me, slowly my tuktuk driver was able to find space to move and left centre of the congestion which was in front of the Angkor Wat entrance. Thank God, I was able to reach the bus station before the scheduled departure.
While heading to bus station at that time, I estimated that the hectic situation near Angkor Wat would take a long time to unravel considering the length of the traffic jam. But let the hectic situation become an unforgettable Khmer New Year experience. Although it’s hectic, the feeling and the experience was still amazing.
Would you like to come to Angkor Wat on the Khmer New Year too?
This post was written in response to the weekly challenge from Celina’s Blog, Srei’s Notes, Cerita Riyanti, and also A Rhyme In My Heart, which is the 51st week of 2020 has the theme of Hectic, so we are encouraged ourselves to write articles weekly. If you are interested to take part in this challenge, we welcome you… and of course we will be very happy!