Khmer New Year

14-16 April 2009


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Maryknoll gate and flag Every year the Khmer New Year is celebrated around April 14-16, and it is the most important holiday in the Cambodian calendar.  For other holidays, people tend to come to Phnom Penh to celebrate, but for this festival everyone goes home to the province where they grew up and Phnom Penh is relatively deserted.  The government this year put out flags along many streets and this one is in front of the Maryknoll office.

The Royal Palace is suitably decorated for all big public holidays. This structure is a royal viewing standing, overlooking the river.  The only time it is used is during the boat races for the Water Festival when the king presides.

Decorations at the Royal Palace
This year the city government put out thousands of small flags along many streets.  There does not seem to be any pattern for which streets get them and which ones don't, or how many flags are allocated to one block.  Some houses have three or four in front of them while other streets may have only two or three flags for the whole block.

Flags on the street
For major holidays and celebrations, the waterfront is crowded with onlookers.  There are now some of these toilets permanently situated near the river, but before the new year celebration more were brought in.

Moving portable toilets into place
The city beautifies the city for the three-day new year celebration and flower vendors like these sell the flowers that are traditional for each household.

Flower market
This woman is selling new year watermelons to this young couple.  The woman has slept on the street with her watermelons for about a week before the new year.

Selling watermelons
It is estimated that sixty percent of the population of Phnom Penh leaves the city during the new year holiday, a traditional time to be with family at home.  And the hometown is usually in the provinces. Those who live within a few miles of the city travel on these remarques pulled by motorcycles.

Crowded remarque
Those who live farther away from the capital travel in decrepit, overcrowded vans along with all sorts of cargo.  These trips are not pleasant but are just part of the pattern of life here.

Vans to the provinces
This man is closing up a haang bai, a little food stall for the motorcycle taxi drivers and guards with no money.  This is on the corner of Charlie Dittmeier's street and he eats here three or four nights a week.  The shop's owners will be gone to the province for a week like everyone else.

Closing a rice shop
Different holidays have various traditions associated with them.  For some, a roast duck is in order.  These ducks were hanging out, ready for sale, on new year's eve.  The railing is keep people from falling into an eight-foot deep open sewer that runs through the neighborhood.

Roast ducks for special dinners
In the days before the new year, many motorcycles were seen coming into the city with small banana trees to be made into these special decorations for the home.  They would be analogous to a Christmas wreath for a western country at Christmas time.

Making traditional decorations

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