Chinese New Year, January/February
Khmer New Year, April
P’chum Ben, September/October
Bon Om Tuk, October/November
Angkor Wat International Half Marathon, December
This is peak tourist season in Cambodia with Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and the South Coast heaving. Chinese and Vietnamese New Years sometimes fall in this month, too.
Chaul Chnam Chen (Chinese New Year)
The Chinese inhabitants of Cambodia celebrate their New Year somewhere between late January and mid-February – for the Vietnamese, this is Tet. As many of Phnom Penh’s businesses are run by Chinese-Khmers, commerce grinds to a halt around this time and there are dragon dances all over town.
Still one of the busiest times of year for tourist arrivals, February is also often the month for Chinese and Vietnamese New Years.
Giant Puppet Parade
This colourful annual fundraising event (www.giantpuppetproject.com) takes place in Siem Reap. Local organisations, orphanages and businesses come together to create giant puppets in the shape of animals, deities and contemporary characters, and the whole ensemble winds its way along the Siem Reap River.
This is the most important month in the calendar for Khmers, as the New Year comes in the middle of April. Be warned that the mercury regularly hits 40°C.
Chaul Chnam Khmer (Khmer New Year)
This is a three-day celebration of the Khmer New Year. Cambodians make offerings at wats, clean out their homes and exchange gifts. It is a lively time to visit the country as the Khmers go wild with water in the countryside.
This is the beginning of the low season for visitors as the monsoon arrives (and lasts till October), but there may be a last blast of hot weather to welcome mango season and some delicious ripe fruits.
Chat Preah Nengkal (Royal Ploughing Ceremony)
Led by the royal family, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is a ritual agricultural festival held to mark the traditional beginning of the rice-growing season. It takes place in early May in front of the National Museum, near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.
Visakha Puja (Buddha Day)
A celebration of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinibbana (passing). Activities are centred on wats. The festival falls on the eighth day of the fourth moon (May or June) and is best observed at Angkor Wat, where you can see candle-lit processions of monks.
Traditionally the wettest month in Cambodia, September is usually a time of sporadic flooding along the Mekong. The calendar’s second most important festival, P’chum Ben, usually falls in this month.
P’chum Ben (Festival of the Dead)
This festival is a kind of All Souls’ Day, when respects are paid to the dead through offerings made at wats. P’chum Ben lasts for several days and devout Buddhists are expected to visit seven wats during the festival.
The rains often linger long into October and this has led to some major flooding in Siem Reap in recent years. However, the countryside is extraordinarily green at this time.
Bon Om Tuk (Water Festival)
Celebrating the victory of Jayavarman VII over the Chams, this festival also marks the extraordinary natural phenomenon of the reversal of the current of Tonlé Sap River. It’s one of the most important festivals in the Khmer calendar and is a wonderful, chaotic time to be in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap.
November brings the dry, windy season and signals the start of the best period to be in the country (which extends through until January or February). Bon Om Tuk often comes around in November.
Angkor Photo Festival
In Siem Reap, resident and regional photographers descend on the temples and team up with local youths to teach them the tricks of the trade (www.angkor-photo.com). Photography exhibitions are staged all over town.
Kampot Writers & Readers Festival
Launched in 2015, this festival (www.kampotwritersfestival.com) brings four days of literary discussions, poetry readings, art exhibitions, concerts and creative workshops to Kampot.
Christmas and New Year are the peak of the peak season at Angkor and leading beach resorts; book a long way ahead. Sign up for a half marathon or cycle ride if you fancy doing something for charity.
Angkor Wat International Half Marathon
This half marathon (www.cambodia-events.org/angkor-half-marathon) has been a fixture in the Angkor calendar for more than 15 years. Choose from a 21km half marathon, a 10km fun run or various bicycle races. It’s hard to imagine a better backdrop to a road race than the incredible temples of Angkor.