The streets of the bustling capital fell quiet on Wednesday, with many shops shuttered and most people staying inside with their families to welcome in the spirit of the New Year.
The Year of the Tiger officially began at 7:36 am, in accordance with the Moha Songkran, Khmer astrology that depicts cycles of 12 years, represented by animals.
Since Chol Sakarach, the Lesser Era, Cambodians have held the Khmer New Year in the fifth month, or Khe Chet, a time of year when the farming was finished and before the wet season of the monsoon began.
This year, they welcomed the coming of the Buddhist year 2554, in celebrations that will include “Great Almanac Day,” “Worshipping Day,” and “Rank and Promotion Day,” the final of which is the most auspicious.
Most people will spend the days in the countryside, traveling as far as they need to in order to reach their places of birth and to meet their parents and relatives.
However, police, traffic police and other security forces were expected to be busy, on the lookout for robberies, drunken violence and other social disorder.
Thousands of police were deployed in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, while throughout the country people brought offerings to monks at pagodas, to honor their ancestors, and set up offerings to the spirits to herald a successful year.
Games, too, will be on the agenda—knotted scarf-throwing, tug-of-war, leaf snatching—and revelers can expect performances of music, comedy, dancing and other traditional arts.
“All the popular games show the capacity, close relationship and wisdom of youth,” Mean Pon, an adviser for Khmer traditions at the Buddhist Institute, told VOA Khmer. “The meaning of the popular games is for fun."