Happy New Year, Cambodia-Style

Choul Chnam, the Khmer New Year, celebrates the beginning of the Buddhist religion. For three days in mid-April, thousands of Cambodians head for the Angkor temples to celebrate, picnic, and sight-see. Learn more about the holiday and how it’s celebrated.

Chaul Chnam Thmey: Happy New Year in Cambodia

In many places around the world, December is a month filled with holiday celebration. In Cambodia, a predominantly Buddhist nation, the New Year is celebrated in April (right in the middle of the hot season) and is the most important spiritual and social event of the year. Author Tom Vater discusses how the holiday is celebrated.

Why do you think Angkor Wat should be on someone’s “bucket” list?

The ruins of Angkor Wat are surely amongst the most breathtaking buildings ever erected. From here, a thousand years ago, one of the world’s great empires ruled large portions of Southeast Asia, fought wars, and built temples—hundreds of temples, some of them so large it took 80,000 people to keep just one in running order. Eventually abandoned by the vagaries of history, the temple ruins have been back on the tourist map for the past decade. Despite the crowds the temples now attract, Angkor remains a show-stopping experience. Surrounded by jungle, the ancient Khmer monuments—exquisite and bombastic in turn—are magnificent architectural marvels rivaling any old structure in Europe. However, it is the interplay between nature and stone that gives Angkor its “Lost City” ambience, its sublime beauty. Visit in the rainy season and you will have corners of some of the ruins all to yourself.

—Tom Vater

Is there a place you’ve dreamed of visiting, but have yet to get there?

As a travel writer, I have been to countless beautiful places around Asia and the Middle East in the past 15 years. The problem with working in amazing places is that there’s little opportunity, time, or leisure to soak up the ambience. One passes through without really taking in what casual visitors are able to soak up. So there are quite a few places I have been to but never truly visited. I visited Ladakh in northwest India some years ago, but I never got the chance to visit Panong Lake, which lies partly in Ladakh and partly in neighboring Tibet. This stunning, high altitude lake can only be reached in the summer; one needs a special Inner Line Permit, as it straddles the sensitive Indian-Chinese border. I hope to make the journey one day, late in the season, just before the arrival of winter.

—Tom Vater

Encountering the Khmer Smile in Angkor Wat

Tom Vater believes a “trip of a lifetime” need not be a trip to the end of the world, but it does perhaps need to be a trip that will linger in the memory long after one has returned home. For him, the very first time he visited Angkor Wat was such a trip, and he shares the moment that made him fall in love with Cambodia.

Cambodia’s Top 10 Temples

Cambodia’s most famous temple, Angkor Wat, now attracts up to 6,000 visitors per day. Others, almost as spectacular but more remote, attract but a handful of visitors. Whether you’re looking for a secluded spot or something more well-known, these 10 buildings will not disappoint.

Planning a Trip to Cambodia: Where and When to Go

The temples around Angkor are Southeast Asia’s greatest architectural gems bar none. The magnificent ruins of the Khmer Empire, located predominantly in the northwest of the country, are reason enough to visit Cambodia.

The Temples of Angkor: Spending One to Three Days in Angkor Wat

The main temples of Angkor can be seen in a day, but that hardly does justice to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Three days in Angkor gives you enough time to soak up the main structures at leisure and get a good impression of the former might of the Khmer culture.