Having participated in the Angkor Sangkranta for two consecutive years, I got nothing but great memories of cultural celebrations, World Guinness Record breaking, exciting nights in Pub Street, and of course, the unbreakable bond shared among Khmers, the local name of Cambodian people. Angkor Sangkran is a cultural event annually organized by Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC) under the leadership of H.E Hun Many, the son of Cambodian Prime Minister, Samdech Techo Hun Sen in order to celebrate Cambodian New Year in Siem Reap, home to the famous Angkor Wat Temple.
Angkor Sangkranta is held to align with Khmer New Year that lasts for three days in the mid-April. Khmer New Year is celebrated to mark the end of harvesting season and the beginning of rainy season, during which farmers who dominate Cambodian society enjoy the fruits from their labors and get ready to enter the New Year based on Buddhist calendar. The event is aimed to strengthen the solidarity of Cambodian families, to preserve Cambodian traditions and customs, to show off Cambodian culture to the world, and to boost the tourism industry in Siem Reap, as up to a million tourists showed up in the province on the days of the event last year.
So what is so great about Angkor Sangkranta? Do I have to answer to this question? Of course, it is very great because the event is held in the heritage land of Angkor, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that every Cambodian regards as sacred. The whole town and venues where the event was celebrated were decorated with colorful and sparkling lights and traditional items. The major sites are Angkor Wat Temple, Bayon Temple, Elephant Terrace, Siem Reap River Bank, Angkor Gyeongju and Pub Street. Siem Reap during Angkor Sangkranta is the most exciting and lively place in Cambodia. Moreover, a number of cultural activities are more than enough to attract both locals and foreigners to see and participate.
Throughout three days of the last year’s event from morning till night time, visitors were able to enjoy seeing religious ceremonies, the displays of Khmer giant sticky rice cake that weighed up to 4 tones, giant Khmer hat, giant chess game, giant palm pipe and giant traditional fish catcher, ox cart and buffalo racing, parades, traditional dance performances, Bokator, the Cambodian martial art demonstration, trade fairs, star-studded concerts, etc. They could also participate in traditional games, dances, tug of war, Khmer chess competition, latten floating ceremony, and so on. More than that, there was also a so-called Khmer ancient village “Phum Knhom” replicated from that of the Angkorian Era, which Angkor Sangkranta goers could get a first-hand experience from traditionally-dressed villagers performing their daily routines by selling rice cakes, weaving traditional cloth, milling rice, and doing other activities as if they were in Angkorian Era. In 2015, Cambodia was able to break the two Guinness World Records. One was the largest 4-ton sticky rice cake, and the other was the largest Madison Dance that involved 2015 participants.
When the sun went down, there came the crowds gathering around the concert stage in Pub Street, a neighborhood of bars, lounges and clubs that are usually frequented by Western tourists. To me, it was of the most exciting moment of Angkor Sangkranta when seeing the diversity of people from different parts of the world, flooding into one place and getting wild with powder and cold water splashing, beer pouring, and the music. One seriously can’t resist the temptation of joining in the party on the streets filled with people when the beat is so loud, and the party can go on till the break of dawn, which is really exhausting but promising.
All that had been done were aimed to maintain the identity, originality and authenticity of Cambodian culture so that foreigners who joined Angkor Sangkranta would be able to take a full glimpse of Cambodians’ way of life, and younger generation of Cambodians could be motivated to embrace our culture dearly. It also brought together the people of all ages, sexes and status to form one big family of Cambodia. As of this year, it is said that the Angkor Sangkran 2016 would be bigger and more exciting than the previous ones, which makes me even more excited to participate as a volunteer again.
By CHEAB Puthika, ASEAN Correspondent from Cambodia