How Do Khmer People in Thailand and Vietnam Mark Pchum Ben

Photo: Bun Mony

Pchum Ben is considered one of the most important traditional celebrations in Cambodia. It is an opportunity for people to make offerings and honour their ancestors who have passed on to a different world. Regardless of where they live, Khmer people take this traditional ceremony seriously.

In the provinces of Surin, Sisaket and Buriram in Thailand—although Khmer people who live there call this the “ancestor worshipping ceremony”—the way it is conducted and its duration are similar to that of Pchum Ben in Cambodia.

In Cambodia, Pchum Ben takes place during the latter half of Bhadrapada, a month in the Hindu calendar that may correspond to August or September. During this time, groups of people will be scheduled to conduct religious ceremonies in accordance with their pagodas.

In Thailand, Vulnerable Virya Thireakpanho, a Buddhist monk in the province of Buriram, says that the ceremony is conducted in three stages. During the first stage, people visit pagodas to welcome their ancestors. In the second stage, they essentially offer food and goods to the monks every day. And during the third stage, people prepare food in their own homes as a way of sending their ancestors back to the afterlife.

Photo: Venerable Virya Thireakpanho

Across the border, the Khmer living in Vietnam mark Pchum Ben in a way similar to those living in Thailand. However, due to the daily hustle and bustle, financial constraints and tight work schedules, some Cambodian pagodas in Vietnam only celebrate Pchum Ben during three to seven days. Good coordination between some pagodas and people can increase the duration of the ceremony to 15 days.

Cambodian Buddhists in Vietnam may invite monks to have meals at their houses from morning until the afternoon. All devoted Buddhists make their way to the pagodas to attend the chantry session for the ancestors. During the night, after the monks have voiced Buddhist teaching, musical bands organised by young people may perform. In the following days, again only in some pagodas, some Buddhists will continue to conduct ceremonies, preparing food that they place on decorated banana trunks in the form of boats that they put on bodies of water such as ponds, streams or rivers so they can float. This last custom signifies the ancestors leaving and going back to their after worlds.

Ky Chamna contributed to this story

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