Businesses shut down, students stayed away from school, and beachside hotel rooms were filled to capacity Monday. But contrary to appearances, Chinese New Year is not an officially sanctioned Cambodian holiday—and the government has no intention of turning it into one.
The government will never recognize the Chinese New Year as a national holiday, said Chea Kean, deputy secretary general for the Permanent Organizing Committee for National and International Ceremonies.
According to a government sub-decree, the 24 days designated as Cambodian national holidays each year are reserved for Buddhist ceremonies, traditional ceremonies such as Khmer New Year, Independence Day and the like, Chea Kean said. Other national holidays include the birthdays of King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen-Mother Monineath as well as international human rights day.
If a business decides to close its doors on Chinese New Year, it is acting in accordance to “[its] own workplace policy,” Chea Kean said, adding that government officials were at work Monday.
Pung Khieu Se, chairman of Canadia Bank, said his establishment was among the many businesses to give its employees a reprieve for the New Year, calling the move an “annual bonus” that his employees happily accepted. They have Monday and today off and will return to work Wednesday, he said.
The Royal University of Law and Economics was also closed Monday. One student claimed on condition of anonymity that administrators have informed students that the university will also be closed today, and will reopen Wednesday.
“The holidays are for students to review their lessons and prepare to take exams next week,” the first-year law student said. Yok Ngoy, the university’s rector, could not be reached for comment.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, said he fears that students could become accustomed to having days off for Chinese New Year. Many students either do not show up or ask their teachers to end classes early, he said.
Some public schools in Phnom Penh and the provinces were closed for the holiday, Rong Chhun said. “The Chinese New Year is not our tradition,” he added, calling the addition of more days off a “waste of time.”
While Phnom Penh’s Bak Touk High School remained open, attendance rates flagged as students stayed at home or took off with their families for beaches or resorts, the school’s director Sok Sovanna said.
“Class is open but there are not so many students,” he said. Sok Sovanna added that some parents of Chinese descent request that their children have two days off for the New Year—a request that he agreed to.
But Sok Sovanna said that he does not support designating Chinese New Year as a holiday.
“There are a lot of holidays in Cambodia,” he said. “I am afraid that [more days off] would delay the school curriculum.”
Countless residents had taken to the beaches of Sihanoukville on Monday, where some hotels were entirely booked.
Sothea, a front desk employee at Sihanoukville’s Golden Sea hotel, said that all 60 rooms in his hotel were filled with guests—a rare phenomenon for this time of year.
Given the Chinese holiday, guests know to book in advance of arrival, said Sothea, who declined to give his second name. “And rooms are double the price,” going for $30 to $40 rather than the usual $15 to $20, he said.