Posted by: Simon & Becci | October 1, 2011

Ghost town

Its been an unusual week in Phnom Penh as about 80% of the 2 million inhabitants of the city have left! This is not the result of some terrible disaster, simply a case of Cambodians nationwide celebrating the annual festival of Pchum Ben (“Day of the ancestors”). In a nutshell this is a time of year when most people will travel back to their rural provinces and visit the Buddhist Wats and Pagodas to make offerings (fruit, flowers, rice etc) to their dead ancestors. Some take this very seriously and believe that they will be haunted by the ghosts of their ancestors if they do not do this, thus bringing bad luck upon themselves and their families. For others it is more of an opportunity to spend time with family and enjoy time off work.

Most houses have a "spirit house" outside

As this shows, Cambodia is a very religious country with most people having some belief in the supernatural, further evidenced by the multitude of “spirit houses” that people install outside of their homes. Throughout the year they will burn incense or leave offerings on this mini-altar, seeking to appease their ancestors and any evil spirits who might be lurking around.

For Cambodian Christians, Pchum Ben can be a challenging time of year as everyone is expected to join in with the festivities. We have been very impressed by many who continue to honour and respect their families whilst seeking to share their faith with the people they love and refusing to worship anyone but God alone. The verses in the New Testament about how to deal with food sacrificed to idols are certainly very relevant here!

Where is all of the traffic?

The mass exodus has lasted most of the week leaving a strangely quiet city behind. Roads have been almost deserted, most businesses closed and the constant noise of construction work across the city has been silenced. It’s been quite nice! People are now returning so the normal hustle and bustle is gradually reappearing.



  1. It must be a relief to not hear all that building work next door! I can imagine it is a very difficult time for Christians at this time of the year and to go against the family expectations.
    Hope you are both well.
    With much love from the Shipleys x

  2. […] a favourite food – this year its bananas – which means that across Phnom Penh homes and “spirit house” shrines are covered with bananas, all having been purchased at inflated prices at the market. A […]

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