The Culture Of Cambodia

The temple of Banteay Srei in Siam Reap, Cambodia.
The temple of Banteay Srei in Siam Reap, Cambodia.

The culture of Cambodia has been heavily influenced by the religions of the people living in the country. The culture has developed from the amalgamation of the Hindu, Buddhist, and indigenous cultures that are prevalent in the region. Here we describe the unique aspects of the culture of Cambodia:

7. Social Beliefs And Customs In Cambodia

The Cambodian society advocates respect for the elderly and is highly hierarchical in nature with people of older ages being assigned with greater authority and deserving of greater respect. Marriages are usually arranged by the family in the rural areas while love marriages are more common in the cities. Arranged marriages also involve a local match-maker and a haora or fortune-teller. The wedding ceremony is an elaborate affair extending for one and a half to three days. Childbirth is a happy event for the family but the pregnant woman is expected to maintain some guidelines like avoiding some foods and situations for her and her child’s well-being. As children grow, the girls are expected to help the mother in the household chores while the boys take part in the farm activities or other family businesses. Pointing feet at a person or a holy object is considered impolite as the feet are believed to be the impure part of the body. Eye contact with the elderly or superiors is not viewed with a good eye. The head is believed to be the place where a person’s soul resides. The Cambodians greet people with folded hands similar to a namaste in India. The death of a person does not mean the end of life but the beginning of a new life in a new place by rebirth. The Buddhist Cambodians are usually cremated after death and the ashes are left as a stupa in a local temple. Overall, the Khmer cultural practices vary greatly in the rural and urban areas. In the cities, the influence of the Western world can be easily observed in the lifestyle of the Cambodians residing there.

6. Cuisine Of Cambodia

The cuisine of Cambodia is significantly influenced by Chinese and Indian cuisine and also exhibits great similarities with cuisines of neighboring South-east Asian countries. Rice is a staple food here and nearly every meal includes a bowl of rice. Both jasmine rice and sticky rice are consumed with the latter being primarily used in preparing desserts. A variety of rice noodles are prepared here and are consumed with vegetables, soups, and meat dishes. The Indian curries are also a favorite of Cambodians and include the addition of both exotic spices and local flavors (lemongrass, shallots, kaffir lime leaves) that lend a unique taste to the dishes. Coconut milk is widely used for preparing curries and desserts. Fish sauce is often added to soups, noodles, curries, etc., for taste. A type of fermented fish paste called prahok is also used in many dishes. Stir-fried dishes are also common in Cambodian cuisine. Some famous regional dishes of Cambodia are the Pepper Crab of Kep, Mee Kola, a traditional vegetarian dish of the Pailin Province, and the Bánh tráng of southeastern Cambodia.

5. Clothing Of Cambodia

Clothing in Cambodia differs with the ethnicity of the Cambodians and their social status. The Krama, a checkered scarf is worn widely by the common people of the country. The scarf not only serves as a stylish accessory but is also practically very useful. It can be used as a towel, a sun protective gear, an aid of climbing a tree, and serve as a hammock for an infant. Another traditional clothing of Cambodia is the Sampot. The garment is influenced by the Indian dhoti and appears as a long, rectangular cloth that is worn in the lower part of the body. The sampot is a flexible garment that can be folded differently. The sbai is a cape that is worn by women and is draped over the left shoulder keeping the right one bare. Traditional Cambodian dancers adorn the unique dancing dress that features a skirt called the Sampot sara-bhap and a beautiful collar Sarong Kor around the neck. The mokot is a traditional headgear that was worn by the royals of Cambodia.

4. Cambodian Music And Dance

Music and dance in Cambodia have been constantly evolving over the centuries and adopting elements from various cultures that have been associated with the country. Currently, Westernization plays a significant role in shaping the country’s musical scene. Traditional classical music and dance were practiced in the royal courts of the country and are currently practiced by acclaimed artists in the country, and are associated with great prestige. In the past, the pinpeat orchestra with 9 to10 instruments would play traditional music at temples and royal courts of the country. Currently, the music can be heard during special traditional ceremonies and in the pagodas in the country and is often accompanied by traditional dances, religious ceremonies, and traditional plays. Villages in the country have local musicians performing songs at the weddings.

Cambodian dancing involves classical, folk, and vernacular dances. The classical dance was earlier reserved for performance in the royal courts of the country but was introduced to the public in the mid-20th century and currently is performed at prestigious ceremonies and festivals held in the country. Tourists to the country can also enjoy the dance performances. The best feature of this dance form is the use 4000 different gestures of the hands and feet to express different emotions. Folk dances are performed by artists who dress up according to the folk traditions. The dancers dress to appear like farmers, hill tribes or the Chams depending on the dance they are about to perform. Vernacular dances are Cambodian dances performed on social occasions like the Rom Kbach, Lam Leav, etc.

3. Cambodian Arts And Literature

Cambodia has a rich saga of traditional oral literature comprising of legends, songs, folk tales, etc., that were only expressed in the written form after the arrival of the Europeans. The monasteries throughout the country house some of the oldest inscriptions and scriptures that were written in the country. The Reamker is an important literary work in Cambodia and is the Cambodian version of the famous Indian epic of Ramayana. Another important literary work is the Vorvong and Sorvong, a story of two Khmer princes that inspired dance performances by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. A tragic love story, the Tum Teav is also a famous literary work of Cambodia and is often portrayed in various forms. The story was originally written as a poem by Sam, a Khmer monk.

2. Religions And Festivals Of Cambodia

About 90% of the population of Cambodia are Buddhists while the rest include Muslims, Christians, and other faiths. The Cham and Malay minority people of the country are mainly adherents of Islam. Christianity was introduced in the country in 1660 by Christian missionaries. The hill tribes living in Cambodia also have their own indigenous religion and faith.

Several festivals are held in Cambodia throughout the year that attracts many tourists to the country. The Water Festival is held during the months of October or November and features boat races on the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers. The festival has been held since the ancient times when it was celebrated by the Khmer Royals to exhibit their marine strength. The Khmer New Year’s Day is celebrated with great happiness throughout the country. The Pchum Ben is another festival where Cambodians pay regards to their ancestors, friends, and relatives who have passed away. The Angkor Festival is a mega-event where the stunning backdrop of the Angkor Wat is used to stage performing arts events like classical songs and dances of Cambodia.

1. Sports In Cambodia

Football and martial arts are the most popular sports of Cambodia. Football is a relatively recent sport practiced in the country with the Cambodian Football Federation being established in 1933. The association was registered to FIFA in 1953. The traditional sports of Cambodia includes the Khmer traditional wrestling and two forms of kickboxing, namely the pradal serey and the bokator. The wrestling matches, played in three rounds, are won if the opponent is forced on his back. The Bokator is often claimed to be the origin of all forms of Southeast Asian kickboxing styles. It was originally a fighting style used by the army and even today Bokator players adorn the traditional army garments while participating in a match.


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