Cambodian Culture

Cambodian Culture

An influx of Buddhist and Hinduist teachings from India, indigenous animistic beliefs and folklore, and customs from the neighboring countries… The things that make Cambodian culture so epic have to do with the unique heritage of Southeast Asia. At heart, the culture of Cambodia is deeply rooted in religion and faith. A society already grown with concepts of self-control and resilience, Cambodian people acquired more mental strength after their struggles during the Khmer Rouge.

Family is very important in Cambodia, both from a societal and individual perspective. Large families and close ties act as binders of social stability and a never-ending source of dependability. This is perhaps another reason for kindness and loyalty being the core values of Cambodian culture, aside from the Buddhist influence. It has helped society a great deal when coping with natural or political disasters. National pride and tradition ooze from daily life, which is immediately visible once you set foot in Cambodia.

Hidden in its calm and sedate attitude, there is a spirit restless and outward-bound. Cambodia has been embracing contemporary cultures from around the world, adding its own local touch to them and giving rise to spectacular events. Cambodian culture is all about extravagant celebrations of not only weddings, funerals, or other daily occasions, but life itself.

Eating & Drinking

“Cambodia harvests the best of its climate, geography, and incredibly rich history in its treasure trove of local cuisine.”

Cambodia’s profound history reflects on its cuisine, giving rise to countless traditions and cooking techniques all united under one roof. Khmer people have the biggest role to play in this harmonious marriage. Their centuries-old culinary traditions are the soul of the food scene in Cambodia today. Making it all the more exciting is the influences from neighboring Thailand, Vietnam. Cambodian cuisine comes with surprises, having branched into what many describe as peasant, elite, and royal cuisines. The latter two are more nutritious in content, while peasant food represents the best of what the Cambodian land offers.

A country blanketed with rice paddies and exuberant rivers, Cambodia hails its common ingredients, rice and freshwater fish, in most recipes. There are almost 2000 rice varieties in the country—it is no wonder that locals consume it in every meal. Fermented sauces are also a popular delicacy taking their root from the Khmer culinary tradition. Sweet basil, coriander, and turmeric are distinct spices that Cambodia loves in every dish. If you are looking to try a quintessentially Cambodian dish, the myriad curries are where you start. Coconut milk is what you thank for the incredible texture, and the vegetables are fresh from the local fields.

Some aspects of Cambodian cuisine can get quite graphic for some travelers, as street food often makes use of insects and animals such as snakes. If you are open to trying new things, these can be really delicious. If not, grab some of Cambodia’s finest fruit juices from a streetfood stall. They are delightful and a colorful element of Cambodian culture.

Unique Crafts & Shopping

Cambodia is just as promising as the other Southeast Asian countries when it comes to the crafts scene. The country’s glimmering countryside and unbelievable history are embodied in a plethora of products. If you are looking to take a piece of Khmer spirit home with you, the best things to buy in Cambodia are Kampot peppers, fashion items made of Cambodian silk, silver products, and natural soaps. Start your shopping journey by getting your hands on a dazzling Krama, the iconic Cambodian scarf made of checkered fabric.

When in Siem Reap, hop on a Tuk-Tuk and make your way to the labyrinthine markets of Siem Reap. You will find the latest fashion items of traditional Cambodia in the Old Market. This is the heart of Khmer handicrafts. Aside from myriad souvenirs, Cambodian delicacies are also a dime a dozen for those who can’t shop on an empty stomach. Angkor Wat is the place to buy antiques and products from the Cambodian countryside. Woven baskets and rice paper prints are ideal gift items. A quintessentially Cambodian pattern is in the Betel nut boxes, shaped in local animals and handmade majorly from silver. Cambodia’s best city for shopping is Phnom Penh. Central Market is home to steamy stalls that sell all kinds of products, but the highlight of this market is the luxury items such as jewelry, watches, and gold.

  • Takeaway: Market shopping in Southeast Asia is all about the haggling experience. Before you come to a decision, make sure you browsed a few stalls, and always start at a lower price than you intend to pay. If you know how to enjoy it, the exchange of bargaining with local vendors is truly a fulfilling social interaction.

Religion & Etiquette

Buddhism is the official religion in Cambodia, with over 95% of the population following the religion devotedly. The remaining minority consists of Muslims and Christians. Buddhism is not only a practiced religion in the country but a philosophy that has an impact on all aspects of Cambodian culture. Theravada Buddhism is the dominant form, and the three symbols of the Buddha, the teaching of dharma, and the monastic community are extremely crucial for the society of Cambodia. Rituals and prayers are the main constituents of the structure of everyday life. You will see monks, nuns, and students going in and out of the monasteries almost everywhere in the cities.

A virtuous life led by wisdom and knowledge is core to the Buddhist philosophy adopted by Cambodians. Naturally, values such as merit-making, respect, sharing, and spreading knowledge are essential. Remember that is a conservative culture, valuing privacy and personal boundaries in the public. Practice caution when addressing to people, avoid public displays of affection, and most importantly, never cause someone to lose face. The concept of face is the binder element that keeps social interactions together in Vietnam. Embarrassing someone is probably the worst thing you can do in Vietnam.

When you are in the presence of monks or witnessing a religious ritual, it is wise to behave respectfully and avoid drawing attention. Women are not allowed to touch Buddhist monks, and people in general shouldn’t touch anything with their feet. The head, on the other hand, especially the top of the head, is considered the most sacred part of the body. Touching or patting someone on the head is considered very offensive.

Festivals & Events

“Cambodia may seem like a calm country immersed in religion and solemnity. But at heart, it is a dynamic land of festivals, boundless celebration, and epic holidays.”

With some 28 celebrations taking place annually, Cambodia boasts the highest number of holidays in the world. Some of them are deeply steeped in the spiritual values of the country, and some are as dynamic and frisky as your average contemporary festival. You will find countless opportunities to witness these special events, as they are spread over the annual calendar. In the most traditional ones, Cambodian culture radiates through family gatherings, a celebration of the earth, and offerings to the gods.

Come in April, and the Khmer New Year will sweep you off your feet with a grand celebration of the coming of spring. This is all about honoring the season’s harvest and welcoming the rains that are closely associated with the Cambodian spirit. Meak Bochea will make you connect with the country’s Buddhist heritage, as monks in bright orange come together to commemorate Buddha’s preachment. Locals perform rituals around the temples with candles and prayers—a stirring spectacle that you won’t forget soon. There are also a few events dedicated to the Khmer empire, the most popular being the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. An old royal rite at heart, the ceremony is marked with the King’s symbolic tilth of the rice fields. It not only offers insight into the hierarchical dynamics of society, but highlights the importance of agriculture in Cambodian culture.

Cambodian culture

Cambodia Food Guide

Check out our Cambodia Food Guide for the tasty local dishes and drinks you must try.

Cambodian culture

Cambodia Travel Advice

Everything you need to know about traveling to Cambodia is in our Cambodia Travel Advice guide.

Cambodian culture

Solo Travels

Are you traveling alone? Check out our Solo Travels page for detail.

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