Culture & Tradition
Customs and Tradition
Cambodian culture and tradition have a rich history that dates back many centuries. Over the years, the people of Cambodia developed a set of unique traditions which is based on the syncretism of indigenous Buddhism and Hinduism. Cambodians have been raised to respect their culture and are very traditional in their way of life.
Cambodians traditionally greet with a Sampeah. This involves pressing the hands together before the chest, a slight bow and the polite phrase ‘Chumreap Suor’. Customarily, the higher the hands are held and the lower the bow, the more respect is conveyed.
Except when meeting elderly people or government officials, between men, this custom has been partially replaced by the handshake. Women usually greet both men and women with the same traditional greeting. Although it may be considered acceptable for foreigners to shake hands with a Cambodian, it is more appropriate to respect the custom and respond with a ‘Chumreap Suor’.
There are many classical dance forms in Cambodia. This highly stylized art form was once mainly confined to the courts of the royal palace and performed mainly by females. Known formally in Khmer as Robam Apsara, the dancers of this classical form are often referred to as Apsara dancers.
The traditional dance form was first introduced to foreign countries and best known during the 1960s as the Khmer Royal Ballet. The first royal ballerina was Princess Norodom Bopha Devi, a daughter of King Norodom Sihanouk.
The Apsara Dance is very beautiful and even served as a source of inspiration for the many intricate stone carvings in the Angkor temple complex. The dance has been part of the Khmer culture for more than a millennium.
A visit to Cambodia is only complete when travellers have attended at least one traditional dance performance.
Kbach Kun Khmer Boran ( Martial Art )
Khmer martial arts date back more than a thousand years. Many carvings and bas-reliefs in the Angkor temples serve as evidences.The martial arts include Bokator, Pradal Serey, Baok Chambab, Kbach Kun Dambong Vèng, amongst others.
Khmer Bokator, known formally as Labokatao, is a Cambodian martial arts form that involves close hand-to-hand combat, ground techniques and weapons.Bokator is one of the earliest Cambodian martial arts and is said to be the close quarter combat system used by the armies during the Angkor era. Practitioners are trained to strike with knees, elbows, hands, feet and even the head. Short sticks are commonly used as weapon.
Baok Chambab is Khmer wrestling; a sport in which involves two opponents who try to pin each other’s back to the ground. A match consists of three rounds. Before starting the match, wrestlers perform pre-match ritual dancing. A wrestler wins a match by two out of three rounds. However, after each round, the loser is asked if he still wishes to continue with the match. A Baok Chambab match is traditionally accompanied by drum beats, involving two drums known as Skor Nhy (female drum) and and Chhmol (male drum). Traditional matches are held at the Cambodian National Olympic Stadium during the Khmer New Year and other Cambodian holidays.
Kbach Kun Dambong Vèng
Kbach Kun Dambong Vèng literally refers to an ancient Cambodian martial art form involving the use of a long staff. It has traditionally been practiced to prepare against enemies bearing eventual malice towards their villages and their country. Now, it is particularly popular with youths in main sports clubs in Cambodia.
Khmer Pradal Serey is traditional Khmer kick boxing. A match consists of five rounds and takes place in a boxing ring. Between each round there is a one or two-minute break. Before a match, boxers perform praying rituals known as the Kun Krou and traditional Cambodian music is played during a match. The instruments used are the Skor Yaul (a drum), the Sralai (a flute-like instrument) and the stringed Chhing. Boxers are required to wear leather gloves and shorts.
Victory is instantaneously granted when a boxer delivers a knockout which is determined when the knocked down boxer is unable to continue the fight after a 10-second counted by a referee. Victory is also determined at the end of the match when judges decide based on a point system. If the fighters end up with the same score, a draw is called.
Traditional Cambodian weddings are intricate affairs that consist of multiple ceremonies spread over three days and three nights. The wedding begins with the groom and his family traveling to the bride’s home bearing gifts to the bride’s family as dowry. Family members and friends are introduced, and wedding rings are exchanged. Customarily, three traditional songs accompany this first segment; the first song announces the arrival of the groom. The second song is played while the dowry is presented to the brides family. The final song invites the elders to chew Betel Nut, which is an age-old Khmer tradition. Following this tradition, is the Tea Ceremony, at which the bride and groom offer tea to the spirits of their ancestors.
To prepare the bride and groom for their life as a married couple, their hair must then be symbolically cut to represent a fresh start to their new relationship together as husband and wife. The master of ceremony performs the first symbolic hair cut; the bride and groom’s parents, relatives, and friends then take turn to symbolically cut the bride's and groom’s hair while giving them blessing and good wishes.
The finale is the most memorable segment of the wedding. Family members and friends take turns to tie the bride’s and groom’s left and right wrists with ‘blessing strings’. The praises and wishes of happiness, good health, success, prosperity, and long-lasting love are acknowledged and witnessed by the loud sound of the gong and joyful cheers. The wedding guests then throw palm flowers over the new couple accompanied by a traditional song. After the couple is pronounced husband and wife, the groom holds the bride’s fabric into the bridal room accompanied by a traditional song.
At the close of this wedding ceremony, all of the guests are invited to a wedding reception accompanied by an orchestral concert. The Khmer wedding is a rowdy and joyous event.
Nowadays most families reduce the three-day and three-night ritual to a one-day affair.
The Khmer traditional medicine is a form of naturopathy using natural remedies, such as roots, barks, leaves and herbs. The ingredients are meant to motivate the body’s vital ability to heal and maintain itself. The medicine has been used to treat various diseases for many years.
The ancient Khmer people first formulated this medical lore during the Angkor period. Today, the traditional medicine offers a holistic approach and aims at avoiding the use of surgery and drugs. Practitioners of this therapy are known locally as Krou Khmer.
Khmer traditional doctors are receiving recognition and training from the government at the National Center of Traditional Medicine which has gathered medical books and knowledge from temples across the country. Traditional healers are welcomed at the centre, where they receive a uniform level of training. It also allows the centre to accumulate local knowledge from across the country.