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25 Curiosities of Cambodia

Cambodia is one of the most popular countries in Southeast Asia among travellers. Millions of people have already visited the country and the vast majority are attracted by the wonder of the Angkor Wat archaeological site. You will not be short of interesting places to visit throughout Cambodia and if you are thinking of organizing a trip around the country, do not miss the complete travel guide to Cambodia.

For me, knowing more about the country is essential to really travel. It is not enough for me to see buildings, stones, natural wonders… I have to know everything. From its history, its culture, traditions, gastronomy and of course, its curiosities.

In this post I talk about the 25 curiosities of Cambodia.


1. A very extensive alphabet

The Cambodian language has the largest number of letters in the world. It has a total of 72 letters, of which 32 are vowels. Its alphabet is also not similar to other languages ​​of neighboring countries, although it seems similar to the West.

2. English from kindergarten

Currently, as the main language in schools, all subjects are taught in English, except Cambodian, of course. What makes all children speak English from a very young age. Something would not go wrong if it would be applied to all Spanish schools, both public and private (where unfortunately today teaching is still in Spanish and very few hours are dedicated to English, with the exception of some bilingual or English private schools. What about you? do you think?).

As they explained to us, the government for many years has forced all schools and teaching to be modified and taught in English in both science, mathematics, etc... They knew that a large part of the country's income would come from tourism, which was booming and they did not want a country left behind.

All those under 40 years old speak English and you will be able to communicate without problems.

3. Its flag and shield

Cambodia has the only flag and shield in the world on which a historic building appears; Angkor Wat.

4. Buddhism as a way of life

Buddhism is the main religion of Cambodia. About 95% of its inhabitants are practitioners and the temples in use are incredible.

They apply Buddhism to their way of life. So you will find a friendly, understanding population that believes in karma and does not do "evil". So your security is very good. As in all countries, "caution" but in general, it is a very safe country.

5. The official currency

Although in Cambodia the official currency is the riel, both in supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, bars, markets... everything is detailed in US dollars. And not only in tourist areas. They even use the dollar to pay in stores etc. It was something curious to see as soon as we arrived, that in the supermarkets the signs of the articles had the cost in dollars in large and below in small the cost in Cambodian riel.

6. Cambodian stilt houses

Cambodia is a very poor country. Especially if we compare it with Thailand, its neighboring country. Or even with Vietnam. For this reason, a large part of the population lives in very modest dwellings, very small houses, where the whole family lives. From the newborn baby to the great-grandmother.

All the areas that face the shore of Lake Tonlé are dotted with Palafitos. Many towns have been created on the banks of the river and even inside the river (the floating towns). These dwellings are called stilt houses.

When you travel to Siem Reap don't forget to visit the nearest floating village.

7. Prices are similar to those in Spain

For many people it is strange to arrive in Cambodia and find that the prices are quite expensive, if we compare them with other neighboring countries such as Vietnam. And at first I was surprised too. The cost of hotels is similar to the costs you can pay in Spain. Without going any further, I have just returned from the Costa Brava (it is July) and for a family room with breakfast I have paid practically the same as I paid in Siem Reap in May.

On the other hand, this does not only apply to tourist places. If you go to any supermarket (where the locals shop) you will realize that the cost of fruit, biscuits, cereals, meat, fish... is the same as in Spanish supermarkets.

And so, you can apply it equally to bars, restaurants, services such as transfers, taxis, buses...

Of course, if there are things that you can find cheaper such as hostels, beauty and massage centers, the costs of tuk tuks... but not a general rule, all prices are very similar.

8. The Khmer Empire

One of the curiosities is that Cambodians treat themselves as Khmers and Cambodia as a land of Khmers. The Khmer empire included the countries that they currently are; Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. Despite the fact that they are currently different countries, only in Cambodia are they still considered Khmers.

9. It was a French colony

Cambodia was a French colony for 90 years. Between 1863 and 1953. Therefore, many of the buildings in large cities are French colonial style. A great example of this is found in the center of Siem Reap and in the center of Phnom Penh.

It also made a dent in Cambodian cuisine, where you can find many French-influenced dishes.

If you are interested in learning more about Cambodian cuisine, here are the 15 Cambodian dishes that you cannot miss.

10. Cambodian Genocide

A part of Cambodian history was the genocide experienced in the 1970s. It represented the death of just over 30% of the Cambodian population. The genocide was carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime, a communist regime that bled the country 4 decades ago.

The Maoist regime of the Khmer Rouge was a political party that governed the so-called democratic Kampuchea between 1975 and 1979, with a radical left extremist conception. The word “democracy” was non-existent in its execution. His policy was characterized by the forced ruralization of the inhabitants of urban centers, torture, mass executions, widespread forced labor and malnutrition. They were against globalization, foreign companies settling in the country, the city, the capital, education, improvements in health... basically they wanted the country to be completely rural, following the old traditions and without options to prosper. They wanted a rural country, mired in poverty and that would only be dedicated to cultivation, breeding, textiles and little else. All those who went against it, directly or indirectly, all those who were intelligent, studied or even if they wore glasses, were arrested, to later be tortured. Forced by torture to confess crimes that they had not commented on, and thus be able to justify their subsequent murder.

In Phnom Penh you will find one of the most chilling places marked by this dictatorship. Tuol Sleng next to the extermination camp and the Choeung Ek memorial, are places where they will help you learn about history and reflect on the barbarities that were carried out just 40 and a few years ago.

11. A very young population

Due to the great Cambodian genocide during the 1970s, the current population of Cambodia is mostly very young. Only 4.5% of the population is older than 64 years. If we compare it with Spain, we can greatly appreciate the difference. In Spain, just over 24% of the population is over 64 years of age.

12. They love to go barefoot

Although this curiosity applies to much of Southeast Asia or even other continents such as Oceania, in Cambodia this fact is very visible. You will be able to see barefoot people everywhere. And although it is not so common on the street, to visit temples, enter houses, even many museums, you will have to take off your shoes.

13. Martial arts

Cambodia has its own martial art. Called the Pradal Serey or the Kun Khmer. It is a form of fighting widely spread in the country, very similar to Muay Thai in Thailand. In fact, the word “prodal” in the Cambodian or Khmer or Khmer language means to fight, to fight.

If you like this type of sports, you will be able to see fights in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

14. Gestures frowned upon in Cambodia

In Cambodian culture there are several gestures that are frowned upon. And although I knew them all, you can see that many Cambodians do not comply as such either. So if you forget, nothing would happen either, although if you want to be as respectful as possible it is better to avoid them.

  • The legs must always be collected. That is, if you sit together legs. It is very frowned upon to sit down and leave your legs open.

  • Neither can the soles of the feet be shown, shod or naked. So it is not well seen that if you sit down you raise your leg on top of another.

  • You also may not touch another person's head or shoulders.

  • Make sure that on your trip to Cambodia you give and receive things with your right hand, it is a gesture of good manners.

  • Talk loud. In Spain we usually speak loudly, a fact that also happens in many Latin American countries. It is our way of expressing ourselves, with a little more passion than in Asia. It is not okay to talk loudly or even loudly. If you go down the street nothing would happen, but if you enter temples, museums, restaurants... it should be taken into account.

15. Tropical climate and landscape

If you have already traveled to Southeast Asia, you will know that it is a tropical area and although there are areas that are warmer than others, Cambodia is a country that is very characterized by this climate. Much of the country is covered by jungles and tropical forests, some of them, like those in the north, so lush that it is difficult to access. Fact that found the temples of Angkor and that today is still visible throughout the archaeological site

In addition, the country is crossed by 3 mountain ranges. When you arrive in Cambodia you will notice that green predominates throughout the country's geography. You will also find rice fields everywhere, rivers and beautiful waterfalls...

16. Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the biggest tourist attraction in Cambodia and is the most visited place in the country. Even many travelers who arrive in Cambodia do so through Siem Reap International Airport and leave through the same place, without visiting other parts of the country.

Angkor Wat is a site full of temples, some of them among the largest in the world. The enclosure has a total of 400km2. Is awesome. It was built in the 12th century and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

Articles from Siem Reap and the Angkor temples that may interest you:

17. Responsible Archeology

When Angkor Wat was discovered (a small part of what can be visited today) it was completely eaten by the jungle. This jungle protected the temples from rains and storms, climatic changes, from the sun... When the jungle was removed from the complex, great care was taken not to damage the buildings and there are even temples where you can see the huge trunks on top of the structures or going through them They were removing only what was essential for their visit and recognition. And you will appreciate that the temples are mostly surrounded by jungle.

When the jungle is removed, the deferral of the temples is faster, therefore, 100% of the entrance fee you pay to visit the temples is shared between the staff of the enclosure and its maintenance. The government does not keep anything and the rest, it annually invests money from taxes for its maintenance.

18. Rice

As in all Asian countries, rice is part of the local cuisine for the most part. Cambodia is a very important rice power, it is one of the largest rice producers in the world.

19. Your name

Cambodia owes its name to the leader of a mostly Hindu tribe in the area, Kambu Svayambhuva, around the 1st century AD.

19. Numbers in Cambodia

Cambodians only have numbers from 0 to 5, and 10. Any other number is expressed as the sum of the previous ones. For example, 8 is 5 + 3, while 18 is 10 + 15 + 3.

Of course, internationally, they know the other numbers. 6,7,8 and 9. Since you see them on the price signs in supermarkets etc. In addition, being a country with a significant increase in tourism, they learn them to be able to deal with tourists.

But if they need to do addition, instead of 8+3, they will do 5+3+3.

20. The construction of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat took 37 years to build. It has been estimated that if the same construction methods were used today, it would take 350 years.

21. Can you imagine not having birthdays?

Cambodians do not have the custom of celebrating their birthday. For them it is a normal day, like any other. Some older people don't even know how to tell you the date they were born, since they have never celebrated it.

As we already knew about this curiosity before traveling to Cambodia, we asked two or three people. A guide and tuk tuk driver that we had every day in Siem Reap explained to us that he had never celebrated his birthday at home and it did not seem strange to him, until social networks arrived and his daughter discovered YouTube. It was then, when they realized in videos that they saw that in other countries it was celebrated. She says that since she discovered it, every year she congratulates her daughter with a small gift.

22. Funerals are great parties

Cambodians spend large sums of money at funerals. For 24 or 48 hours (depending on the family) a kind of party is held, where relatives and the whole town can (and should go, otherwise they want to be frowned upon) to offer condolences to the family. When he goes to the ceremony, it's not just to say condolences and leave. You should sit, eat, drink tea, pray...

We were very surprised in Siem Reap when we visited Wat Svay Dongkum there was a funeral. As soon as we entered we saw quite a few people talking, eating and drinking at long tables, and presiding over the table was a large photo of the deceased with candles and incense, as well as offerings. We tried to go as unnoticed as possible, but the deceased's wife came to meet us and practically dragged us to the table. He hardly speaks English and he did not understand us when we said that we were with him in the feeling and thank you, but that we did not want to sit down (in the most respectful way possible), the woman also smiled at us and dragged us to sit down, she served us sweets , yes… finally we left there sharing a moment that in Spain (my country) would be very intimate and practically for the family. The woman even took a picture of us and kissed our cheeks, squeezing them.

The funeral lasts 49 days in their private homes, in which during the first 7, the body is present. Afterwards, they celebrate the “public” funeral for 24-48 hours in the temple chosen by the family.

The terms can be shortened to lower the price, however, it is considered that the longer the funeral, the better for the deceased in the afterlife

The cost of a funeral can range from US$5,000 to US$9,000. Something very excessive taking into account the poverty and standard of living of the majority of the population.

23. His Karaoke

In Asia it is very common to go to Karaokes, it is a very consumed entertainment and in Cambodia you will also find them.

In Vietnam we saw it much more established and you found rooms on every corner (even individual rooms), in Cambodia you can also find them quite visibly, especially in cities like Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.

In the capital, Phnom Penh, in any shopping center you will find several rooms and if you go to gossip rest assured that any Cambodian will drag you into the room to sing a song with them.

24. Superstitions in Cambodia

It is a country with many customs and superstitions. One of the most curious is that perhaps you are walking down the street and in front of a local store you find candies on the ground. Those from the same store usually throw them out, first thing in the morning. According to them it attracts customers and brings good luck.

And as it is, there are many more.

25. Ghosts are always present in Cambodian life

In Cambodia they believe in ghosts on a very daily basis. Especially in the countryside, before entering the houses you can find "scarecrows" that act as ghosts. The fear of ghosts is instilled from children and the older ones assure that it is so that they are not trusted, not only with "the dead" but also with the living.

In Cambodia there are many types of ghosts;

Some are those of the ancestors, called "meba", whose spirits punish any disorder in the family.

When someone does something wrong, the 'meba' punishes a relative of his. Everything bad that happens to the family will be the fault of the one who has angered the 'meba'.

The most feared are the "prey", ghosts of women who have had a tragic death, for example, due to childbirth or during pregnancy, or raped and murdered girls.

These usually live in trees and have a very bad character. These ghosts are said to be specialized, attacking people similar to what they were before they died.

The fear of these visions is of such magnitude that the deceased who die from this type of event need a different wake and funeral. They don't cremate them, but bury them in the forest. They go there going round the clock and once they arrive at the place, they simulate the death of the deceased by beating him. (They already beat the dead man) and they do it this way to confuse the ghosts and that the new spirit of the deceased does not know how to return to the town.

Other problematic ghosts are the "praet", the wandering spirit of some scoundrel who, once pierced, continues to commit all kinds of misdeeds.

The "chumny puthea", is the ghost of the house, one of the few spirits with positive attributions, and that is dedicated to protecting the house, but for this you have to keep it happy with offerings and good deeds. And one of the fundamental actions is based on the fact that the woman must keep the house clean, tidy and in harmony with the home. If you don't, the ghost gets angry, leaves and destroys the family. (A somewhat macho ghost).

The fear of ghosts is not just a matter of rural areas, they are beliefs that are lived throughout the country.


I hope you enjoy your trip to Cambodia a lot and that this article has been useful to you. You can continue reading many more related articles on the blog.

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A hug and see you soon!


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