Khmer Culture

February 28, 2023  Cambodian Chef Avatar
Khmer Culture

The Khmer culture has been influenced by India dating back many centuries. Religious is a main factors guided and inspired its arts. The Kingdom of Funan was most probably the first Khmer state to benefit from this influx of Indian ideas. There is also French influence as well.

The Angkor period known as the golden age of Cambodia was between 9th and 14th century, during which it was a powerful and prosperous empire that flourished and dominated almost all of inland Southeast Asia. However, Angkor would eventually collapse after constant warring with its increasingly powerful neighbors. Many temples from this period scatter throughout Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam as a reminder of the grandeur of Khmer arts and culture.

The literary language of the court was Sanskrit. The spoken language was Khmer. Massive temples from this period, including Angkor Wat and the Bayon testify to the power of Angkor and the grandeur of its architecture and decorative art. The unparalleled achievements in art, architecture, music, and dance during this period served as models for later cultural development in Cambodia, and had a great influece on many neighboring countries, namely Thailand and Laos. The effect of Angkorian culture can still be seen today in those countries, as they share many close characteristics with current-day Cambodia.

Khmer Architecture

The Angkorian architects and sculptors created temples that mapped the cosmic world in stone. Khmer decorations drew inspiration from religion, and mythical creatures from Hinduism and Buddhism were carved on walls. In present day temples build in accordance to the rule of ancient Khmer architecture that dictated that a basic temple layout include a central shrine, a courtyard, an enclosing wall, and a moat.

Khmer Culture


In modern rural Cambodia, the Khmer houses are typically raised as much as three meters on stilts for protection from annual floods and it is constructed from wood with gabled thatch roof. The house vary in size from four by six meters to six by ten meters and it is typically in rectangular shape. The front room serves as a living room, the next room is the bedroom. A separate kitchen located near the house but usually behind it. Toilet facilities consist of simple pits in the ground, located away from the house. Any livestock is kept below the house.

Khmer Religion

Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist with 90% of the population being Theravada Buddhist, 1% Christian and the majority of the remaining population follow Islam, atheism, or animism. Theravada Buddhism has been the Cambodian state religion since the 13th century CE (excepting the Khmer Rouge period).

Khmer Culture

Islam is the religion of a majority of the Cham (also called Khmer Islam) in Cambodia. Christianity was introduced into Cambodia by Roman Catholic missionaries in 1660. Highland tribal groups, most with their own local religious systems, probably number fewer than 100,000 persons. They associate spirits with rice, soil, water, fire, stones, paths, and so forth.

Ways of life

Birth and death rituals

The birth of a child is a happy event for the family. In traditional Khmer society, a pregnant woman respects a number of food taboos and avoids certain situations. These traditions remain in practice in rural Cambodia, but they have become weakened in urban areas.

In Cambodia, death views as the end of one life and as the beginning of another life that one hopes will be better. Buddhist Khmer usually cremate, and their ashes deposit in a sputa in the temple compound. A corpse is washed, dressed, and placed in a coffin, which may be decorated with flowers and with a photograph of the deceased.

Married and Divorce

In Cambodia, choosing a spouse is a complex, and it may involve not only his/her parents and his/her friends, as well as his/her partner, but also a matchmaker. A man usually marries between the ages of 19 and 25, a girl between the ages of 16 and 22. The wedding more commonly lasted a day and a half. After the wedding, a banquet is held. Traditionally the man moves in with the wife’s family and may live there, until they can afford a new house.

Divorce is legal and relatively easy to obtain, but not common. Whatever property they brought into the marriage is divided equally. Usually the minor children is usually given to the mother, and both parents continue to have an obligation to contribute financially toward the future of the child.

Social organization

Khmer culture is very hierarchical. The greater a person’s age, the greater the level of respect that must be granted to them. Legally, the husband is the head of the Khmer family, and responsible for providing shelter and food for his family. The wife has considerable authority, especially in family economics, and generally in charge of the family budget and serves as the major ethical and religious model for the children.


Khmer people believes that the head contain the person’s soul. It also considers to be extremely disrespectful to use the feet to point out a person, or to sit or sleep with the soles of the feet pointing at a person. When greeting people or to show respect in Cambodia people do the “sampeah” gesture. In Cambodia it is not polite to make eye contact with someone who is older or someone who considers a superior.

Khmer Culture

Khmer Clothing

Clothing in Cambodia is one of the most important aspects of the culture. Cambodian fashion differs according to ethnic group and social class. Khmer people traditionally wear a checkered scarf called a Krama. The long-popular traditional garment known as the Sampot, is an Indian-influenced costume which Cambodians have worn since the Funan era. As Buddhism began to replace Hinduism, Khmer people started wearing the blouse, shirt and trousers of Khmer style.

Khmer Cuisine

Khmer cuisine is similar to that of its Southeast Asian neighbors. It shares many similarities with Thai cuisine, Vietnamese cuisine and Teochew cuisine. Khmer cuisine is noted for the use of prahok, a type of fermented fish paste, in many dishes as a distinctive flavoring. Coconut milk is the main ingredient of many Khmer curries and desserts. Cambodians prefer either jasmine rice or sticky (glutinous) rice.

Khmer Culture

Khmer Arts

The history of visual arts in Cambodia stretches back centuries to ancient crafts; Khmer art reached its peak during the Angkor period. Traditional Cambodian arts and crafts include textiles, non-textile weaving, silversmithing, stone carving, lacquerware, ceramics, wat murals, and kite-making.

Khmer Music

The Cambodian Pinpeat ensemble is traditionally heard on feast days in the pagodas. It is also a court ensemble used to accompany classical dance for ritual occasions or theatrical event. Cambodian music has undergone heavy Westernization, especially in the 60s and 70s.

Khmer Dance

Khmer classical dance is a form of Cambodian dance originally performed only for royalty. The dances have many elements in common with Thai classical dance. During the mid-20th century, it was introduced to the public, where it now remains a celebrated icon of Khmer culture, often being performed during public events, holidays, and for tourists visiting Cambodia.

Khmer Culture

Khmer folk dances, which are performed for audiences, are fast-paced. The movements and gestures are not as stylized as Khmer classical dance. Folk dancers wear clothes of the people they are portraying such as Chams, hill tribes, farmers, and peasants. Cambodian social dances are those danced at social gatherings. Such dances include Romvong, Rom Kbach, Rom Saravan, and Lam Leav. Some of these dances have been influenced by the traditional dances of neighboring countries.

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