10 interesting facts about Cambodia

Sebastien Chaneac

During our 3 weeks travelling between Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, the Kingdom of Cambodia and its super friendly people stole our hearts in many ways.

Here's our 10 interesting facts about Cambodia:

1. The (gay) Kingdom of Cambodia

We were welcomed to the “Kingdom of Cambodia” as we touched down at Phnom Penh international airport.

Cambodia has a constitutional monarch as head of state, elected by the Royal Throne Council.

Currently, the monarch is ex ballet dancer and unmarried 51 years old, King Norodom Sihamoni:

The King of Cambodia
A portrait of King Norodom Sihamoni displayed outside the Post Office in Siem Reap

There are many well-reported rumours he's gay, especially after his mother (Queen Monineath) flinched when asked if he is likely to get married soon and exclaimed:

“”Wife?” she asked. “He only feels Buddhist” 

Putting gossip and rumours aside, we were pleasantly surprised by how gay friendly Cambodia is, particularly the gay scene of Phnom Penh and the gay bars of Siem Reap.

And, the ex-King Norodom Sihanouk came out in support of gay marriages in Cambodia during his rule.

Travel advice for LGTBQ community

Advice for LGBTQ travellers to Cambodia

Cambodia is super gay friendly, in our opinion one of the most LGBTQ friendly places in Asia, up there with Thailand and Taiwan. We felt very secure travelling around Cambodia as a gay couple and never experienced any problems getting a double bed in hotels. This is, after all, a country that has never had any anti-gay laws in its history and as of 2018 took a big step to gay marriage by introducing the Declaration of Family Relationship for same-sex couples.

The former King of Cambodia
The former gay friendly King Norodom Sihanouk

2. A new government, a new name

Cambodia has been changing its name whenever a new government came into power over the past 60 years, starting and ending with “The Kingdom of Cambodia”:

  • The Kingdom of Cambodia: 1953-1970 (ruled by a monarchy)
  • The Khmer Republic: 1970-1975 (ruled by President Lon Nol's government)
  • Democratic Kampuchea: 1975-1979 (under Pol Pot's terrible Khmer Rouge regime)
  • The People's Republic of Kampuchea: 1979-1989 (under the rule of the Vietnamese sponsored government)
  • The State of Cambodia: 1989-1993 (under the United Nations Transitional Assembly)
  • The Kingdom of Cambodia: 1993-present (under the restored constitutional monarchy)
The changing faces of Cambodia
The changing faces of Cambodia as a new government gives it a new name

3. A young population

Quite a sombre interesting fact about Cambodia is that it has a very young population with around half of its population younger than 15 years old and a lack of people over the age of 50.

The youth of Cambodia
This young soldier at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is an example of how young the Cambodian population is.

During the terrible Khmer Rouge rule under Pol Pot in 1975-79, around 2-3 million of the then 8 million population was literally battered to death: bullets were considered too expensive to use!

We visited the Killing Fields near Phnom Penh and one of the most striking and harrowing images is this tree where Khmer Rouge soldiers would quite literally bash babies and infants against before throwing them into the nearby pit:

The Killing Tree at the Killing Fields
This tree at the Killing Fields near Phnom Penh was one of the worst things we've seen: babies were beaten to death against this tree giving it its nickname, “The Killing Tree”

We strongly advise all visitors to visit the Killing Fields near Phnom Penh and the nearby former school which was converted into a torture building (called S21) to get a feel for Cambodia's dark history during the Khmer Rouge years.

4. There has never been a McDonalds in Cambodia

Our favourite interesting fact about Cambodia is that it is one of the few countries which has never had a McDonalds, along with Ghana and Yemen.

Other countries may have had it once then kicked them out (like Iceland and Bolivia), but in Cambodia, McDonalds has never set foot!

However, they do have a Burger King, KFC and their own McDonalds equivalent called: “Lucky Burger”:

Lucky Burger of Cambodia
Lucky Burger the McDonalds equivalent of Cambodia

5. A world wonder: Angkor Wat

The most obvious and popular interesting fact about Cambodia is of course, Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat is the main reason tourists flock in their numbers to Cambodia. It is the world's largest religious building and considered one of the wonders of the world.

The incredible Angkor Wat
The incredible Angkor Wat: one of the world wonders

It is of course stunning and so important that the famous Cambodian national beer is named after it:

Stefan's Angkor beer selfie
The national beer is named after the great Angkor Wat

6. The only flag featuring a building

The Cambodian flag is the only flag in the world featuring a building. The building of course is the country's famous world wonder:

The Cambodian flag
The Cambodian flag is the only flag in the world to feature a building

7. Birthdays are not traditionally celebrated in Cambodia

Well, they are amongst the westernised youth. But traditionally, birthdays are not celebrated in Cambodia particularly in the rural areas.

Some older people may not even know their exact birth date and only recognise their birthday season.

A simple birthday dinner with friends
Birthdays in Cambodia are a modest affair and sometimes not celebrated

8. Very expensive funerals

The average Cambodian funeral including the costs of the cemetery comes to around $9,000. This is a lot of money in a country where the average monthly salary is less than $100.

Families usually have to group together their entire life savings and sell major possession in order to fund a loved one's funeral.

The Cambodian funeral traditionally lasts over 49 days with the body preserved in the first 7. After 100 days, another prayer ceremony is typically held. This can be shortened to make it cheaper, but the longer it is done, the better for the deceased in the afterlife.

The prayers and chants at each funeral ceremony are led by the monks who essentially play the lead role.

The monks at a Cambodian funeral
The monks play an important role at funerals, leading the prayers and chants

9. Crazy New Year celebrations

The Buddhist New Year is celebrated in April and is referred to as the Khmer New Year or “Chaul Chnam Thmey”. It is similar to the Songkran celebrations in Thailand and Myanmar.

To celebrate, people throw water on each other as well as talcum powder. This is their way of wishing each other good luck and a happy new year!

Siem Reap gay scene on Pub Street during the Buddhist New Year
The atmosphere around Pub Street during the Buddhist New Year was crazy and very messy

This practice has been banned in the major cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. But in 2015 for the first time in over 10 years, it was allowed again in Siem Reap and by god it was crazy! Every evening we went out into Siem Reap, we returned home looking like members of the Addams Family!

Our post New Year tuk tuk selfie
Surviving the Khmer New Year celebrations in Siem Reap: we looked like the Adams Family

10. This rude hand gesture

If you really want to swear at someone in Cambodia but can't because it's just not audible enough, then use this hand gesture as demonstrated by our friend Aaron:

Aaron demonstrating this rude hand gesture
Aaron demonstrating this rude Cambodian hand gesture

But do this with caution as it is considered extremely rude:

 

You can read more about our experiences discovering food in Cambodia, plan your trip with this Cambodia travel guide, and watch our Cambodia travel video.

 

Happy travels are safe travels

We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.

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Sebastien Chaneac

Sebastien is the co-founder, editor and author of nomadicboys.com. He is a tech geek, a total travel nerd and a food enthusiast. He spends the majority of his time planning Nomadic Boys' travels meticulously right down to the minute details. Sebastien has travelled to over 80 countries with his partner in crime and the love of his life, Stefan. He regularly shares his expertise of what it’s like travelling as a gay couple both on Nomadic Boys and on prominent publications ranging from Pink News, Matador, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and many more. Originally from France, Sebastien moved to London in the early 2000s where he pursued a career as a computer programmer for Thompson Reuters and Bloomberg. He subsequently left it all to explore his passion for travelling around the world with Stefan to hand, and thus Nomadic Boys was born. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

22 thoughts on “10 interesting facts about Cambodia”

  1. Hi I’m Cambodian. I wanna tell that I didn’t even know that there’re rumors about our King being gay just because I never heard anyone talk about this before. I love and respect my King gay or not forever😊
    Hope you come and visit us again enjoying your time in Cambodia I wish you guys happy and healthy everyday ☺️

  2. I have gone there for 2 months 5 times since I married my Cambodian wife. It is a fantastic place to visit, My children are of beautiful color, and love new things.
    My favorite visit was te Sihounoukville, to the docks where boat builders work on the north side. The poverty is extreme, and houses are built out on the docks about every 10 feet. The natives were incredible, friendly and helpful. Chickens running everywhere and wood craftsmen everywhere. Traffic is wild, with cars king, pedestrians last on the list. I saw a motorcycle rider knock down an elderly woman and he screamed at her to get out of the way. She was not hurt, but acted apologetic. Food was always fresh and terrific. There was a hamburger place with an M, but McDonalds forced them to turn it upside down.

    • Hi Mac thanks for your comment. Have you seen the Phare circus in Siem Reap yet? Night recommended.

      Hilarious about the M (I mean!) W burger chain 🙂

      • It was a huge yellow “M” in a very busy (sad to say, based on health ussues) burger joint. I’m afraid it is catching on, the Cambodian diet was rich in vegetables, rice, and fish, now fast food is becoming quickly “fashionable”. I thnk they had to remove 4 bolts to reverse the M so did not hurt the bottom line.
        Funny too, but they had a ball room for the kids, where thousands of about 5 inch plastic balls are stacked in a room and kids can jump in them and bury themselves and wrestle etc. Did not get the concept or could not afford it, so the ball room had lees than one full layer of balls, basically all you could do was trip on them.
        Took me a month to feel comfortable drimign, the secret of a good driver is to never stop, not for a left turn, not for a light, not for anything, you’d get such a beeping from behind if you did not figure out how to keep moving.
        Anyway, thanks for triggering some great memories, this finds me wanting to return., Mac

  3. Very entertaining post and I learnt a lot! I am in Cambodia right now so it was good timing coming across this post… Love the anecdote about funerals!

  4. This was so fun, I actually learned a lot! Thinking back to my travels around Cambodia, I didn’t see one McDonalds – can’t believe I didn’t notice it at the time haha 🙂

  5. Interesting facts! I learned something new! I did knew about fact #7, and I was surprised when I found out. As I learned the reasons and their history, it makes sense. Good post! Lilo and I love you guys!

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