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10 interesting facts about Cambodia

10 interesting facts about Cambodia

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’s 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.

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 and watch our Cambodia travel video.

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17 Comments

  1. 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!

    Reply
    • Awwww thanks guys 🙂

      Reply
  2. 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 🙂

    Reply
    • I know right? Did you see any Lucky Burgers when you were there?

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment. Look out for Lucky Burger 🙂

      Reply
  4. 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.

    Reply
    • 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 🙂

      Reply
      • 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

        Reply
  5. Great facts 🙂 I absolutely loved Cambodia even if I found our time there pretty emotional.

    Reply
    • Thanks Amy. How do you mean emotional? What happened?

      Reply
    • Agreed – wonderful place 🙂

      Reply
  6. Cambodia is awesome place for tour, i affectedly love that. Nice Ideas of journey you share thanks.

    Reply
  7. Great post! Can’t wait to visit Cambodia later this year 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks! You’ll love it there 🙂

      Reply
  8. 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 ☺️

    Reply
    • Thanks Phan 🙂 And so do we 🙂

      Reply

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