5 things you didn't know about Cambodia

September 20, 2019

From floating villages at lake Tonle Sap to the passion for clocks in the capital of Phnom Penh: here's some fun facts about Cambodia.

Cambodian man finishing with net at sunset

Cambodia is one of the most charming countries of South-East Asia, not only for its huge archeological site of Angkor Wat, but also for the warm and welcoming local people and the great natural landscapes, which are breathtaking.

If you're getting ready for a trip to Cambodia, here are some of the most surprising facts about this magnificent Asian country.

1. Tonle Sap floating villages

In addition to the well known tourist destinations such as the capital Phnom Penh and the archaeological site of Angkor Wat, a destination that is definitely worth a visit is the wonderful Tonle Sap Lake, famous for its floating villages. Its width varies according to the flooding of the Mekong river that feeds it, and it is believed that its waters are among the richest for fishing in the world.

The most curious aspect of the floating villages of Tonle Sap is that all services, from schools to police stations, like the houses, are all accommodated in small houses built on stilts over the water. A real attraction for visitors from around the world, that are warmly welcomed by locals, almost all of Vietnamese origin.

A primary school, one of Tonle Sap's floating houses
Tonle Sap's floating village

2. The Krama: a souvenir from Cambodia

If you want to take a quaint reminder of Cambodia home with you after your trip, then you should definitely buy a Krama, a traditional cotton scarf. The Cambodians use it in various ways, for example rolled up around the head, but also as a belt or even tied to the body to carry infants. Famous and valuable are also artisanal vases and silks.

Krama, traditional silk scarf from Cambodia
Traditional Krama

3. Cambodia in a dish

What do you eat in Cambodia? First, the national dish is grilled freshwater fish, served wrapped in leaves of spinach or lettuce, often dipped in a sauce. Not surprisingly, the typical Cambodian meal consists of a soup as a starter, followed by a fish dish. Do you prefer meat?

While traveling in Cambodia we suggest you try the Samlah crape, made from pork. Other Cambodian specialties are fried bananas. also dried in the sun.

Typical cambodian food in a market
A Cambodian market filled with food

4. The passion for watches

Walking through the markets of Cambodia you will notice that many watches are sold. Do not be surprised: during Pol Pot regime, from 1975 to 1979, the Cambodians were forbidden to know the time, date and year.

Since then, the practise of selling watches in markets has remained widespread, while a huge clock stopped at 10 AM of 17 April 1975, the date and time when Pol Pot took the power, is still standing in the Central Market (see image below) in the capital Phnom Penh.

Central market in Cambodia
Central Market in Phnom Penh

5. Cambodian, a figurative language

Cambodian is a "figurative" language, which means that it often uses expressions for concepts rather than specific terms. One example is the long circumlocution that is used to say "airport", a term that does not exist, and that is called a "flat land of flying boats."

Another curiosity of the Khmer language is also the complicated use of personal pronouns, which change according to the person one is addressing to. For example, when speaking with a monk, you must use a particularly complex pronominal system, as well as when speaking to a ruler.

Two young monks in Cambodia
Buddhist monks