The Khmer (Cambodian) language has the longest alphabet in the world according to Guinness World Records. It consists of 74 letters including 33 consonants, 23 vowels and 12 independent vowels.
World heritage-listed Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. Originally built as a Hindu monument, it was later changed to Buddhist. While some may consider it an ancient ruin, Angkor Wat is still an active religious site and important to Buddhists.
A touch of Hollywood
Ta Prohm, popularly referred to as the jungle temple, created an impressive backdrop for scenes in the movie Tomb Raider, featuring Angelina Jolie.
In 2015 Angelina returned to Cambodia to direct the movie First They Killed My Father, based on a memoir written by Loung Ung.
Prime Minister Hun Sen is one of the longest-serving national leaders in the world. He has been in power since January 1985.
Bugs are on the menu
I know it sounds horrific to many but bugs are a popular snack or treat in Cambodia. In some poor areas they are an essential source of nutrition, providing protein, vitamins and minerals.
Crickets, spiders, weevils, silk worms, beetles and even cockroaches can be found at street stalls around the nation. Deep fried, skewered, steamed — there are many ways to cook them. They are often coated in salt and sugar or chilli. There is even a restaurant in Siem Reap, Bugs Cafe, specialising in insect tapas.
A small stretch of the Mekong River in eastern Cambodia is home to the rare Irrawaddy dolphin. Less than 100 of these skittish freshwater dolphins are believed to survive. If you are lucky you can spot them in the river near the town of Kratie.
Happy Birthday is an incredibly popular song in Cambodia. This is despite a vast number of people in the country who do not celebrate birthdays. Many, particularly of the older generation, do not even know their birth date. Cambodians love a party and any excuse will do, so many younger people have started celebrating birthdays but for many the day still goes largely unnoticed. But it doesn’t have to be anyone’s birthday to hear the popular tune playing.
Who doesn’t love a public holiday? The Cambodians certainly do. They have a massive 28 public holidays a year. This includes four days for Khmer New Year, three days for the king’s birthday and one for International Human Rights Day.
Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia is a unique water system. It can quadruple in size from an area of about 2500 km2 up to 16,000 km2.
The length of the lake can increase from 160 kilometres to 250 kilometres. When the runoff from the Mekong River is too much the water backs up the Tonle River and causes the flow of water into the lake to change direction and flow backwards. It is also one of the world’s most varied and productive ecosystems and has been designated a UNESCO biosphere.
Tie the knot
Weddings are loud, colourful affairs that often last for three days. The women dress up to the nines in elaborate evening dress with hair and makeup done. Music, often with a tinny plinkety plink sound, blares from loudspeakers from as early as 6am through to late at night so everyone knows the special event is taking place. Often the celebration will take place in large marquees, which can be set up in the middle of the road. Traffic is diverted around it or just drives straight through.
In contrast, many poor families don’t have official weddings, choosing something low key that does not involve official wedding documents but might include a blessing from the monks or village official.
Young and hopeful
Cambodia has one of the youngest populations in South East Asia with youths aged between 15 and 29 making up about 33 per cent of the population. Estimates suggest more than 60 per cent of the population is aged under 30.
Oh my Buddha!
Cambodia is predominantly a Buddhist country. Some 95 per cent of the population is Buddhist. But don’t go thinking this means everyone is a vegetarian animal lover. Quite the contrary in fact. The Buddhism practiced in Cambodia is a form of Theravada Buddhism.
Even the monks are allowed to eat meat but they will not kill anything and apparently are not supposed to watch an animal being killed.
Ghosts and spirits
Cambodian people are superstitious. Spirits, ghosts and many gods feature just as strongly in their beliefs and worship practices as Buddha. There’s almost a strange relationship between the two. Most homes and workplaces have a spirit house and often more than one. They frequently consult traditional healers and often seek to appease the spirits.
The Angkor empire was a huge civilisation with it’s capital in north-eastern Cambodia between the ninth and 16th centuries. Recent landmark discoveries by archaeologists in Cambodia have revealed evidence of a number of huge cities still lying covered by rice fields and jungle. Experts believe the Angkor empire could have been the largest civilisation on earth around the 13th century.
Happy Khmer New Year
Khmer New Year (Choul Chhnam Thmey) is celebrated in April and it goes for four days! New year is one of the biggest holidays in the nation and one of the few times of the year when you can expect many shops and restaurants to close. It really is party time and a great experience if you are in Cambodia during New Year festivities.
Has our list of fun and quirky facts about Cambodia surprised you? Have you got others we haven’t mentioned?