A slice of India in Cambodia

31 Jul

A visit to any new place (no matter where) is always expected to be all of the following – a different & a beautiful learning experience, a fun way to revise  history, geography and those science lessons studied and forgotten in school long ago, and to get a fresh perspective / insights into the lives and cultures of the locals.

Our recent visit to Cambodia had all of the above elements and we loved every new thing that we saw, heard and felt there. However at times I felt a major sense of familiarity in this country. Reflecting back on it, I realised it was because Cambodia had a lot of things common with India and now has quite a few things from India too (which I would have expected had it been Singapore, US etc but in Cambodia they were quite a surprise). Apart from the landscape, history and culture, we also saw numerous Indians, Indian food, Indian clothes, Indian music, Indian flag, heard Hindi from the locals, pretty much everything.  The various similarities we saw are –

  • Landscape and country side – When you drive through the countryside here, the landscape is exactly like an Indian countryside. It has lush green fields (majorly growing rice), loads of cattle and small houses. You can easily mistake it for driving within India.

The Countryside

  • Chaotic driving and road crossing in Phnom Penh – Driving and the state of pedestrians in Phnom Penh is exactly like how it is in Mumbai. Its like being inside a 3D video game where the cars and bikes are coming at you from all directions and their motto is – “traffic rules? what are traffic rules?” and there are no signals. As a pedestrian your role in this game is to cross the road while trying your best to not get hit from any of these oncoming “missiles” aka vehicles. This is so like Mumbai and one of the few things that so made us feel like we were right at home.

photo courtesy – http://www.wikipdia.com

  • History, culture and customs – Cambodia shares a lot of common history, customs and stories with India as their previous kings (before embracing Buddhism) were Hindus. Hence you see a lot Hindu mythological stories carved in the various temples of Siem Reap. The Hindu gods of Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva are also present in Siem Reap as well as the National Museum in Phnom Penh. Even Buddhism for that matter started in India and then spread all over Asia. In fact all the local customs followed here today regarding weddings, prayers etc are an amalgamation between the Hindu and Buddhist practices.

Scenes from Churning of the Sea by the Gods and Demons

  • Locals speaking Hindi – When you go to any temple in Siem Reap you are invariably surrounded by numerous small kids who are selling souvenirs, magnets etc. They are in a huge gang at times and we met one such gang outside the Ta Prohm temple. They first started trying to sell souvenirs to us in perfect English, then when we didn’t buy anything they asked us which country we were from. When we answered from India, they started counting 1 – 10 in Hindi. It was super amazing to see these kids do that. It seems they sell stuff in batches and price bands of 1 – 10, so they have learnt the counting in every language possible. If you ask them, they also recite the counting in all languages like a song. It is super fun to hear them. Also, a lot of locals greeted us with a Namaste / Hello and asked us how we were. All in Hindi. Later on we learnt it is from the influence of the Bollywood movies which are very popular in Cambodia. So hat’s off Bollywood.
  • Women in sarees – When we had planned our trip to Cambodia we had not expected to see any Indians there as this is not on the must visit list of a lot of Indians. So you can imagine our surprise when we went to purchase out tickets for Siem Reap and saw a long long line of Indians (predominantly from southern India) with women wearing sarees. It turned out that they were there on a pilgrimage to see the Hindu temples.
  • Indian archaeologists at Ta Prohm – In Siem Reap, the restoration and conservation of the Ta Prohm temple is being done in partnership between the Indian and the Cambodian government. And it felt very nice to see the Indian flag there, as the patriot in me re-surfaced and felt very proud. 🙂

  • Hindu music playing in the bars – We were generally wandering around in Pub Street when suddenly we heard a very old but then popular Bollywood number playing in one of the pubs here. We actually stopped and heard the full song which was “Dhoom Machale Le” from the Bollywood movie – Dhoom. This was a sure shocker.

  • Indian restaurants – Siem Reap seemed to be filled with Indian restaurants. In every street we found at least one Indian restaurant and they all had a wide variety of all kinds of Indian cuisines. We didn’t eat in any of these places, hence don’t know about the food but I guess I can safely assume that these are the largest number of Indian restaurants that I have seen in one location outside India.

Photo courtesy – http://www.visitcambodia.biz

I have borrowed a lot pics from other websites for this post as I was so busy seeing all these sights that I missed taking pictures myself 😦


19 Responses to “A slice of India in Cambodia”

  1. Raunak July 31, 2012 at 22:06 #

    awesome!thanks for sharing your experience.its amazing to see the cultural similarities between India and South East Asia,and all due to the fact like you stated the Hindu kings..when I was in Thailand it was interesting to note that their most celebrated Kings were named Rama. I also saw a statue of Ganapati which the locals worship but had their own name for the deity. Someone told me that according to Ramayana, Luv and Kush migrated to south east asia.Wonder if that is true. But I think a lot of Hinduism was spread to these areas thanks to the conquests of the South Indian kingdoms, the Cholas, Palavas and others. The same can also be seen in their names…remember the Indonesian President Sukarnoputri? Things like these certainly make me proud of our heritage.


    • getsetandgo August 1, 2012 at 15:48 #

      Hey, thanks. I agree and have a renewed sense of pride for our country, the culture and the history. You know we found Ganpathi in Cambodia too and they also call him Ganesh. It was so amazing to chat with the locals here and understand their version of Hindu mythology, how they have incorporated our customs in their everyday practices etc. I dont know whether Luv and Kush migrated to SE Asia but this trip has sure made me realise that I now need to make the effort and learn more about Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva part of our culture.


      • solobackpacker.com (@solobackpacker) August 1, 2012 at 21:28 #

        Hi Snigdha,

        Loved this post..I have been to Cambodia in Feb this year, and I went to this New Delhi Restaurant in Phnom Penm..I have also seen that Indo-Cambodian at Ta Phrom..This post reminded all those wonderful memories..


      • getsetandgo August 2, 2012 at 16:12 #

        Thanks solobackpacker.


  2. Nice post. There have been lot of trading activity from Orissa to those places. Megawati Sukarnoputri was the name given by former Orissa Chief Minister Biju Patnaik. He was given the Bhumi Putra award there for his role in saving Sukarno. When Sukarno’s daugther was born, he had asked Biju Patnaik to give a name. Biju Patnaik looked out of the window and saw clouds and named her Meghawati. Megha meaning clouds. However, they used the spelling Megawati according to their language.


    • getsetandgo August 3, 2012 at 14:51 #

      wow…. I didnt know about this at all..I had always wondered about the name but didnt know the background… Thanks a ton for sharing this.


  3. Chirag Murdeshwar August 3, 2012 at 16:08 #

    This was really cool.. Resembles close to India. I also must appreciate you for visiting a country we would never list in our ‘to-do’ countries !! Keep posting.. U have a new fan 🙂


    • getsetandgo August 4, 2012 at 14:35 #

      Thanks a ton Chirag for the compliment..means a lot to me… And I look forward to following your posts and pics too 🙂


  4. Miranda Metheny August 7, 2012 at 15:51 #

    Wow, this is a perspective I wouldn’t have thought about myself… it’s always nice to see little traces of home where you least expect it. Of course, I’m from the US… so it’s everywhere… Sometimes I can’t even get away from the American pop music. So maybe I feel more excited to see Norwegian things since that was my adopted home for awhile. Anyway thanks for visiting my blog! 🙂 Looking forward to reading yours.


    • getsetandgo August 7, 2012 at 18:54 #

      Thanks MM. I so agree with you and learning about new places and new things is the primary objective of any travel. Also I normally dont even frequent places that have a lot of Indian tourists or Indian influences. But thankfully for me, there are fewer places like that.


  5. mflahertyphoto August 7, 2012 at 23:14 #

    Cambodians are one of my all-time favorite people. Bicycling through the countryside outside Siem Reap, I met so many fun & happy people. I really want to return some day. They are what Thais used to be.


    • getsetandgo August 7, 2012 at 23:47 #

      So true… I am also amazed at the resilience and the hard work of these people. We met some really nice people and that was one of the things that really made our visit here very special.


  6. friendlytm August 13, 2012 at 14:38 #

    Thank you for liking all the posts of my Cambodia trip and your moments, I like what you wrote in this post. Indeed, Cambodia is very much influenced by India in its cultures and traditions. Thanks for sharing your views which are helpful for visitors like me.


    • getsetandgo August 13, 2012 at 16:40 #

      Thanks friendlytm. I loved your blogs on Cambodia and also the history that you have provided about each temple and the culture. Look forward to more such posts. 🙂


  7. flowwiththeblood September 4, 2012 at 06:46 #

    Nice observation.

    When I was in Siem Reap, I eat at several Indian restaurants and I can tell you that the briyani flavor is different compared to the ones I tried in other countries. Perhaps the local spices have contribution on that.


    • getsetandgo September 4, 2012 at 14:54 #

      Thanks. It could be the local spices or the local ingredients…


  8. Suren October 20, 2014 at 05:00 #

    This makes me quite a bit homesick! I mean not about going back to India but my dream of coming to Cambodia. I planned to come as an English teacher, got certified from the UK while settled in Germany. I did not know that there was an Indian community.

    Now, I think I should really move. I need to explore the possibilities of a job for “non-native speaker without a degree but with a TEFL 120 hr qualification”


  9. Rashmi January 4, 2016 at 15:25 #

    Thks a lot.this information is really helpful.I am shifting to Cambodia n worried.Now I won’t miss my India.


    • getsetandgo February 6, 2016 at 21:30 #

      All the best for your move Rashmi and I hope you like Cambodia


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