Khmer & Contemporary Arts and Culture

Traditional arts and performances used to be part of Khmer people’s life many centuries ago, as are depicted on Angkor Wat’s bas-reliefs. However, when the Khmer Rouge reigned in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, many Khmer arts were prohibited and destroyed, including many temples. Many dancers, singers, and artisans were killed.

Today Cambodia, with help from foreign countries, is trying to cultivate its traditional arts and culture. Currently traditional art performances, such as the Apsara dancing, are mostly held by private organizations (hotels, restaurants and so on).

Cambodian Traditional Dances (Robam)

Robam Apsara

Hundreds of years ago, Robam (dance) Apsara (More info about Apasara, traditional Khmer dance in Siem Reap, Cambodia) was performed only for the Khmer Royals or for special celebrations held by the Royals, such as celebrations after winning wars. This dance was then limitedly performed only among the Royals following their move of the capital to Phnom Penh following the attack from the Siamese kingdom (now Thailand) in the 15th century.

Apsara dance, as with many other Khmer dances, is commonly accompanied by the Khmer classical orchestra, Pinpeat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

In the early 1900's, Khmer’s Queen Sisowath Kossamak Nearireath “re-launched” Apsara dance to the Cambodians. She was known to study Apsara dance histories from much literature, including from bas-reliefs in temples in Siem Reap province.

Today, Apsara dance can be watched in hotels or restaurants in Siem Reap and a few other places.

Watch Apsara dance:

Buong Suong

Historians believe this dance is the Khmer’s most ancient dance. The dance was once performed, under the order from the Royal, to seek for rain during dry season and other kinds of blessings for the people of the Khmer Kingdom.

Unfortunately, information on Buong Suong is not as plentiful as for Apsara dance, where people can study from many bas-reliefs in Angkorian temples. Experts think that since the Khmer Rouge exterminated many actors, dancers and other related people, detailed information on Buong Suong sadly has became very limited.

Robam Trot (“Troddi” Dance)

This Khmer traditional folk dance is usually performed during Cambodia’s New Year celebration (2011 New Year dates of Cambodia’s New Year). It is believed that this dance originated from the western (northwestern) part of Cambodia when the Khmer people were not yet influenced by the ancient Indian culture.

Robam Troddi is meant for removing all bad things that happened in the previous year and to wish for a better life in the New Year. Sometimes the dance is also performed to wish for rain during dry season.

The performers usually consist of 16 dancers, both female and male.

Watch Troddi Dance:

Cambodian Traditional Music

As with their traditional dances, some traditional musical instruments are also visible on the Angkorian era temple walls, depicted in their bas-reliefs. Some of the traditional musical instruments are similar to the Javanese musical instruments, such as the Javanese “gamelan”. A few experts suggest that the former Khmer King Jayavarman II brought the influence of the ancient Javanese culture to Cambodia after his return from Java Island in the late 700's.

The Khmer traditional music also suffered from the Khmer Rouge regime. Nowadays there is a shortage of Khmer traditional musicians in Cambodia, because many of them were killed. However, foreign musical experts, together with Cambodian musicians who survived the Khmer Rouge, have been exploring and trying to foster the Khmer traditional music..

In the old times, the Khmers played their music to accompany dancers while performing shows or at social gatherings. Their music is normally not too fast and not too slow. Experts say their melodies are quite simple and they have no notation system.

There are four commonly played types of Khmer traditional music: Pinpeat, Mohori, Phleng Kar (Khmer wedding music), and Phleng Arak (moreso performed in order to pay respect to their ancestors). Two of them are mentioned below:


“Pi” refers to musical double-reed instruments and “Peat” refers to percussive instruments. Pinpeat is usually played accompanying Khmer traditional dances, as well as religious ceremonies. While accompanying Khmer dancers, Pinpeat is a way of interaction between the musicians, the dancers and the vocalists.

Commonly, Pinpeat consists of around nine instruments, singers and chorus. Today, due to limited availability of Khmer traditional musicians, pinpeat is sometimes performed with less instruments. Frequent instruments used are Roneat (picture left), a xylophone, Kong Thom, which means a large circle of gong-chimes (small picture behind the roneat), Sampho, which is a small double-headed barrel drum, and Skor Thom, which is a large drum.

Watch Pinpeat:


In the old days Mohori was performed in the Royal Palace, just like Pinpeat, although it was sometimes also played in villages.

Although the musical instruments used are quite similar to those in Pinpeat, Mohori’s main instruments consist of two kinds of Roneat and two kinds of Tro, which is a Khmer violin.

Listen Mohori:

Places To See The Above Traditional Arts Performances

Apart from being regularly held at numbers of hotels and restaurants, there are also a few places that run free shows, such as:

Cambodian Cultural Village

Location : National Road 6, approximately 3.2 kilometers (2.0 miles) from the junction of National Road 6 and Sivatha Boulevard
Telephone : +855 63 963098
Fax : +855 63 963836
Email : [email protected]
Website :
Operating hours : daily, 9am-9pm
How to get there : own transportation (car, Tuk-tuk or motodup)
Remarks : more info about public transportation, tuk-tuk or moto in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

ACODO Orphanage

It has a regular 45-minute traditional dance show starting at 6:30pm, performed by the children from the orphanage.

Location : Group 5, Wat Sway village (approximately 1.2 kilometers/1300 yards to the south of the Old Market, in the direction to the floating village)
Telephone : +855 12 734306, +855 92 919260, +855 63 6363262
Website :
Email : [email protected]
Show time : daily, 6:30pm
Admission charges : free, voluntary donation expected
How to get there : on foot, bicycle, car, Tuk-tuk (about US$ 3 from downtown Siem Reap) or moto.

Contemporary Musical Concert

Concert at the Hospital Jayavarman VII

This is a regular cello concert played by Dr. Beat Richner of Switzerland, who dedicates himself to the local children’s medical issues. Dr. Richner has been living in Siem Reap and managing the hospital for nearly 20 years.

Location : Jayavarman VII Children Hospital (to the north of Angkor National Museum)
Website :
Show time : every Saturday, 7:15pm
Admission charges : free, donation expected
How to get there : on foot, bicycle, car, Tuk-tuk or moto.

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