Cambodia and Thailand’s Cultural Rivalry Has Serious Implications

The nationalist rush to claim ownership over cultural heritage is on full display during the SEA Games. In the past, it has even led to bloodshed.

Among the countries of Southeast Asia, few share more in common culturally than Thailand and Cambodia. In addition to being neighbors, both countries are predominantly Theravada Buddhist, with 93 percent of Thai people and 95 percent of Cambodians professing this faith. The two countries also share similar cultural activities, such as kickboxing and Apsara dancing, even though these often go by different names (in Cambodia, kickboxing is known as Kun Khmer, while Thais refer to it as Muay Thai).

Both countries also share the national mantra of “nation-religion-king,” as well as similar social norms, culinary traditions, and socio-ethnic features. Their languages are also written in scripts that share the same origin. Nevertheless, these similarities have historically been a cause more of conflict than of cooperation between the two countries.

Cambodians and Thais frequently make claims that their respective nations are the “original” owners of these cultural heritages, a subject over which they often attack, bully, and insult each other via social media. Those negative opinions were reinforced in the run-up to the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), which are being held this month in Cambodia.

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