The krama: The story behind Cambodia's chequered scarf

Local Cambodian Seller Floating Market Siem Reap
Local Cambodian Seller Floating Market Siem Reap. Photo:

Perhaps no garment is as distinctively Khmer as the Cambodian krama. Worn by men, women and children of just about every social class across the country, it is unique to Cambodia and to the sizeable ethnic Khmer communities in neighbouring northeast Thailand and southern Vietnam. It’s not clear why the krama should be so uniquely Cambodian, though it has been speculated that it may be linked to the country’s ancient Indic past, since turbans are more generally associated with South Asia than with Southeast Asia. Not that the krama is simply a turban – it has many more uses.

Cambodian karma scarf at local market. Photo: idome/Shutterstock

Generally chequered and made of cotton or silk, krama are more often than not brightly coloured in red and white, blue and white or black and white, though more expensive silk ones may be multicoloured and interwoven with gold thread. They are worn wrapped around the head to provide protection from wind, rains and especially Cambodia’s blistering summer heat. They may also be wound around the shoulder or waist.

Besides functioning as protection against the weather, they are used for carrying fruit, vegetables and even small children, as well as substituting for pillows, shopping bags and even sarongs. They make excellent towels for the face, and provide modesty when bathing in a stream or pond. And of course, for you the visitor, they make inexpensive, attractive and unusual souvenirs. So have a look at our trips to Cambodia and go get yours at a local market now.

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