Cambodia is a country of contradictions; socially conservative in many ways, yet refreshingly liberal in others. For example, local women tend to dress modestly and any westerners walking around town in bikini tops and arse-out shorts are likely to draw disapproving glares. However, carry your entire family and collection of pigs on the back of a beaten-up scooter and no one bats an eyelid.
Yet somehow, the lack of basic health and safety makes Cambodia an amazing place to live. Every day contains moments of terror-tinged excitement. Just driving to the shops can be an adrenaline rush – dodging lumbering tuk-tuks, weaving around pushy pedestrians and playing chicken with riders who can’t decide which side of the road they prefer.
Khmer Wedding Invite
Another amazing thing about Cambodia is the welcome you receive as a foreigner. Cambodians are, by and large, a really friendly bunch. They’re intensely proud of their culture and like to show it off; which is how I got invited to a Khmer wedding with a group of friends.
The women in our group pulled out all the stops and rented sparkly dresses from a local tailor. Not to be outdone, I went full Elton. I picked a red, shiny jacket with Chinese-style collar and intricate gold embroidery generously woven into the garment. With smart, white trousers and matching sandals, I was ready to go.
We arrived at the wedding and everyone gawped at the shiny foreigners. Bizarrely, it felt like they mostly stared at me. I was looking sharp, but didn’t expect this much attention, especially as the women looked so fantastic. But when you’re hot, you’re hot, I guess.
Then our Cambodian friend, Meta, came to greet us.
“Andy. Why the fuck are you dressed like a groom?”
Shit. I looked around and realized I was the almost the only one decked out in such gaudy attire. The local men all wore simple white shirts and dark trousers Apart from the groom, of course. He also looked like a 70’s glam rock superstar. The man of the hour stared at me like I just took a massive steamer on his wedding…
Despite my fashion faux-pas, the wedding went with a bang. There was great food, lots of drinking and slow, arrhythmic dancing around a tiny table, filled with fruit. Enthusiastic Cambodians soon dragged us onto the dance-floor and we boogied the night away, sweating profusely in garish, polyester outfits.
I honed my Khmer wedding dancing skills and received many admiring glances for perfectly out-of-time hand movements. Then a loud Khmer techno tune burst from the speakers – an upbeat number with a catchy little chorus:
‘Punani, punani, oh pu-pu-pu punani.’
Our group stared at each other in shock at the inappropriate nature of the lyrics, and then went mental, dancing like goons to ‘the vagina song’. Not for the first time, the locals looked at us like we were bat-shit crazy.
A Khmer wedding is an experience not to be missed. They are loud and can be surprisingly rambunctious for such a conservative culture. On the whole, Cambodians love having ‘barang’ (foreigner) guests. You’ll meet at least one old fella who’ll shake hands until your wrists ache and tell you how happy he is that you came and the dance police will keep you moving till your feet fall off.