Mythical statues at the South Gate of Angkor Thom
Mythical statues at the South Gate of Angkor Thom

Religion & Ideology in Cambodia

Thearavada Buddhism is practiced by 95 percent of the population and is recognized in the constitution as the state religion. Besides, Christianity is small, but is growing in urban areas like Phnom Penh. Muslim is practised among the Cham people. Taoism and Confusianism are practiced among the Chinese people.  In the mountains, animism is dominant among the hill tribes.

All religions in Cambodia were persecuted during the Khmer Rouge period. Many temples, wats and mosques were destroyed; monks were ruthlessly murdered, and religion ceremonies were banned. After the Khmer Rouge was overthrown, all religions resumed their normal practice.

Nowadays every male Buddhist is expected to become a monk for a period of time, normally between the time he finishes school and gets a job or gets married. Traditionally the time practising as a monk was 3 months, but shortened to a week or so nowadays. Practising Buddism at a wat gives the boy and his family a lot of pride. Some ex-criminal of petty crimes after imprisonment may also practise Buddism at wat to clean out their sin and accumulate virtue for better life cycle - karma.

It is a common to encounter saffron-clad monks when you travel in Cambodia. If you get up early enough you'll probably get nice photos of the locals donating food to the monks.