Party like a Cambodian

Fact: Cambodians are party people. They know how to truly celebrate an occasion, be it a wedding, the New Year, or a housewarming party. A Cambodian party can last for days. During my time in that crazy-wonderful country I attended a handful of parties, including a wedding, graduation, and Khmer New Year parties.

I arrived in Siem Reap at prime wedding season. Enter ingredient #1 for a successful Cambodian party: music. It was not uncommon for me to wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and hear a wedding down the road, speakers as loud as they will go. Traditional Cambodia music twangs between modern, bass-heavy songs. But do not fear, the music is usually turned off between 4 and 6, when everyone is awake again and ready to party.

Thus, I must address the second necessary element to any party in Cambodia: dancing. I quickly realized that Khmer people are born knowing how to dance. If you watch the babies and toddlers at any party, this fact becomes apparent. They are simply built with rhythm in their veins. At a party you will see two types of dancing the bouncing, usual movements to the modern music and the older style of dancing in Cambodia. This consists of dancing in a circle, most often around something like a tree or table with decor, or in the case of New Year's, an offering of food and drink. So as a group, everyone faces one direction and slowly dances around. Certain steps are associated with this type of dancing, like three steps forward and then three back or a rocking back on one foot behind the other, alternating sides. The hands can be pushed forward or in the air repeatedly. For women and girls, the wrists twist and flick in different motions. The most traditional form is for one hand to be in the air and the opposite arm perpendicular, thumbs join the fourth finger, swishing the arms flip motions, hands bending in the air. I can honestly say it can be quite difficult to keep track of, and even harder to look elegant doing. But for the Cambodian people this is simple.

It is important to look the part before attending a party. Dress in nice, clean clothes as the locals do. For New Year's and weddings, females should be wearing makeup and have their hair done in intricate braids. For New Year's you can expect to have your face smeared with white talc powder, again and again. This tradition is somewhat useful as this happens during the hottest part of the year and you will most definitely work up a sweat dancing.

It is worth mentioning that drinking is a part of Cambodian parties, especially weddings. All the parties I went to were through schools with young people so there was no alcohol. At the wedding I went to I arrived relatively late (they had been partying all day long) and so everybody was either very tired or already drunk.

Decorations along the side of the road act like markers for celebrations. Big brightly colored tents are set up in order to shield people from the sun. For Khmer New Year, lights adorn houses along with big stars and a table with an offering.

Lastly, at some of the parties for the kids, graduation and New Year's, there were lots of games. Eating contests started with the usual watermelon eating and progressed to egg or bread. Apples were tied to a stick and competitors had to eat them without using their hands. Sack races and stone throwing games were also played. Very popular was a piñata-like game were a person is blindfolded and turned around before the must smash a clay pot that is hanging above with a large stick. Talc powder, candy and money fall to the ground if they are successful. (I was!)

I highly suggest you attend a Cambodian party if possible. It may be a little difficult to get an invitation, so befriend the locals. If you are lucky someone will extend an invitation or take you with them to crash a party. Many celebrations you can simply walk up to if you smile and use a few Khmer words. Once you arrive, the mood is infectious. Dancing around in a circle, trying not to trip, and sweating horribly, you will be surrounded with grinning Cambodians.