The Cambodian Krama Scarf, The Story Behind This Iconic Scarf

Cambodia Krama Scarf

When you travel to Cambodia one thing you will see is many Cambodian’s with a gingham scarf around their necks, on their heads, or around their waist. There is perhaps no other garment that is so distinctly Cambodian as the Khmer Krama scarf.

Family temple
Family temple

The Cambodian Krama scarf is a gingham scarf that is not only used as a scarf but is also used as a bandanna, baby carrier or even a blanket. Traditionally each Cambodian would hand-weave their own scarf in cotton or silk. Many in the western world may recognize the red and white gingham scarf that the Khmer Rouge used when they ruled Cambodia.

Despite its checkered history, the Khmer Krama scarf is considered to be a symbol of Cambodian’s strength, courage, and resilience.

Krama Scarves
A stack of Krama scarves for sale in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

What is the Khmer Krama Scarf?

The Khmer Krama Scarf is a traditional Cambodian scarf that has many uses including a scarf, bandanna, covering of the face to protect the face against wind and dust storms. It can also be used for decoration, as a belt when it is wrapped around the waist. Many women may wear it on their head especially if they are carrying things on top of their heads.

It is not just a scarf to protect the Cambodians from the wind or dust, the Cambodians also use the Krama as a makeshift hammock, baby carrier, headwear to protect against the harsh sun They may use it as a towel or a wrap after a shower or bath. Or as a blanket to sleep under at night.

The Bokator martial arts, which is one of the oldest forms of martial arts in Southeast Asia, uses Krama scarfs. The fighters will wrap the Krama scarf around their waist, heads, and fists. The color of the Krama scarf signifies the level and proficiency of the fighter’s martial art ability and training. A white color scarf is for the lowest level Bokator fighters and the black for the expert level fighters.

The Weaving of the Krama Scarf

In Cambodia, most of the Krama scarves are woven in a checked or gingham pattern. The traditional colors were red and white gingham pattern or blue and white gingham pattern.

Originally the scarf was a fabric that the Cambodians women would hand-weave on their looms in their own looms. Today they are still woven by hand but not everyone will weave their own scarf.

These scarves were traditionally woven using these methods:

  • The cotton would be spread out to dry and then soaked in rice for 2 or 3 days.
  • The Cambodian weavers would use natural dyes to dye the cotton red or blue before weaving.
  • The yarns are spun into threads,
  • The pattern is woven on the hand-looms. a

Cambodia has a very long history of hand-weaving fabrics. It is thought the Cambodians have been hand-weaving since the 13th Century. To find out more about Cambodia’s hand-weaving you can read the blog Hand-woven Fabrics from Cambodia, What You Need to Know by clicking here. This blog gives you some insights into Cambodia and its hand-woven fabrics.

Not all Cambodians would weave their Krama’s in cotton. Many of the richer Cambodians preferred to have their Krama scarves woven in silk. This is because the silk is much cooler in the hot summer climate and would also distinguish the richer Cambodians from the peasants who had the cotton version. It can be said that the Krama scarf would also distinguish the status and wealth of the owner.

A stack of Krama scarves for sale in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
A stack of Krama scarves for sale in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The Krama Scarf – A Checkered Cambodian Symbol

During the time of Pol Pot many of the Khmer Rouge fighter wore the red and white gingham Krama scarves. This became a symbol of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.

On April 17, 1975 thousands of Phnom Penh residents went out onto the streets to cheer the victorious Khmer Rouge troops as they entered the city,. The joyous celebration did not last long as they saw the battled hardened and icy stares on the faces of the victorious Khmer Rouge who were all wearing red and white gingham checkered Krama scarves..

At that time, little did the people of Cambodia know what they would need to endure. It is estimated that from 1975 to 1979 over 2 million Cambodians were murdered, executed, starved to death, or died by disease during the famous “killing fields” era of Cambodian politics.

The red and white gingham Krama’s became a symbol associated with the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge uniform for the soldiers and all the citizens was a pair of black Khmer pajamas, rubber sandals, and the red and white gingham Krama scarf.

This is why the red and white Krama scarf has a bit of a checkered historical past for many Cambodians. Even today some Cambodians may refuse to wear a red and white gingham Krama scarf and may opt to wear the blue and white version or another color instead. This is because of the legacy of the red and white Krama and the Khmer Rouge era of Cambodian politics.

The Krama Scarf Is A Cambodian Symbol of Strength

Despite its past, the Cambodian Krama scarf is more than just a scarf, it is also a symbol of the strength, survival, and courage of the Cambodian people. This piece of fabric has followed the Khmer nation throughout all the good and bad times.

So, it can be said that this Khmer Krama scarf also has its own story of survival. As even in Cambodia today the Krama scarf remains a very important part of Cambodian life and culture.

The Cambodian Krama scarf is a symbol of Cambodia. When you wear the scarf you are wearing a Khmer symbol of strength, resilience, and survival.

Is Cambodia Safe to Travel Alone?

I have traveled alone to Cambodia many times and have always felt safe. But whenever you are traveling alone to any country, especially if you are a woman traveling alone in Cambodia, there are some precautions that you should take.

To find out more about some important precautions you can read our blog Is Cambodia Safe for a Solo Female Traveler to Travel Alone? by clicking here.

Why Should Every Cyclist Should Ride Around Angkor Wat, Cambodia?

Every cyclist should put cycling around the Angkor Wat temple complexes on their bucket list. Not only is Angkor Wat one of the magnificent architectural wonders of the world, but it is also a great way to see some amazing old temple complexes. When you cycle around Angkor Wat, you will have only the freedom to see it at your own pace, but you will also see things that you could never see in a car, bus or even a tuk-tuk.

To find out some tips and more information on cycling around Angkor Wat or Siem Reap Cambodia by reading our blog Why Every Cyclist Should Ride Around Angkor Wat? by clicking here.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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