Why Are Cambodian Houses Built On Stilts?

Why Are Cambodian Houses Built On Stilts?

When you travel to the Cambodian countryside, one of the first things you notice are these beautiful wooden houses that are raised on stilts. These houses are considered traditional Cambodia houses.

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Cambodian or Khmer houses are built on stilts to help protect the houses from floodwaters. The houses also have natural cooling systems that ensure the houses stay cool. The raised houses help keep snakes and other unwanted animals out. Animals as pigs and chickens can sleep under the house.

The Cambodian Houses on Stilts

The Cambodian houses are wooden houses that are raised from the ground. The houses on stilts can be raised as high as 3 meters or 9.8 feet off the ground. During the annual flood season, the floods will not usually affect the main house.

The farmers can also use the area beneath the house for working or providing shelter for their livestock and other animals. As an added benefit, unwanted critters as snakes find it harder to enter the main house.

The typical Cambodian or Khmer houses are about 4 m x 6 m (13 feet x 20 feet) or, for a larger version, 6 m x 10 m (20 feet x 32 feet). The basic structure consists of a wooden frame, and the roof is erected before the walls. One or two wooden ladders ramps or staircases provide access to the upper floor.

The simplest of these houses consist of only one room on the upper floor. Included in the room are rice storage areas, a bedroom for the parents, and a space for their children. Many times the rooms or areas are separated by a textile curtain. Many areas have space or a kind of attic at the roof for rice storage. This kind of house structure is similar to many of the one-room log cabins in America’s past.

Cambodian Style House On Stilts
Cambodian Style House On Stilts

The Roofs and Structures Of The Cambodian Houses

Not all the houses on stilts in Cambodia are the same. Different houses are constructed differently, and some of them are constructed according to a specific area.

Here are the different types of roofs and structures of the most common Cambodian Houses on stilts:

  • Gabled Roof (Phteah Rong Daol)
  • Hipped Roof (Phteah Pet)
  • The Khmer House (Phteah Keung) has a bonnet roof or, in Japanese, called shikoro roof.
  • Battambang Houses (Phteah Rong Doeung)

Natural Ventilation Of The Cambodian Houses On Stilts

These Cambodia houses on stilts have been designed with the thought of natural ventilation. Cambodia can get extremely hot during some months with temperatures getting up to 36°C (97°F) or 40°C (104°F); during April and May, the heat is especially oppressive. Despite this weather’s harshness, the old wooden Cambodian style houses on stilts can be quite comfortable.

Even though these houses on stilts may not have air conditioning or any other electrical appliances, they have been designed with the thought of natural ventilation. The structure’s openness ensures that air can flow through the roof and floors, helping to cool down the entire house.

Even though the roofs are different shapes, a common feature in every type of Cambodian house on stilts is a 5 to 10 CM gap on all four sides between the roof and the house. This gap allows for air to be able to flow. Many of these houses also do not have solid walls, but their walls are woven materials; this ensures that air can flow through the houses.

As the floor are usually wooden floors, the air can also flow up from the floorboards. As the family usually sleeps on the floor, this air coming up from the floor can be cooling during the hotter months.

This ventilation works so well because most of these houses are not side-by-side but instead located from farm-to-farm. This helps ensure some breezes are flowing through the house.

Examples of Some Cambodian Houses on Stilts
Examples of Some Cambodian Houses on Stilts

Layout of The Cambodian Houses On Stilts

The simplest of these Cambodian houses on stilts consists of only one room. The small attic provides a place for rice storage in the loft. On the main floor would be a bedroom for the parents, and a space for their children.

These houses are not meant for the family to stay in them all day. The family is usually out in the fields working and the children are at school. The family is in their homes mainly for their meals and sleeping.

But despite this here are some of the things that you usually see in most Cambodia Houses on stilts:

  • Buddha Statue – As most of Cambodia is Buddhist, there is usually a Buddhist statue or shrine somewhere in the main room. If you want to learn more about religion in Cambodia, you can read our blog What Was The Main Religion in Cambodia Before Buddhism? by clicking here.
  • Television Area – Even though Cambodia is a developing country, having a television is considered a necessity in most households. The area around the television is the most highly used in the home.
  • Lights – Many houses now have electricity; if they do not have electricity, they will have battery-operated electric lights.
  • Textile Dividers – There will be textiles used as dividers to separate different rooms or sleeping quarters. In Cambodia, children are usually separated by gender, with a sleeping area for the girls and boys.
  • Kitchen – The kitchen is usually a small house that is lower than the main house and outside towards the back area.
  • Toilet – These houses usually do not have an indoor toilet though some Cambodians are building toilets attached to their houses. Many of the toilets will often be a pit in the ground somewhere away from the house.
  • Jars Outside – Most of the houses will have large jars outside to collect rainwater that they can use the rainwater to bathe and for other uses.

The Disappearance of These Houses On Stilts in Cambodia

As Cambodia continues to develop and more people have money, many of these old wooden Cambodian houses on stilts are starting to disappear. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is that people want to live in a more comfortable house and have a house with all the comforts such as air conditioning.

As these houses are relatively open in their structure they are not designed for air conditioning. You can also understand people wanting to have a proper kitchen, toilet and even running water in their house.

Many years ago, when I was traveling to the China -Thailand border, I had the opportunity to spend the night with family and sleep on the floor of their house on stilts next to their daughters. I was sleeping on the floor and was quite comfortable throughout the night; there was a natural breeze. I also quickly learned that a house on stilts was not a house you could ever oversleep in; before the break of dawn, the rooster was loudly crowing right under my sleeping area.

Anyone traveling to Cambodia, and especially if you were going to make a trip out into the countryside, keep a lookout for these wonderful wooden houses of stilts. These houses are very much a part of the charming Cambodian countryside.

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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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