Inside Asia Tours: Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos

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Friday, 16th October 2015

The Cambodian flag - its history and significance

You’ll find hidden history behind just about everything in Cambodia, and the country’s flag is just as richly fascinating as the country itself.

A blend of red and blue horizontal stripes, the flag features a depiction of Angkor Wat at its heart. 

History

Cambodia has placed an image of Angkor Wat at the centre of its flag since around the middle of the 19th century, when French colonial rule of Indochina was established.

Borders and nations have shifted around a lot, but the French protectorate of Cambodia was by large the template for the modern country. Its flag featured Angkor Wat on a red background and blue frame. 

French rule lasted from the 1860s through to 1953, when the independent Kingdom of Cambodia was established.

Today’s flag was first used in 1948, just before the country severed ties with France, and was used until 1970 with the creation of Lon Nol's Khmer Republic. This state lasted until 1975, and saw the 1948 flag replaced with a similar design - a blue background with red canton featuring the all-important depiction of Angkor Wat. 

The takeover of the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and creation of Democratic Kampuchea meant the end of this design. Until 1979 and the fall of the regime, the country used a red flag, but as ever the Angkor Wat design was retained, this time in yellow.

After years of unrest, Cambodia saw a return to the monarchy in 1993 and with it the 1948 flag was restored. 

Significance

Cambodia’s flag is full of history and symbolism that tells us much about this enchanting country.

The red and blue are the traditional colours of Cambodia, though it is the ever-present depiction of Angkor Wat that holds most interest. Along with Afghanistan, Cambodia is one of only two national flags that contain an image of a building.

But it’s the historical and cultural significance of the site that really matters.

Angkor is perhaps the most important archaeological site of Southeast Asia. Covering over 400 square kilometres, it consists of dozens of temples that point to the glorious history of the Khmer Kingdom.

Lying just north of Siam Reap, Angkor Wat, which means “Temple City" or "City of Temples", is the largest religious monument in the world and has become a symbol of Cambodia like no other. 

Built in the 12th century and dedicated to Vishnu, it is an exemplar of Khmer architecture, along with temples such as the Bayon, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm.

Nowadays, Angkor Wat is one of the prime tourist destinations in the whole of Southeast Asia.

The prominence of this famous temple complex in Cambodia’s flag tells you all you need to know about just how important the world’s largest religious monument is to the people and the country.



Related news stories:
To remember but move on: A look at the Cambodian Genocide (16th July 2014)
Six books you should read before travelling to Cambodia (5th November 2015)
Battambang - the big city with the small town feel (28th May 2015)
How Vietnam got its flag (3rd November 2015)