Cambodia nicknamed the “country of the smile” has long remained closed to tourism. Since a few years, the country welcomes visitors from all over the world. Discovering the archaeological wonders of Cambodia can also be combined with encountering ethnic minorities living out of beaten tracks, and rich in an endangered cultural diversity. One of the most homogeneous countries in Southeast Asia, Cambodia has about twenty indigenous ethnic minorities. The Khmer are the largest group followed by non-indigenous ethnic minorities (migrants or descendants) such as Vietnamese, Chams, Chinese and then some twenty indigenous ethnic minorities such as Mnong, Kuy, S’aoch, Tampuan, Jarai , Moï, Kreung, Brao, Kachok, Kravet, Phnong, Mon, Stieng, Bunong, Kouy, Mil, Khonh, Kraol, Steang, and Thamoun etc. who live mainly in the northeastern highlands, in the provinces of Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, and Kratie.
The living conditions of these communities are rather precarious as the agricultural methods employed there are rudimentary, the geographical isolation hind their economic development and the social exclusion prevents them from developing. A majority of these minorities are now threatened with extinction as a result of integration policies, deforestation, and accelerated globalization. Going to meet the ethnic minorities of Cambodia is to think outside the box and enjoy a colorful journey through fabulous landscapes, authentic villages and new encounters, but it is also discovering cultures that will no longer be there tomorrow.
Where to find ethnic minorities in Cambodia
The Cham live among the Khmer people in the central plains, but unlike the Khmer Theravada Buddhists, the majority of the Cham are Islamic. The Mekong Lao is on the North East border, some Hmong reside along the Laotian border and some Burmese people have immigrated to the capital Phnom Penh.
The Hmongs of Mondulkiri
The Mondulkiri is one of the wildest provinces of Cambodia. The region is particularly known for its rounded wooded hills, waterfalls, nature partly preserved and elephants raised with pride The province is mainly populated by diverse minority ethnic groups, with Hmong in the majority.
The ethnic minorities of Ratanakiri
The region of Ratanakiri on the highlands of the North East is proving to be a dream destination offering more choice for adventurers and lovers of ethnology because of the river Tonlé San you can use to travel by boat. It’s the homeland of the Proto-Indochinese ethnic minorities: Brau, Kavet, Kroeung, Kaco, Kaschak, Jarai and Brau, original inhabitants of these highlands. The villages of Kachaun & village voeung sai, which are inhabited by Chinese or Laotian communities, are renowned for their funerary totems. Kroeng village is known for its particular architecture. Do not miss their precious stone mines and the volcanic lake of Yeak Lom which are also worth seeing.
This pretty, peaceful city on the banks of the Mekong River has some very pretty colonial buildings and cafes along the river, perfect stopovers to admire the sunset and the famous Kratie’ dolphins! A Vietnamese minority followed by seven indigenous groups live there: the Bunong, Kouy, Mil, Khonh, Kraol, Steang, and Thamoun. Approximately 10% of the Kratie population is indigenous. Spots to not miss The rapids of Kampi, the Turtle Conservation Center and the Island of Koh Trong.