Did you know – The flag of Cambodia is unique! It’s the only national flag in the world to feature a historic building at its centre: the famous temple of Angkor Wat.
If you’re curious about the fascinating history behind this special feature, this tourism article is for you! As a traveller with a passion for history and culture, we invite you to discover the origin and evolution of the Cambodian flag over the centuries. Follow us on a journey through time and Cambodian identity!
What is the flag of Cambodia?
The Cambodian flag is easily recognisable thanks to its popular colours: red, white and blue. However, what makes it truly unique is the presence of a building drawn on it – the famous Angkor Wat which was once the capital of the Khmer Empire. The royal blue background serves as a backdrop to a bright red representation of Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s most famous and sacred Khmer temple.
This temple complex, recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an emblematic symbol of Cambodian culture. Its presence on the flag is a reminder of the country’s rich cultural heritage and symbolises the pride Cambodians take in their history and heritage.
The significance of the Cambodian flag
The Cambodian flag is a powerful symbol of the country’s national identity. It is made up of two distinct elements that are united by a unique combination of colours and shapes.
The red colour symbolises the courage and determination of Cambodians to overcome the difficult trials they have faced. The blue field, meanwhile, is widely regarded as the traditional colour of the Kingdom of Cambodia, symbolising the country’s freedom and unity. It also represents the power of the monarchy and the king.
The flag also features a white silhouette of three towers, representing the virtue and purity of Buddhism, the religion practised by over 95% of Cambodia’s population. These images recall the country’s long history and its commitment to preserving its cultural identity.
The Cambodian flag is almost square in shape, with a 2:3 ratio, and is one of the most recognised and appreciated symbols of Cambodian identity. The unique combination of colours and shapes, and the deep meaning attached to them, make the flag an important part of Cambodia’s history and culture.
History of the Cambodian flag
The origins of the Cambodian flag date back to before 1863. At that time, Cambodia was still the ancient Khmer Kingdom and its flag had the shape of a yellow triangle bordered with green. This form of flag is not very popular in the world, but it was characteristic of the time and the culture of the country.
Since the time of the French protectorate in 1863, the original triangular shape of the flag has been changed to the rectangular shape that is still used today. Since then, Cambodia has had nine different versions of its flag, but all in a rectangular shape.
To better understand the history of the Cambodian flag, it is important to learn about the key events in Cambodia’s history. The flag is thus a witness to the history of the country and its political changes.
French Protectorate of Cambodia (1863 – 1948)
In August 1863, following the signing of the agreement between Cambodia and France, the French protectorate was officially established over the country. This landmark event brought about the fall of the ancient Khmer Kingdom and led to a significant change in the design of the Cambodian flag. The triangular flag was replaced by a rectangular flag made up of three colours: blue, red and white, reminiscent of the colours of the French flag. This change marked Cambodia’s entry into a new era under French control.
Japanese occupation of Cambodia (1942 – 1945)
From 1942 to 1945, Cambodia remained under Japanese control, and the Cambodian flag was modified to reflect this new domination. The red flag with a white square and smaller squares at the corners became the new national symbol. However, after Japan’s defeat in 1945, France regained control of Indochina, including Cambodia. The Angkor Wat pavilion was restored as the Cambodian national flag, symbolising the return of French influence to the region.
Kingdom of Cambodia (1948 – 1970)
After the tumultuous period of the Second World War and the Japanese occupation, Cambodia finally gained its independence in 1953, under the leadership of King Norodom Sihanouk. The Angkor Wat flag was used during this period and underwent a slight change in 1948, with a modified blue border. This version of the flag, which remains similar to the one used today, has become the national symbol of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Khmer Republic (1970 – 1975)
Following the civil war in 1970, a new Khmer Republic was created. The new flag featured the temple of Angkor Wat at the top left, surrounded by a small red rectangle, followed by three white stars representing the three elements of the nation, the republic and Buddhism. However, this period was short-lived, as in 1975 the Khmer Rouge took power and the flag of the Khmer Republic was abandoned.
Democratic Kampuchea & Khmer Rouge (1975 – 1979)
During this period, the country’s political situation was extremely complex. From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge took power and renamed the country “Democratic Kampuchea”. The flag was simplified to include an illustration of the temple of Angkor Wat with three yellow towers, at the heart of a red rectangle. Some believe that this design was inspired by the red flag of Vietnam, which has a yellow star in the centre.
People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979 – 1989)
From 1979 to 1989, with the help of Vietnam, Heng Samrin and Hun Sen regained power from the Khmer Rouge and established the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. The representation of the temple was slightly modified with five towers, symbolising the unity of the five social classes: soldiers, merchants, workers, peasants and intellectuals.
State of Cambodia (1989 – 1991)
In 1989, the country officially became the State of Cambodia and the national flag was changed. It is now a horizontal red and blue bicolour, with a more ornate yellow representation of the famous Angkor Wat in the centre.
United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC) (1991 – 1993)
In 1992, the United Nations took over the administration of Cambodia with the aim of bringing peace to the country. To symbolise this transition, the flag of the United Nations Transitional Authority was adopted. This flag featured the distinctive sky-blue field of the United Nations with a white map of Cambodia bearing the inscription “Kampuchea” in Khmer script.
The role of the United Nations in the stabilisation and reconstruction of Cambodia was crucial for the country at that time, which had experienced decades of war and violence.
Kingdom of Cambodia (1993 – present)
After the departure of the United Nations, Hun Sen’s government regained power and the flag reverted to that of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Today, the official flag of Cambodia is composed of three main colours and consists of a horizontal red stripe surrounded by two blue stripes, one at the top and one at the bottom.
Cambodia flag in daily life
The flag of Cambodia also known as the Angkor Wat flag became the country’s official national symbol in 1948. Since then, it has been used on many special national occasions, such as Independence Day, the religious festival of Meak Bochea, Seagame,…
And it is often visible in public places such as the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, government offices and streets. The Cambodian flag is an important symbol of the country’s national identity and history.
The Cambodian flag, like all the others, is a source of pride for the country in its spiritual life. It plays an important role in every political event and even in everyday life, as a reminder of love for the nation. It bears witness to a period of war, hardship and loss, which it is important never to forget in order to better understand the history of one’s country.
Today, the Cambodian flag is above all a symbol of hope and national spirit. It is present at events such as demonstrations, football matches and many other occasions.
On the other hand, the Cambodian flag serves as an inspiration for artistic creation, including in the fashion industry. However, this practice raises debates: some people are opposed to the idea of wearing the flag as a garment, while others find it appropriate. There is no universal answer. What’s your opinion?
Our last words
In conclusion, the flag of Cambodia is much more than just a national emblem. It is a reflection of history and culture, as well as a symbol of royalty and nationhood. The famous temple of Angkor Wat depicted at the heart of the flag is a constant reminder of the importance of this emblematic monument for Cambodians. By observing the various changes in the flag, we can retrace the country’s political and social history, marked by changes of regime. With its three colours – white, blue and red – the Cambodian flag bears witness to the richness of Khmer culture and the deep attachment of the people to their nation.