The Krama – World’s Most Versatile Garment

Synonymous with Khmer culture, the traditional Krama scarf is worn by Cambodians of all walks of life, regardless of age, gender or social status. But more than just a fashion statement, what really sets it apart from other regional garments is its multitude of daily uses.

A History of the Universal Garment

Though it is unknown when the Krama made its first appearance, the scarf’s origins are most likely linked to its Indian counterpart, the dupatta. Thus, experts agree that the national garment must have been around since well before the ancient Angkorian civilization converted from Hinduism to Buddhism during the 13th century. And this would also explain why Cambodia holds the distinction of being Southeast Asia’s sole nation whose population is known to wear scarves.

Design and Types of Krama

As previously mentioned, the omnipresent scarf is worn by all Khmer men, women and children. Most Kramas are made from naturally-dyed cotton with checkered blue-and-white or red-and-white patterns, though nowadays differing designs and colour combinations are increasingly being found.

Silk Kramas, on the other hand, are highly treasured and are reserved either for the upper class or as priceless family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. These hand-made pieces are so intricately designed, a single piece can take several months to weave from start to finish.

Krama Fashion and Basic Uses

In addition to ornamental purposes, locals use the Krama scarf for protection against the sun, sweat, dust and mosquitos. It is most often worn as a:

  • Neck scarf
  • On the head:
    • Head covering
    • Headband
    • Navy-style hat (folded up)
  • Facemask
  • Shoulder sash or shawl
  • Belt

The Versatile Krama’s Other Functions

As the Swiss army knife of garments, the Krama can also function for/as a:

  • Tool-belt for securing hand-held instruments
  • Hand-held fly and mosquito swatter
  • Cushion on top of the head or shoulder to carry large items hands-free
  • Pillow for napping (folded up) or chair cover
  • Bag worn around the shoulder to hold loose items
    • Or as a hand-held bag (four corners tied together)
  • Baby or pet hammock (around the shoulders or between two trees)
  • Privacy
    • Swimwear or bathing in public. Women cover themselves with separate upper and lower pieces, while men can wear wrap it around the groin as a loincloth
    • Also as a screen when “going to the restroom” outdoors
  • Khmer martial arts (Bokator). Combatants wrap the Krama around their waist, head, and fists. Much like east Asian martial arts, colour denotes skill level (ranging from white for beginners and black for experts)
  • Ball for children to play with (rolled up)

Your Very Own Krama as A Keepsake Souvenir

Heritage Line offers passengers their very own Krama as a turn-down gift on our 4-Night (Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, vice versa) and 7-Night (Saigon to Siem Reap, vice versa) luxury cruises on the Lower Mekong River. Our expert guide is also delighted to demonstrate the countless ways to wear it in our on-board Khmer fashion presentation.

In addition, our guests have the opportunity to visit Cambodia’s famed Koh Okhna Tey, also known as ‘Silk Island’. Hop onto a local tuk-tuk to one of the village workshops and witness the fascinating process of silk weaving, starting from tiny silkworm larva, then dyeing, spinning and weaving the fibres into the final product – the cherished silk Krama.