Krama, which are made from cotton or silk, are most commonly found in red-and-white or blue-and-white checked designs, and have a variety of uses. Cambodians like to say that the tradition of wearing krama dates back at least as far as the Angkor period.
Just about every province of Cambodia produces krama in its own distinctive patterns. For instance, Kompong Cham produces large silk krama in shades of burgundy, maroon, crimson, indigo and emerald. Some krama are said to resemble Scottish tartans, while others have more stripes. Quality varies from the simple, coarse cotton scarf used by rural villagers to elegant, finely woven silk krama with gold fibre edgings. The colours of the cheaper cotton krama are usually duller, coming in shades of ochre, ginger and chocolate brown, which are generally produced using natural dyes. The colours of the more expensive silk krama are often much brighter.
Cambodians claim that there are more than 60 documented uses for krama. They are worn to provide protection from sun, dust, wind, cold and rain, and they may be wound around heads, necks, shoulders or hips. Wherever you go in Cambodia you will see them wrapped, knotted, slung casually over the shoulder or worn as elaborate turbans – often in conjunction with hats. They are regularly pressed into service as skirts, sarongs, aprons and even shorts, and are also good for carrying things. Mothers use them to carry babies, children use them to heft kittens and puppies around, women going to market use them to carry bundles of chickens and other small livestock.
They also make excellent shopping bags, are useful as covers for pillows, beds and chairs, can be used as improvised fly-whisks and can be strung across the hood of a cyclo to rest the head of a weary driver. Folded, they form ideal cushions for the head on which large or heavy loads can be placed en route to market.
The quintessential – not to mention useful – Cambodian souvenir, krama are widely available for sale in local markets and make a great gift to take back home.
Find out more about our trip to Kompong Cham at Phnom Penh excursion to Kompong Cham and Chhup.