Subscribe Search

Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Traditional Chinese music surviving in Phnom Penh

Traditional Chinese music surviving in Phnom Penh

The Sam Uong Pagoda Orchestra performs at Sam Uong Pagoda.
The Sam Uong Pagoda Orchestra performs at Sam Uong Pagoda. Moeun Nhean

Traditional Chinese music surviving in Phnom Penh

It may require a bit of searching, but it is possible to find traditional Chinese music in Phnom Penh.

Formed in 2007, the Sam Uong Pagoda Orchestra has been providing Cambodian audiences with a taste of China’s musical heritage. Made up of 12 Chinese-Cambodian and Cambodian musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments, the group meets and plays ancient songs every Sunday afternoon at Sam Uong Pagoda.

With one female vocalist and an interesting array of instruments, the orchestra performs ancient Chinese songs with names such as Love, The Beautiful Maiden, Chinese Scenery and The River. Solos are performed on instruments such as the zither (a kind of harp) or the erhu (a small upright stringed instrument played with a bow). Chinese flutes, drums and banjo-like stringed instruments are also used.

The singer, 61-year-old Tea Sophea, sings with the lovely lilting voice typical of Chinese chanteuses. We were entranced when she sang a well-known song about a beautiful young woman.

“We’re all elderly,” Tea lamented. “There are no young people coming here to learn to play traditional Chinese music. We all perform with all our hearts to respect our ancestors – we’ll try our best to teach any young Cambodians who are eager to learn about this music,” Sophea said.

Orchestra leader Heng Chou Ly sounded a similar note about the future of Chinese traditions in Cambodia, including the dragon dance. Previously the orchestra performed with nine dragon dancers, but now they are down to five.

“We should feel proud to be the only traditional Chinese performance group in Cambodia,” Heng said. “But actually, we are all worried about the future of our music here.”


  • Professor beaten by mob in Phnom Penh after alleged hit-and-run

    Updated with new information: 6:44am, Tuesday March 13 2018 A university professor accused of a hit-and-run has been transported to Vietnam with serious head injuries after he was brutally beaten by a mob in Phnom Penh late Sunday afternoon. A video of the attack shows a group

  • American ‘fugitive’ arrested in Cambodia outside of US Embassy

    An American citizen was arrested on request by the US Embassy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, according to Cambodian police. Major General Uk Hei Sela, chief of investigations at the Department of Immigration, identified the man as American Jan Sterling Hagen, and said he was

  • One Australian, one Cambodian killed in explosion at military base

    Updated: 5:20pm, Friday 16 March 2018 An Australian tourist and a Cambodian soldier were killed in an explosion on Thursday afternoon at an army base in Cambodia’s Kampong Speu province. The Australian, whom the government initially identified as a technical demining expert in his 40s, and

  • Australians protest Asean summit visit by PM Hun Sen

    Hundreds of protesters gathered in Sydney’s Hyde Park on Friday to protest against Cambodian strongman Hun Sen, who claimed to have been gifted millions of dollars by the Australian government ahead of a special Asean summit this weekend. An estimated 300 protesters, the majority of