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.”


  • Angkor Wat named as the top landmark for the second year

    Travel website TripAdvisor has named Cambodia’s ancient wonder Angkor Wat as the top landmark in the world for the second year running in their Travelers’ Choice Award 2018, an achievement Cambodian tourism operators expect will attract more tourists to the Kingdom. The website uses traveller

  • New US bill ‘is a violation of Cambodian independence’

    After a US congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation that will enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Sunday said they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty

  • Hun Sen detractors ‘will die’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday said those who curse or insult him would eventually die without a plot of land to bury their bodies after being killed by lightning, suffering the same fate as those who recently died in Thmar Baing district in Koh

  • Ministry’s plan for net sparks fears

    The government has ordered all domestic and international internet traffic in the Kingdom to pass through a Data Management Centre (DMC) that has been newly created by the state-owned Telecom Cambodia, in a move some have claimed is an attempt to censor government critics. Spokesman