The Cambodian-Vietnamese Love-Hate Relationship

The Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; frequently vandlaized and defaced!

The Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; frequently vandlaized and defaced!

On an anecdotal level, after traveling in Cambodia I’ve concluded that the Cambodian people as a whole are friendlier than the Vietnamese people. It may be that they are a lot more relaxed than the Vietnamese and thus more aware of the affect they have on people around them. In Vietnam, it’s not uncommon for people to be in such a hurry (on their motorbikes, of course! They wouldn’t be caught dead walking anywhere!) that they’ll get to their destination any way possible…including driving on the sidewalk causing the pedestrians (usually foreign) to jump out of the way like a fat kid trying not to get pummeled in perverse and sick elementary school dodge-ball.  Further proof of how much more relaxed the people of Cambodia are revolves around their farming techniques in comparison to Vietnamese farming: the Vietnamese literally have rice or produce growing on 100% of the tillable land, whereas in Cambodia it was common to see trees everywhere and fallow fields throughout the country side. Don’t get me wrong however, because on the whole the Vietnamese are a friendly people too,  but just a little bit more wound-up than Cambodians.

Why does this happy and friendly Cambodian man dislike the Vietnamese so much?!

Why does this happy and friendly Cambodian man dislike the Vietnamese so much?!

While I found Cambodians to be nice, I’m not so sure how nice they are to Vietnamese people and that’s because they literally HATE the Vietnamese people. When I told many Cambodians that I am currently living in Vietnam, the common response was a quick in-take of breath, eye brows quickly raised followed by a short comment like ‘oh do you actually like it?’ I had been warned by the other fellows in Cambodia about this aversion, and remained skeptical until I actually arrived and heard it first hand from many Cambodians that they disliked the Vietnamese.  On the flip-side however, it appears that many Vietnamese are completely oblivious to the fact that Cambodians dislike them. When I returned back to the office and told my co-workers about this aversion, they were skeptical too!  They seemed to hold the Cambodians and their country in high regard! Seeing this stark difference sent my brain a-working.

Now, I’ve been pondering this dislike for a the last couple weeks since I’ve come back from Cambodia. I’ve concluded it’s more than a love-hate relationship. In reality it’s a Cambodians-hate-the-Vietnamese-while-the-Vietnamese-are-completely-oblivious-relationship. Which has had me wondering what the cause of this dislike is…and I’ve come up with two theories so far:

Maybe Vietnam needs more of these protector statues along it's border with Cambodia to ward off evil thoughts!

Maybe Vietnam needs more of these protector statues along it's border with Cambodia to ward off evil thoughts!

1) Cambodia’s past is frequented by Vietnamese invasions whether they’re cultural or physical (think war); with the most recent physical invasion in 1979 when the Vietnamese invaded and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime. Thus, while this war ended a brutal dictatorship, it was decried by Cambodians everywhere because it was an invasion of their own soverign nation and was a reminder of all the previous invasions by Vietnam as well. Most peoples don’t like invading forces in their countries; think the Iraqi people after we ‘liberated’ them from Saddam. It simply doesn’t sit well, especially if there is a history of it!

Simple markets like this Cambodian one are controlled by Cambodians, but the big 'markets' are frequently run by Vietnamese.

Simple markets like this Cambodian one are controlled by Cambodians, but the big 'markets' are frequently run by Vietnamese.

2) A commercial invasion: many of the biggest companies and most export/import, is run by Vietnamese or Vietnamese firms. (Cambodia’s rice industry is actually very dependent on Vietnamese buyers/exporters as well as Thai, which is another country that has historically invaded Cambodia even taking over the Angkor Wat area for some time) Having your economy more or less run by an ethnic minority, usually doesn’t sit well with many people. If you haven’t read Amy Chua’s World on Fire I highly recommend it, because she makes an argument about how some strife in countries is caused by ethnic minorities running the economy (plus some other conditions as well such as a sudden move to democracy and free markets). It is very plausible that Cambodians are jealous that much of the money being made in their country is going into the pockets of Vietnamese, and futhermore this money is then being taken out of the country! This is sort of similar to anti-semitism around the world, especially in the early 20th century when many people thought Jews ran the economy in the US (Jewish people did run many banks at that time, as showcased in World on Fire).

This post may be my first controversial one, but I really am curious to know the reason behind the Cambodian aversion to Vietnamese, especially since the Vietnamese seem oblivious to it. If anyone else out there has any theories, please feel free to share! I’m all ears and want to know the truth! Let the comments begin…Cheers.

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30 Responses to “The Cambodian-Vietnamese Love-Hate Relationship”

  1. T Tran Says:

    Well, you’ve already sort of point to the two main reasons but let me elaborate on it a bit with what I’ve come up with while surfing the net. I’m a Vietnamese who lives in America so I don’t have any firsthand knowledge but this topic has also intrigued me in the past.

    To understand the hatred you have to look at the history of mainland Southeast Asia. The Khmer Empire used to be the biggest and most powerful empire in mainland Southeast Asia. However, that empire has been in decline since around the 14th century losing chunks of its lands to Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. For the last couple of centuries current day Cambodia has mainly been the proxy battlefield between Thailand and Vietnam, both trying to gain control over the area. This is probably why you see a lot resentment towards Thailand and Vietnam but not much towards Laos, who has a huge grudge against the Thais for taking Isan (Northeast Thailand) from them but that’s a whole different story.

    Technically, if you look at it Cambodia has lost the least amount of land to Vietnam but seem to resent them the most, why is that? I believe this has to do with the cultural different between the two. Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia share a very similar cultural heritage while Vietnam is culturally more Sinic, so it didn’t help things much when a Vietnamese emperor in the 19th century tried to forced the Cambodian king and his subjects to wear Vietnamese clothing only. There’s probably a sense among the Cambodians that if Vietnam were to take over then their proud culture would be suppress and destroyed. Stories like this http://khmerization.blogspot.com/2009/12/tea-ong-do-all-khmer-remember-that.html also doesn’t help. To be honest I think this story is completely fabricated but it has been used by Cambodian nationalists routinely to drum up hatred towards the Vietnamese.

    Most Cambodians are probably also aware that if it weren’t for the French, Cambodia would had probably ceased to exist. West Cambodia would had belonged to Thailand and East Cambodia would had belonged to Vietnam. There’s more reasons right or wrong that I’ve come upon, but it’s getting late so I don’t feel like typing further =).

    The Vietnamese are probably oblivious to the hatred because they don’t think what they’ve done is any different from what any other empire has done in the past. Though I do know some Vietnamese resent the fact that they had to give up Cambodia due to world politics, and that it should be rightfully theirs.

  2. van Says:

    so what i learn as a kid growing up in stockton california were the two main ethnics that lived there are vietnamese and khmer AKA cambodain are to stay away from khmers because they will put black majic on you ,so i as a vietnamese boy growing up in america didnt belied in that shit and for]und out the truth ,khmer like to keep there friends close to them and there family closer due to what they learnd in there old counrty yes viets run most of camodia but thats not why there made there are chinese and thais there all so they hold a gruage because really of the war america had with vietnam and basicy lost to vietnam ,during the war and afther the war america dorp all there LEFT OVER BOMB in cambodia due to this hundreds and thousand of khmer die ,the khmers blamed vietnamese for this but it the US that really cause all the death in this war my grampa dad said the the khmer foight with the south viet in the war and next to them there was no beef between the two country before the war but there was after ,ask and OG vietnamese or cambadain im vietnamese 100% and i have khmer friend b4 we became friend we hated each other for kno reason just because of what growing ups tell us ,they feed us hatride and trade us like undercover attack dogs out for blood but wat is the hate really about?

  3. Tee Says:

    ^^ To that Youn guy above me! Youns don’t run Cambodia! Chinese does! We will make sure Chinese will continue to dominate Cambodia! Why you Youns in Vietnam and Cambodia like to bother the relations between the Chinese-Cambodians! Stay away from our business! Youns out of Cambodia! We need more Chinese not Youns!

  4. camera quan sat Says:

    camera quan sat…

    […]The Cambodian-Vietnamese Love-Hate Relationship « Vietnam Adventures[…]…

  5. sumi Says:

    van and tran made a good point. tran actually a smart guy who find those answer rather fast. it took most people a long time. im cambodian so i can understand whos talking nonsense and whatnot.

    people like tee also a jerk who still keep grudge and provoke more hatred.

    there’s more to the stories that cause hatred. i remember old folks talk about the mine that is planted all over cambodia by the Vietnamese people. vietnamese planted so many mine that is consider the most mine planted in history. now speaking of that, what cause the hate to sky rocket its like this. you may have to relate to it to understand the feeling. lets say, your wife/husband, your sibling, or best friend betray you. lets say they post a naked picture of you online or snitch on you to the cops etc.. isnt that anger is much more emotional than a stranger you dont really know? you get so mad you want to kill them right there and then. if its a stranger you be mad but it goes away fast because you dont know that person. this is the mind of folks that they have. when they found out there so many bomb planted by the Vietnamese, its enough bomb to wipe out all the khmer people. it wasnt just politics war, they see it as personal war. my parent used to told me about their neighbor was vietnamese. who ever make pho that day they would give some to each other in the morning. they had a good relationship. help each other in every way possible like with business etc..this is common for alot of folks back then. then theres the other sad stories how one of the so called good neighbor surprisingly was force to join the vietkong and killed their neighbor to show they are loyal to the vietkong. if they didnt join the viet kog would kill the viet who didnt join.

    the other difference between cambodian people and the rest of people in south east like laos, viet and thai is that cambodian know the history on top of their mind at least most. while the rest dont know or didnt know about it until later when they have google as their research buddy. the reason why most cambodian know is that the conflict between thai and viet is long before the last war. they been battling for a while until everything setting down then the last war started the hatred all over again. cambodian parent pass down the history to their children because they fear viet and thai people take over cambodia. this is true, because their intention of taking cambodia started ever since. now i think its impossible for viet or thai to take over cambodia in this modern times. being a cambodian and not being dumb but i do agree that the cambodian have the right to hold that hatred.

    myself i dont bare that hatred at all but since i was born in the state. most of my friend are actually Vietnamese.

    cambodian also hate thailand. this is also a complicated view points. i try to make it as short as possible, getting sleepy. thai claim everything belong to them. the government is the one who started the recent hatred. like provoking a war with cambodia because they couldnt control the protestor. most of the old temple are cambodian ancient temple it even have cambodian text on there. yet the thai people still claim its theirs. make no sense…i dont know if the government made a big lie to their people are the people themselves are ignorant of this. also they were known to steal more stuff from the temple than the viet. they still have that market today selling it in thailand. everyone know assume most of it is actually a fake or duplicated. no one really buy them now days. thats my quick write up and im going to bed.

  6. Fanglong Says:

    about the point that Sumi said its impossible for viet or thai to take over cambodia in this modern times, i agree that Thai can’t, but Viet (Youn) can. there are viet people everywhere in Cambodia, some graduated university, some have job in Cambodia both private and public. i think according to Viet concept, they don’t forget their originity and regard themselves as Cambodian people as they have lived in Cambodia for decades. they still regard them as Viet. and comparing to family size, one viet family has more children than cambodian family. what do you think will happen in the future?

  7. LoneBike Says:

    I am Thai and planned to make a bike ride to Cambodia.After studied the route I studied their vision toward us.God,they hate us.I studied more and more about other countries,the same result.We hate each other because we were conquered by the other 1000 years a

    I have a personal conclusion that it is the regional characteristic.We still linger on our past prosperity.Wake up it does no good to our countries.We were all invaded and conquered others.Let bygone be bygone and start building our countries.

    In World War 2 England was beaten by Germany.Now they don’t want to mention about it.

  8. លីហ្សា Says:

    Cruelty and ambition could best explain it! 🙂

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  11. Geedeebee Says:

    English lessons anyone? The American’s did not lose the war; they walked out on it. Washington DC had tied their hands concerning the Ho Chi Minh Trail (where all the Khong migrated to from North to South) and many other strategic operations because of the political implications of the USA actually being at war with anyone in those pressured times. Russia was looking over every move that was being made in this war and the US didn’t want to provoke a HOT World War with nuclear weapons being unleashed where everyone would lose. I know that Asians feel proud that the popular belief is that those little guys won, but the US could have ended that “police action” way early if the US government and public opinion had not put the pressure on.

    The USA simply did not want anymore countries to fall to communism. At the time everyone was blinded by fear of their government being taken over by the Communists. Its funny that in the end the Americans just stepped away. The word is that the USA could have won the war in just a few months if they didn’t have their hands tied.

  12. LoneBike Says:

    I am not sure if “mission uncompleted” means WINNING. Did America win when she withdrew from Iraq? And they are going to move out of Afghanistan soon, I don’t know what definition they are going to give to that war.

  13. camera quan sát Says:

    I am not sure if “mission uncompleted” means WINNING. Did America win when she withdrew from Iraq? And they are going to move out of Afghanistan soon, I don’t know what definition they are going to give to that war

  14. Researcher Says:

    The Vietnamese are expansionists and colonists. They killed the Khmer people and practice institutional racism and persecutions
    against the Khmer people’s culture, customs, and celebrations. The Vietnamese relentlessly assault the Khmer langauge and Khmer buddhism, namely the very Khmer way of life. Remember what the Vietnamese did to the Kingdom of Champa and the entire Cham peoples.

    Just look at this one poster called “T Tran”. Already he thinks he is superior, and he negates what the Cambodian views already. This has always been the sources of everything. The Vietnamese continue to the see Cambodians and Cambodia from their Vietnamese point of view.

    Here are some of T Tran’s statements:

    (1) “…if you look at it Cambodia has lost the least amount of land to Vietnam but seem to resent them the most…”

    (2) “Stories like this http://khmerization.blogspot.com/2009/12/tea-ong-do-all-khmer-remember-that.html also doesn’t help. To be honest I think this story is completely fabricated…”

    (3) “I do know some Vietnamese resent the fact that they had to give up Cambodia due to world politics, and that it should be rightfully theirs.”

    Counterpoints

    (1) Cambodia has lost a lot to the Vietnamese in terms of natural resources – the entire Mekong Delta region, 22 provinces, islands, sea, historical treasures, and much much more. In fact the Khmer Mekong Delta region has given rise to higher standard of living of millions of Vietnamese.

    (2) How can it be made-up if there is physical evidence to back it up. Look up the Vinh Te Canal Project where the Vietnamese supervisors killed the Khmer workers under their charge burried the Khmer people deep in the ground up to their necks and burned them alive. Why don’t you look at the evidence of what the Vietnamese did to the captured American soldiers. Vietnamese are the cruelest mather f*ckers! After they invaded Cambodia, the Vietnamese did it again. This time they implemented the Vietnamese K5 genocidal plan that required hundreds of thousands of Cambodians to dig a canal to separate Cambodia from Thailand. Tens of thousands Cambodians were killed. Everything is well documented.

    (3) So for those Vietnamese mather f*ckers who think they can invade Cambodia and grab it as their possession, then do they think it is OK for China to invade Vietnam and grab their islands? Vietnamese are the most expansionist mather f*ckers in the world.

    Now do you understand why some Cambodians don’t like the Vietnamese because once you know the true nature of the Vietnamese then you clearly see them as little devils going around wreaking havoc the lives of their neighbors. You don’t have to just stop with the Cambodians. Just ask any of the Vietnamese neighbors, and they will tell you the same thing how bad and immoral the Vietnamese are in general. Ask the Cham people, the Vietnamese stole the entire country from them. Ask the Lao, the Vietnamese invaded and took over some Lao territory. Ask the Thais, the Vietnamese even invaded Thailand and tried to capture some Thai territory. Ask the Fillipinos, the Vietamese even stole the entire island from them. Ask the Chinese, the Vietnamese even try to steal some of the Chinese ancestral islands. The Vietnamese even tried to invade parts of China itself. The Vietnamese are simply troublemakers anywhere. Just look at their host countries, the Vietnamese remain unassimilated and live in their ethnic enclaves. In fact in one city, they even forced the city government to use the taxpayers money to raise issues among themselves as to what to should their section of town be named. How sick can these Vietnamese get.

  15. Bob Says:

    You’ve forgot a few important key points: Today’s South Vietnam was a Cambodia territory. Read up on Champa, a kingdom that was completely annihilated by the Vietnamese. During the Vietnam War, Viet Cong was using Cambodia as their santuary (thanks to Sihanouk). The Viet Cong is responsible for the “killing field” in Cambodia.

  16. Proud to be Khmer Says:

    Very interesting points, especially from the Vietnamese point of view. Cambodians by nature and culture are friendly and peaceful people on earth. There are many Cambodians including myself who are trying very hard to make peace with our past and bitter history. However, we have never been left to live as a peaceful nation. As Bob and Researcher said above, there have been so much loss and suffering inflicted upon Khmer Nation by Vietnam that it is impossible for a Khmer like me to forgive and forget. For other nationalities who know little about the Deep and Dark secret Indochina Policy of Vietnam, they might think that Khmer continued hatred on Vietnam are simply and morally wrong, especially in this 21st Century. For me who have seen many wars directly and secretly involved/created by Vietnam in my beloved Cambodia, there is no way that I have the word “Love” for Vietnam. Many Khmers do not have to look back into the past history to accumulate the Hatred on Vietnamese. We all have seen what has happened to Cambodia and her people since Vietnam invaded our country in 1979. It should not take a Ph.D. or Doctor to understand and know who is running Cambodia behind the science nowadays. Facts are Fact. The facts developing in Cambodia now cannot lie about Vietnam intention on Cambodia.

  17. Naranhkiri Tith Says:

    Thank you for your observation on Cambodian-Vietnamese relations with a slightly bias in favor of the Vietnamese. I suggest that you should at least read this attached article to better understand why the Cambodians are afraid, and not hate the Vietnamese. The Cambodians are the victims and not the victimizers. Please, read this article titled “The Costs of Ming Mang’s Assimilation Policy,” on how the Vietnamese; have been eliminating two people of similar civilizations, (Indianized vs. sinic) the Chams and the Cambodians from Kampuchea Krom or Cochinchina, pasted below:

    Naranhkiri Tith, Ph.D.
    Professor, International Finance, SAIS, The Johns Hopkins Univeristy
    Washington DC. May 27, 2013

  18. Evas Aveuos Says:

    I’m Vietnamse.
    And I know the crimes our ancestors did to Chams and Khmers are true.
    I just want to apologize for everything our ancestors did.
    Hope it’s not to late for us, Vietnamese and Cambodians, to be friends, like good neighbors.

  19. Cham Says:

    People here don’t seem to realize what is happening because it’s not your home it’s happening to. We as Cambodian despise the Vietnamese “to make a long story short”, after a long fought war, we now have Vietnamese slowly moving in our land trying to conquer what is not theirs. They come and meddle with Cambodian political affairs and are allowed due to a corrupted government. Voting for president with no citizenship there really? C’mon get the heck out of this country.This is the present with other countries trying to invade native land that they have no history or heritage in. We are not dwelling on the past it’s the present. We can play this game as if no one knows why but like I said it’s not your land it’s happening to. The proof is in the pudding, the internet swarms with up to date situations in Cambodia and the Vietnamese are a constant threat to our country. Of course they say they are “Oblivious”. I mean who the heck would say something if they were doing wrong. If you have a fluent Cambodian friend let them be your translator and tell me why Genghis Khan is still alive in Vietnam. I don’t need to say anymore. Read the points and google them up and auctually understand before assuming.

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  21. melvin Says:

    researcher needs to grow up and be more like sumi. geedeebee the US lost the war. ask the world.

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  23. Isa Says:

    I would like to revive this thread a bit as I am Vietnamese of origin, yet I was born elsewhere and have very little knowledge of the history. I only learnt about the Khmer-Viet conflicting relationship a while ago, when I was considering applying for an internship in international development in Cambodia. Growing up in an entirely other continent, I’ve had close Khmer friends and had no clue how complex the relationship between our two native countries was. I was wondering how the Khmer people would view an American Vietnamese, or a Vietnamese from France for instance? Would that hatred still be there?

  24. Cambodia friend Says:

    Thang Mien , you are ungrateful. If I were VietCong , I would encourage thang dien Pol Pot wipe and decimate youself Thang Mien.

  25. Tuan Says:

    Well Thang Mien is always thang Mien and Mien people is always dumb and stupid. So their leader mad Mien Polpot , Sam rainsy, lo nok , Heng Samrin so on… exploit them for their advantage. Wake up thang Mien, choose thang Mien with a bit of passion to it nation to run the country.

  26. Tammy Says:

    I learnt that vietnamese people who joined the volunteer soldiers fought for the cambodia’s freedom from the pol pot’s totalitarian dictatorship. Moreover, many thousands of vietnamese armies are still unaccounted. In fact, the kingdom of champa was forced into surrender by our ancestors. But it’s common in the past, look at the china, it was divided into many small countries during the period of Three Kingdoms (220–280 AD). Vietnamese people hate war, so that our gov had tried to make sure that Cambodia wouldn’t support for china invading us ( as what Pol pot did). But I guess they failed because the cambodians always stand by chinese side.
    Thanks a bunch for your opinions, now I realized How ” nice and friendly” Cambodians are. Keep calling us Youns and welcome the Chinese, you will receive what you deserve!
    @all the vietnamese: Campuchia cùng một giuộc với Trung Quốc, đang cố gắng xâm chiếm cả vùng đất lẫn vùng biển của Việt Nam.

  27. Thanh Nguyen Says:

    Cambodians hate Viets as much as Viets hate Chinese as much as Chinese hate Japanese… End of story!

  28. random guy Says:

    The past is the psst but not forgotting. Dont forget this a cultural dispute. We are all human is the uneducated human that goe killing. If vietnam and cambodia and others learn from there mistake and unite than we wouldnt have a problem. Dont blame the people blame the government controlling the people. All Asian in retrospect is Goid at following order. The only reason the viet hate the chinese goes the same as everthing else. They all greedy motherfu*ker controlling yhe way peole think through subliminal N force. Ghey use the media and news paper to created civil unrest. So people can take out each other while the fat bastard sit back. They cause the problem so they can fix the problem to look like heroes to the public eyes. Look further into the investigation and all you see is the leader controlling the armies a.k.a slaves.

  29. huy ton Says:

    Very complex history. NO country (or empire) was ever made out of peace and humanity. Like many empires, the Khmer Empire was a brutal and expansive empire, and at one point, after conquering Champa, invaded Vietnam. What America did to the American Indians was more inhuman than what the Vietnamese did to the Khmer during its annexation of the Khmer territory in southern Vietnam. It was a slow and somewhat peace take over of the territory, usually with permissions from weak Khmer kings. This is sad but true.

  30. Khan Says:

    My point of view I’m Cambodian born in Canada I’ve heard all the bad things hate the Viets or hate the Thais from my own friends Cambodians and Laotians even parents For me my good friends are Thai and Viêt who cares about the past is all karma for the Khmer empire for example they used to chop off heads (chams) from war 1000 years ago served to the king

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