Cambodia has a rich artistic heritage that stretches back thousands of years to the pre-Angkor era. While much of it came close to being wiped out during the Khmer Rouge reign from 1975 to 1979, huge efforts have been spent during the last few decades to rekindle the scene. The result is plenty of places for visitors to enjoy performances and shows, especially in the popular hubs of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
The most popular form of classical Cambodian dance is apsara, which dates back to the 7th Century.
A walk around the majority of the temples will show apsara dancers carved into the walls and bas reliefs, with their dance forming an essential part of Khmer culture.
Believed to be beautiful female creatures that came from heaven to entertain kings and gods with their dance, the dance is slow, hypnotic, and gentle. Each of the careful hand gestures and foot movements holds its own meaning, with the elaborate costumes mirroring the majestic moves.
This spacious venue draws in the crowds each evening with its popular apsara performances and dinner. If it’s intimacy that you’re after, then Angkor Village Resort’s Apsara Theatre isn’t the place, however, the dances and costumes are spectacular, and the venue—a Khmer-style wooden building complete with traditional decor—is the perfect setting for the shows, which runs from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
As the main organization tasked with bringing traditional arts back to life and steering it in a new, modern direction, Cambodian Living Arts trains musicians, dancers, singers, and other performers, providing them with the props to make a living from their art. One arm of their efforts are the daily shows at the capital’s National Museum, which runs from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. The Traditional Dance Show takes audiences on a journey from Angkor’s palaces to the villages of today through song, music, and theatre.
Also working to keep the arts alive in the capital, Sovanna Phum Arts Association employs more than 120 artists, and puts on a range of shows every Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. These include shadow puppet theatre, classical Apsara dancing, folklore, mask dances, and traditional music. Visitors can also try their hand at dance, drums, or circus skills at a private workshop.
For a truly majestic show, Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor puts on some stunning performances in its tranquil tropical gardens. Combining traditional Cambodian dance and Khmer martial art, the sumptuous setting is the perfect place to be introduced to the ancient art forms. A barbecue of pan-Asian cuisine is also served. Between April and September, the show runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 p.m. Between October and March, shows are daily.
For a more intimate offering, The Fou-Nan is a top choice. Doubling up as a restaurant and bar, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, it hosts dinner with an apsara show. Guests are welcomed to the stunning property by dancers in traditional costume. Dinner is served in the form of a banquet made from Royal Khmer Cuisine and is followed by a hypnotic performance of traditional Cambodian dance.