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February 16, 2023




Cambodia will host the 32nd Southeast Asia Games in May for the first time in 60 years.   Therefore, it is a recognition that the country may have gone legit after all this time.  I can attest that it was a very dangerous place during the Khmer Rouge era though it has now become an economic force in the region because of foreign investment and cheap labor.  The personal freedoms have certainly improved from the days of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader who is associated with the deaths of some two million of his own people.  On the other hand, it is certainly not a free democracy which would be a first in the country’s sad history.  Going back in time to the 15th century, the rise of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya in what is now Thailand resulted in the sack and destruction of Angkor Wat.  Angkor Wat was the center of the wealthy Khmer Kingdom which is now Cambodia.  Since that time the relations of the Khmer people of Cambodia and the Thai people have been seriously strained.


There have been incidents in Cambodia over the last thirty years that resulted in the burning of the Thai Embassy in Cambodia and skirmishes between Thai and Cambodian forces as recently as ten years ago.  Prime Minister Hun Sen, who led the attack to remove the Khmer Rouge from the capital of Phnom Penh in 1979, assumed personal control of the central government in 1985 and has been in that position since then.  It came as a shock to most Thai people and other followers of the Thai kick boxing sport of Muay Thai around the world, that kick boxing would be called by the Cambodian name of Kun Khmer at the Southeast Asian Games. Moreover, there were attacks in various Thai media against the most famous Thai boxer, Buakaw, given that he was of Kuy ancestry and was photographed showcasing Muay Thai in Surin province, Thailand which was erroneously reported to be in Cambodia.  Following an interview with Buakaw, The Bangkok Post ran an article entitled Buakaw Affirms Thai Nationality as he is shown below in front of the Thai flag.

It was explained in the article that Sombat Buakaw was a Thai citizen as well as a descendant of the Kuy ethnic minority.  Moreover, followers of The Elephant Story know that Ban Ta Klang is in Surin province which is the focus of our educational efforts for the Kuy children.  By the way, “Buakaw” means “white lotus” in English.  Over 80% of the Kuy people live in Thailand with the remainder in Laos and Cambodia.  Although the Kuy people have no identity to their tribe, they generally incorporate the languages where they live while maintaining their own unwritten language.  An interesting observation about the Kuy people is that women have an esteemed position in their society with respect to community cohesion and spiritual beliefs in addition to their central role in subsistence food production.


On the other hand, there is little doubt that kick boxing is not something new to Cambodia as it appears on a 10th century bas relief in Banteay Srei, Cambodia near Angkor Wat which proves the roots of Muay Thai. Maybe centuries later, the Thai invaders of Angkor Wat in the 15th century got the idea here.

A short drive south of Ban Ta Klang is the Thai province of Sesaket which contains several remaining Khmer temple ruins.  Our Ban Ta Klang teachers accompanied Kru Nang to Sesaket following her transfer there to bid farewell.  They are shown here at a remaining Khmer ruin that was most likely sacked by Thai forces many centuries ago. Have you noticed that even the adults seem to share the custom followed by the students of selecting a daily dress code to conform with others?

As shown below, there can be no doubt of Buakaw’s deep allegiance to the Kingdom of Thailand as well as his history of major Muay Thai accomplishments.  He is standing in front of his personal Muay Thai ring. 

At this juncture, there is still a dispute in the use of Kun Khmer rather than Muay Thai as Charoen Wattanasin, vice-chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand, said the International Olympic Committee had not endorsed the change for the May games in Cambodia.  Moreover, the Thailand side said it would not send its national Muay Thai athletes to join the SEA Games and would seek to ban countries that did send competitors by the International Federation of Muay Thai Associations.  Cambodia counterpunched by declaring it would not send their boxing athletes to the 2025 SEA Games that will be hosted by Thailand. 


You should know that when we are in that part of the world, we reside at The Siam Hotel in Bangkok where we have a similar ring with personal Muay Thai instructors available.  It takes a brave man to suggest that his family sign up to become proficient in kick boxing no matter what you might call it in Thai or Khmer.

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Our products are from Asian elephant countries offered to fund programs for the families and their 300 elephants in Baan Ta Klang, northeast Thailand. Your support enables us to provide two native English-speaking teachers in the village as well as underwrite a portion of the veterinary services for the elephants.

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