It would have not sense if you visit Cambodia and do not pay a look to his national sport: Pradal Serey and Bokator (they are actually different.) Of course, if you do not like violent sports, just ignore this post and watch the dancing Apsaras. You can find the practice of Bokator even in the Angkorian inscriptions. Then, as a martial art, it means discipline and philosophy, courage and nobility.
I went this weekend to Apsara Television in its headquarters at the Srok Mean Cheay. You take Norodom Boulevard until the Monyvong Bridge to the Mean Cheay District. Going further the market, by the National Road 1, you have to turn left by a smaller road. A moto-taxi would bring you for two dollars.
The program is all the afternoon until 7PM and it is free entrance. Then the place is full of people watching the different categories. I could see some groups of foreigners with their cameras among the Cambodian spectators, most of them youthful and cheerful males.
This fight was particularly especial: one of the fighters came with an Arab turban (he removed it after), maybe he was a Cambodian cham (Muslim Cambodians), but I am not sure. He won.
There are different matches in different categories and it is easy to get a good place, since spectators come in and go out all the time.
You can have a good idea of what is Pradal, too similar to Muay Thai, of course.
It starts with the presentation of the two fighters. They use similar costume to the Western boxing, but some of them put a rope around the head and around the biceps. It is common to see some Khmer tattoos, especially in the arms and chests. They are barefoot and every fighter has two assistants. After the presentation, they start a religious dancing to praise the good spirits. It is also an offering to the spirits of his life if he was going to die. It is of course an ancient warrior rite that becomes a good artistic dance in the ring. They praise toward the four sides of the ring, that means the four sides of the earth. I will investigate, but I pressume this warrior dance is more Hindu than Buddhist.
Then the fight. Four rounds where every fighter tries to topple the other. You can see some good fights with a real art professional performance and others that finish more in a frenetic aggression. When you see a fighter that lost his cool and attack the other like a mad, you understand that there is not the real spirit of the sport. But when you see the two fighters in a mortal dance, with reflexion, calm and technical performance, then you are involved inside the Cambodian traditions.
Update 1 (October 9, 2010)
I have to clarify that Pradal and Bokator are different, as it was commented by Robert (see comments). The article of Wikipedia is a good illustration of what is Bokator. In this order of things I have to confess that I still to see a real Bokator fight in Cambodia… to look for it as soon as I can. While, Pradal is, of course, more commercial. I tried to take more pictures of real fights in Bayon, but actually being inside the public is a limit. I tried to take some pictures to my tv… but not good from any point of view…
This post is in development until I get better pictures of both Bokator and Pradal…