Cambodians call foreigners as Barang, especially if they are gringos (North Europeans and North Americans.) But they assume that any Non-Asian person is a Barang. It corresponds in the Thai language to Farang. The origin is highly discuss but it is not derogative at all. It seems to come from Barangsaes (French or Français.) It is likely possible, because Khmer language did not have the phoneme F (now, thanks to the French influence, it has it.) It is also possible that Thai language was influenced by Khmer through the permanent cultural interaction between both countries.

Now well, according to my observations, the origin of Barang from the French word Français is the only possible origin. The prove would be that we say Proteh Barang (ប្រទេសបារាំង) for France; Piasah Barang (ភាសាបារាំង) for French language and Chunchiet Barang (ជនជាតិបារាំង) for Frenchman. There you are. In this case, before all Cambodians, any Western becomes a Barang meaning a Western. It is the only plausible possibility.

There are other hypothesis, but I do not find much connection. However, they must be contemplated if you are interested in getting the origin of the world Barang.

In the Malay language Barang means Product. The question is if this Malay Barang is the same Khmer Barang. How is it possible that a Product becomes a Foreigner or a Western, although it has any connection with capitalism. Anyway, I have always complain that several Cambodians – and Thais – look Westerns as Walking Wallets, in this case it would have a Malay meaning 🙂 But I would say that the two words are just a coincidence.

The relation with the Thai word Farang is better. As Thailand became more popular in the West than Cambodia – at least until now -, I have heard many Thai resident’s Barangs concluding that the Khmer Barang comes from the Thai Farang. It happens also with Muay Thai. Studying the origin of Farang in Thailand, it is assumed that is a derivation of the Indo-Persian word Farangi that means Foreigner. It is a plausible concept. It is not difficult to trace its importation into the Southeast Asian Mon-Khmer languages, including Malay.


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

One response to “Barang”

  1. adolf hitler says :

    This COMMENT of “Adolf Hitler” was removed for obvious reasons and I clarify, the use of “Gringo” in this post was made without the intention to offend. Actually the expression is widely used by US citizens themselves as they are mostly called in Latin America. At the same time, it was used as a meaningful comparison to say that Cambodians (and Thai) use the word “Barang” or “Farang” to Western foreigners, as Latin Americans use “Gringo” and both ways are not derogative, at least the speaker intend to do so. For the word “Gringo” Wikipedia has a good article about, and the Urban Dictionary (though take care with some concepts there made by any editor) and that says that a Gringo is (in Latin America or Spain) a foreigner, esp. one of U.S. or British descent.Therefore, it is the same value of Barang for Cambodia, that was the concept I want to express.

    You are welcome to comment, even to oppose to my own views and you are going to have space in my blog, but in a respectful way.

    Please read “The Old Gringo” of our dear Ernest Hemigway, here an essay of Carlos Fuentes.

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