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Published on September 2, 2014

In this series of articles about Sports in South East Asia /ASEAN a quick overview is given of the most popular sports in each single country of the region. Naturally there are many similarities and overlaps between those sports across SEA. Therefore, in addition for each country a special sport, whether traditional or modern, has been highlighted, ranging from a ballet dance like form of football in Myanmar to martial arts in Vietnam.

Whereas most people in Europe and North America favour certain sports such as football (soccer), hockey, baseball and basketball, ASEAN people also prefer traditional sports that are part and parcel of their daily life.

The current article features sports in Brunei Darussalam and Cambodia, while Indonesia and Laos will be covered in next article. Articles about the sports favoured in the remaining six countries will follow thereafter.

It is intended that the articles will further whet the readers’ appetite, adding another reason to visit one or more of ASEAN’s member states during their holidays.

BRUNEI DARUSSALEM: Masters of Pencak Silat

One of the most popular sports in this country is Pencak Silat (locally known as Silat Suffian Bela Diri). Pencak Silat is an umbrella name for the martial art sports of self-defense, the fighting of which with bare hands and feet is symbolically associated with values promoting the nation’s philosophy of the Malay Islamic Monarchy (Melayu Islam Beraja). The national Pencak Silat team therefore became the toast of the town upon claiming their best result ever at the 14th World Pencak Silat Championships in Jakarta (2011), taking home one gold and three bronze medals.

More commonplace sports, widely played, include football, basketball and rugby; reason why, for instance, Brunei established a professional basketball team (The Barracudas). The most prominent competition of that sport is a six-date tournament, while The Sultan’s Cup is an invitational tournament for basketball teams of East Asia.

However, Brunei also hosts one of the richest marathons, with prize monies exceeding half a million dollars (American $, that is!), as well as the Brunei Open as part of the Asian Golf Tour.

CAMBODIA: Sports steeped in History

Cambodia has an impressive historical record of sports and recreation, testimony to which the temple complex of Angkor (Siem Reap), notably the Bayon Temple, on which bas-reliefs one can view  hand carved sculptures of kickboxing and wrestling as well as cock and hog fighting. Hence, it seems fair to imply that recreational sport has been an essential part of Cambodian daily life for centuries.

Bas-relief at Bayon Temple, Angkor, Cambodia – Cooking a wild boar after the fight.


It still is indeed, since traditional Khmer wrestling and the martial arts Bokator, Pradal Serey are all practiced in the country. Bokator is an all-encompassing ancient fighting art that includes punches, kicks, tackling, ground fighting, and even weapons. Pradal Serey or Traditional Khmer Kickboxing with nearly the same rules and style as Thai Boxing emerged as a sport during the days of colonial Cambodia.

Over the last decades Cambodia increasingly became involved in modern sports too. The most popular sport in Cambodia nowadays is volleyball, followed by football; the latter brought to the country by the French during its colonial heyday. Other sports, like hockey, rugby, baseball and golf are gaining in popularity.