In 2003, a mob stormed the Thai Embassy, ransacked it, and burned it down. In an ensuing riot, Thai businesses were also looted. That was all due to a rumor that a Thai actress had said the temples of Angkor Wat should belong to Thailand.
As a result, Thai TV dramas were dropped from Cambodian broadcasts. These days, though, those programs are slowly making a comeback. They’re watched from DVDs or the Internet, mostly, but they are also being shown more and more on Cambodia’s TV stations.
“I love watching Thai dramas, because the actors and actresses are very beautiful and perform very well,” said Sreynich, 19. When they were not available on TV, she would rent them from the store and watch them at home, she said. “When I’m on exam break, I can watch Thai serial dramas from 9 pm to 3 am. When I go back to school, I always watch two hours a day.”
Slowly, Thai dramas are being shown on TV. The country’s newest station, PNN, has started importing Thai dramas. PNN’s deputy managing director, Som Chhaya, said audiences like Thai shows, which have a place on prime time. PNN is also producing Khmer dramas, which they hope to air soon, he said.
As with other TV influencers—Korean pop culture among them—Thai programming has brought Thai fashion and style to Cambodia’s youth.
Thai Noraksathya, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said this has created an “indirect impact” on the country’s culture. Cambodian productions will have to increase their quality if they want to compete, he said.
“We have no rules or law to ban our people from supporting other countries’ drama,” he said. “But we have to educate our people to know what their obligations are.”