Pan Ron: Cambodian Beauty Meets Despotic Terror

On March 26, 2015 by Tim Newman

Pan Ron - Cambodian Singer - History

In the swinging 60’s and early 70’s Cambodia was alive with a vibrant array of musical vibes. Rock, mambo, jazz and everything in between, above and below; traditional met and mingled with current styles from the West.

Pan Ron (pronounced Pen Ram) was one of the most popular singers of the era and is still revered today by the vast majority of Cambodians. She is heralded as having the most versatile voice the music business has ever seen. Only Sinn Sisamouth’s vocals beat Pan Ron’s popularity in Cambodia.

Pan Ron - Cambodian Singer - Music Photo

But, Pan Ron’s Cambodia had a tumultuous and tragic history. The rise, fall and rise again is a horrific and heroic tale.

Cambodia was an up and coming country in the 70’s, modern pop culture was embraced, in no small part thanks to their King – Norodom Sihanouk. The King was a big fan of Western music and spread the twist dance craze to any part of the country he visited. (Imagine Prince Charles spreading a dance craze? Nope, never gonna happen). Sihanouk played the clarinet, the saxophone, the piano and the accordion and was a massive fan of the theatre. He wrote, directed and acted in tens of films, one of which – La Forêt Enchantée (“The Enchanted Forest”, “Prei Proseth” in Khmer) – was entered into the 5th Moscow International Film Festival in 1967.

Sihanouk is recognised by the Guiness Book Of World Records as the politician who served the most different political roles including two terms as king, two as sovereign prince, one as president, two as prime minister, as well as numerous positions as leader of various governments-in-exile.

During the Vietnam war Sihanouk attempted to maintain neutrality to protect the country from the hell-ball America was spewing onto its neighbour. He remained moderate under colonial pressure but despite his efforts there was little he could do with all that going on in the background. He forged ties with China and North Korea which enraged the Left and the West and he was eventually deposed and fled the country splitting the majority of the remainder of his life between Pyongyang and Beijing.

Pan Ron - Cambodian Norodom Sihanouk King

Norodom Sihanouk (1983)” by Rob C. Croes / Anefo – Nationaal Archief. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 nl via Wikimedia Commons.

In exile in Beijing he began supporting the growing opposition to Cambodia’s new government. The name of this opposition party was Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge were a vicious communist group. Sihanouk’s support of the Khmer presented them with an influx of apolitical peasants who joined their ranks purely to support the King they felt had been wrongly deposed, not through any positive feelings for communism itself. The peasants most likely had no idea what communism was, but the Khmer Rouge’s numbers swelled from 5,000 to 60,000 almost overnight thanks to the ex-King’s patronage.

The Khmer Rouge wanted to bring about a communist regime of the most extreme kind. They wanted to restore Cambodia to the glory days of ancient Angkor. This entailed clearing all cities and towns of their population and putting them to work in the fields. Many city dwellers had never done any farming in the past, so crops failed, people starved and of course there were mass executions along the way.

Pan Ron Killed By Pol Pot

Some estimate that around a quarter of the entire population of Cambodia was killed during the Khmer Rouge’s purges between 1975 and ’79. The regime’s targets were anyone who disobeyed and anyone they deemed to be dangerous. The list of “dangerous” folk included anyone who could speak a foreign language or who was educated (their leader – Pol Pot (above) – was in fact well-educated and enjoyed French literature, but there we go. I guess Hitler wasn’t exactly Aryian was he?).

They also murdered anyone who wore glasses (because they must spend too much time reading), anyone who followed any religion at all and, to bring me back to this article’s starting point – musicians.

Pan Ron - Cambodian Singer - Rock n Roll

The facts surrounding Pan Ron’s death aren’t known but her sister says she survived until fairly near the end of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. One story goes that Khmer guards tricked her into singing one of her famous songs, when she began to sing and the guards were sure it was her, they led her off and executed her.

The whole tale is an awful reminder of humanity’s depraved ability to manipulate and somehow block out the suffering of fellow beings. It’s an uncomfortable fact that us naked apes are so easily and thoroughly corruptible.

Sit back and listen to some of Pan Ron’s finest tunes and start planning a trip:


@media all and (max-width: 228px) { div#darkbackground, div.visiblebox { display: none; } }