The traditional Cambodian court had amply used decorative display, and accepted the French system of orders and medals with more enthusiasm than for many of the French changes and reforms. An early photo of King Norodom I taken shortly after the founding of the Royal Order of Cambodia in 1864 shows him wearing full Western uniform with the badge suspended from a collar. The 1943 British Naval Intelligence Division geographical handbook Indo-china commented on Cambodia: "Decorations are widely appreciated and by conferring them liberally the French have created a body of loyal officials who are an important stabilizing influence in native affairs."
The formal Cambodian dress included a high necked tunic and the sampot, a sarong with the back edge drawn up between the legs and secured at the waist, looking somewhat thus like pantaloons. Those of higher rank wore silk stockings and shoes, while those of lower rank went barefoot. Photographs of the 1920's show bemedalled court officials wearing tunics and sampots of bright colors in silk. During Prince Sihanouk's time the civil court dress was a dark sampot and a white tunic with embroidered collar, cuffs, and epaulets.
The Cambodian soldiers also, of course, came to follow French styles. The Royal Guards of King Sisowath Monivong are shown in an old photo in white uniform, barefooted, with a broad yellow sash, a large and floppy yellow beret, and an armband of the Royal colors (as in the ribbon for the Medal of the Reign). Soldiers on the front in France during World War I are shown wearing standard French uniforms. The uniforms and insignia of the Forces Armees Nationales Khmeres retained their French heritage. Their arms, however, reflected Sihanouk's "neutralism" and were a mixture of French, Russian, Chinese, and US weapons.
The Cambodian system of orders and medals (and their precedence) was considerably revised and enlarged over the years. Prince Sihanouk created numerous new awards and gave out the old and new with largesse and gusto. Recipients included the Cambodian elite, Sino-Khmer contributors, and ordinary Khmer across the land, as well as visiting royalty, the Hanoi leadership, and Chinese Communist technicians. Ceremonies where the participants had to wear their medals were held five or six times a year. These included the New Year's and Water Ceremonies, and special occasions such as the state visit of President De Gaulle. An example of an award presentation was that of January 28, 1954, when Sihanouk presented one Medaille de la Defense Nationale avec citation a l'Ordre de 1'Armee, fifteen Medaille d'argent du Regne, eight Medaille d'or du Travail, and two Moniseraphon to wounded enlisted men.
The revived Kingdom is again bestowing orders and medals, most being ones from before, although some with different ribbons or designs. The 1999 Constitution in Article 27 says: "The King shall establish and confer national medals proposed by the Council of Ministers."
Some awards were reserved personally to the monarch while others were proposed by departments of government. A standing commission considered nominations for awards given on the Cambodian New Year. There was also a high commission for the Royal Order of Cambodia and some other commissions for special awards. Two years were required for passage from one class to another for most awards. Generally the French practice was followed for both bestowal and wear.
The Royal arms followed a partial western pattern, being displayed on a cloak with a Cambodian crown above, with light coming from its peak. In the center were two ritual goblets, the divine sword presented to King Jayavarman VI in the 1lth Century, and the unalom symbol. These were between two laurel branches with the badge of the Royal Order of Cambodia below. Crossed spears were behind. In 1951 supporters were added: The elephant headed lion Kuchea Sey, on the left, and the Reachea Sey, the Royal lion, on the right, both holding the Royal five tiered umbrellas. A ribbon below bore the state name.
The flag of the protectorate was a red field with a large white Ankor Wat, surrounded with a blue edge. Under the Kingdom, also after 1993, the white Angkor Wat was placed on a broad red stripe with smaller blue stripes above and below. Under the Khmer Republic the white Angkor Wat was placed on a red canton with three white stars in the upper hoist of the blue held.
The arms of the Republic had Angkor Vat as the central motif with, oddly, a large badge of the Royal Order in the center. Above was a sunburst and three stars. Around were sheaves of rice in the shape of elephant tusks, and below a ribbon with the state name.
During the period of the beleaguered Khmer Republic, there was an effort towards republican simplicity and fewer occasions for the wear of dress uniform. Nevertheless, during some ceremonies medals were worn, including many received during the period of the Kingdom. In one perhaps final parade Marshal Lon Nol was photographed wearing what appeared to be the collar of the Order of the Republic and the single medal of Sena Jayaseddh. Ordinary soldiers were frequently awarded the Medal of National Defense and sometimes wore its ribbon on the field dress. (This medal was bestowed on some American and Australian military personnel.) Several of the medals were redesigned to eliminate the parts of the design that had Royal symbolism. Units of combat distinction were given the "Oriflamme de la Victoire", a pennant the awarding general would tie ceremoniously to the bayonet of a lead soldier.
While most of the Cambodian orders and medals were made in Paris by manufacturers such as Arthus Bertrand and Chobillion, in the later period many were made locally. They are usually cruder. Often French made ribbon was used with them, but, if locally made, the ribbon is of a coarse, unwatered weave. Miniatures also were worn according to French practice. The Paris manufacturer, A. Chobillion in its 1923 catalog, offered the Royal Order in three different miniature sizes (numbers 6,7 & 8) for the officer class respectively at 40, 35 and 30 Francs, or over twice that in real gold.
Reportedly the Medal of National Defense has been copied by sand-cast in Saigon in a brassy metal, with washed out details. It has also been manufactured in the United States, mainly for American military recipients.
A report indicated the award of a Medal of Progress (Meday Vodthoneakar) in Gold and Silver to officers and enlisted men on August 10, 1968. There was said to be an Order of Civic Merit with a half mauve, half gold yellow ribbon. Nothing further is known of these two awards, if they even existed.
Ribbon bars were worn usually on black felt in the standard French manner, employing a variety of rosettes and devices.
Fourrageres were bestowed in red and blue for the receipt by a unit of the Medal of National Defense for a citation at the level of the Kingdom (or later the Republic), and, if received three times, the fourragere was in yellow, red, and blue, the colors of the Medal of Sena Jayaseddh.
The various Cambodian monarchs also gave out coin-like commemorative presentation pieces on important occasions. Sometimes, apparently at individual initiative, they were fixed for wear with a ribbon. Prince Sihanouk had especially prepared silver pieces apparently designed to give to foreigners - such as those who helped the Royal party on a foreign trip - who were not considered appropriate recipients of a regular decoration.