Prayer Profile
The Northern Khmer Thailand

[IMAGE] While the majority of the Khmer live in Cambodia, approximately 1 million Northern Khmer live across the border in Southeast Thailand. They are primarily concentrated in the provinces of Surin, Sisaket, Buriram, and Nakhon Ratchasima. Their native language, also called Northern Khmer (or Buriram), is distinct from, but similar to, Central Khmer. Since Thai is the only language taught in schools, many Northern Khmer are bilingual, speaking Northern Khmer while at home.

The great Khmer Empire, which flourished between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, encompassed present-day Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and southern Vietnam. Its power declined when the Thai and Vietnamese conquered the Khmer and restricted them to the area that now known as Cambodia.

In 1932, a revolution in Thailand led by intellectuals ushered in a constitutional monarchy. Since then, Thailand has had several constitutions, changes of government, and many military coups and riots.

What Are Their Lives Like?
The Northern Khmer of Thailand inhabit the shrub forests and plains that lie north of the Cambodian border. Many live along the railroad that now goes to the border of Laos.

Various types of houses can be found in the Northern Khmer villages. The wealthier people often live in sturdy, mahogany homes that are raised off the ground and have plank floors and tile roofs. Those with lower incomes may live in thatched roof, bamboo houses that have dirt floors.

These Northern Khmer have virtually been absorbed into the Thai community, adopting their religious practices, customs, manners, lifestyles, and occupations. Ancient Khmer influences on the Thai are strong as well, giving the two groups a common ancestral bond. Traditional Khmer music reflects a tie to Indonesia. Folk dancing and the classical royal ballet are also popular.

The Northern Khmer are especially known for being excellent farmers. Most of them grow rice in irrigated paddies. They have also become successful craftsmen, educators, and government officials. Trading in Bangkok is prosperous, so the Northern Khmer merchants often transport their goods there by train. Many part-time or full-time craftsmen produce goods such as cotton or silk scarves, sarongs, silver objects, pottery, or bronzeware. They compete with the Chinese merchants who can be found in every local or urban market.

The Northern Khmer have a simple social structure. Each village has its own chief, and there is no political structure beyond the village. The village chief is the link between the people and the central government. Village leadership is usually divided; the chief has authority in secular matters, while the Buddhist monk has authority in religious issues. Buddhist rules of conduct are used to maintain social control. These rules include abstaining from lying, stealing, drinking alcoholic beverages, committing adultery, and killing living creatures. Descent and inheritance are traced through both the father and the mother.

What Are Their Beliefs?
The former Khmer Empire was influenced by India, from which it adopted Hinduism and Buddhism. Today, virtually all of the Northern Khmer in Thailand are Buddhist. However, relics of ethnic religions such as ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors for guidance) and spirit worship are still important.

Due to Buddhist influence, the Khmer also seek the middle path to nirvana, or ultimate peace through gaining merit in this life. Merit may be gained through supporting the construction of Buddhist temples, giving food to monks, and studying in the monastery. Peasant boys often became monks in order to gain an education in the monasteries. Almost all Khmer males become monks for a temporary period of time before marrying.

What Are Their Needs?
The Bible has not yet been translated into Northern Khmer. Though some of the younger generation can read Thai, the older people cannot. Christian laborers, additional evangelistic tools, and intercession for the Northern Khmer are all desperately needed.

Prayer Points
  • Ask the Lord to call people to go to Thailand and share Christ with the Northern Khmer.
  • Pray that God will grant favor to the missions agencies that are currently targeting the Northern Khmer.
  • Ask the Lord to begin revealing Himself to these precious people through dreams and visions.
  • Pray that God will use the few Northern Khmer believers share the Gospel with their own people.
  • Ask God to raise up qualified linguists to translate the Bible into Northern Khmer.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Khmer bound.
  • Ask God to call forth prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
  • Pray that strong local churches will be planted among the Northern Khmer by the year 2000.

See also the following Khmer Groups:
The Central Khmer of Thailand; The Central Khmer of Cambodia; The Cambodian of Laos; and
The Central Khmer of Vietnam.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Northern Khmer
  • Country: Thailand
  • Their language: Norhtern Khmer
  • Population: (1990) 984,100
    (1995) 1,040,900
    (2000) 1,096,100
  • Largest religion: Buddhist 95.7%
    Ethnic religionist 3%
    Nonreligious 1.1%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 1,145
  • Scriptures in their own language: None
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 8
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 355,000 (35%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 53,200 (6%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 301,800 (29%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 685,900 (65%)
  • Country: Thailand
  • Population: (1990) 55,582,700
    (1995) 58,790,700
    (2000) 61,909,300
  • Major peoples in size order: Central Tai 34.6%
    Northeastern Tai 26.4%
    Northern Tai 10.5%
    Han Chinese 8.2%
    Southern Tai 7.8%
  • Major religions: Buddhist 91.6%
    Muslim 4%
    Chinese folk-religionist 1.4%
  • Number of denominations: 40

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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