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The stucco relief discovered at the Khu Bua archaeological site, which dates back to the 650-700 C.E. period of the Dvaravati culture, depicts four female figures wearing shawl-like garments.

Sbai (Khmer: ស្បៃ [sɓaj]; Lao: ສະໄບ; Malay: Sebai; Jawi: سباي; Thai: สไบ, RTGSsabai [sābāj]) or phaa biang (Lao: ຜ້າບ່ຽງ; Thai: ผ้าเบี่ยง [pʰâː bìa̯ŋ]) is a shawl-like garment worn by women in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand to cover the breasts, while in Sumatra, Borneo and the Malay Peninsula, the same term is used to describe a cloth hanging from the shoulders.[1]: 410  The sbai was derived from the Indian sari, the end of which is worn over one shoulder.[1]: 153 


Sbai is a Khmer word[2][3] that refers to any kind of thin and soft garment.[4] In clothing, it specifically refers to a shawl-like garment or breast cloth used mostly by women and to a lesser extent religious men.[5]


Sbai is derived from the Indian sari, which may have been introduced to Southeast Asia through the Indianized Kingdoms along with other traditions and elements of Indian culture.[1]: 153 


Khmer woman wearing Sbai and Sampot Hol
Khmer woman wearing Sbai and Sompot Chong Kben

There are related mythologies in Khmer culture concerning the history of sbai, which was likely introduced during the Funan era from India alongside chang kben in the first century AD. The sbai is mentioned in the legends of Preah Thong and Neang Neak. In one scene, Preah Thong clings to a piece of cloth worn on the Nagini in order to make the journey to the Nāga's kingdom; that piece of cloth is a sbai. In that tale, the sbai is symbolic of the tail of Neang Neak, the Nāga princess.[6][7]

In the Angkorian period, although it was common for men and women to be topless; however, clothes for the upper body were worn: the bas-reliefs of Bayon, Preah Khan, and other Angkorian temples depict women wearing a shawl-like sbai while religious male figures are adorned with stylized sbai. At Angkor Wat, there are depictions of topless Apsaras holding sbai connected to their sampot, while the northern wall of Angkor Wat depicts a group of ladies wearing long sbai holding various offerings.

Bas-reliefs of Khmer women wearing sbai during the Angkor period (802 AD-1431 AD)

Nowadays, sbai, along with chang kben and sampot, are regarded as Cambodia's national costumes.[8] Sbai most often used in traditional Khmer weddings with different type and decoration during the rite of Preah Thong Taong Sbai Neang Neak (transl. Preah Thong holding on to the sbai of Neang Neak) which represents the legend of the foundation of Funan and where the groom holds on to the bride's sbai as they go to their room. The groom also wears a sbai.[9]

For men, especially Brahmin and Buddhist monk, the sbai called sbong sbai trai chivor,[5] and is considered the robe of Hindu and Buddhist monks.[10] For women, sbai can be freely used and in different ways such as to wrapping it around the body, covering the shoulder, and commonly covering the breast and stomach over the left shoulder. Different styles of sbai are used by Cambodian women based on their preferences and traditions.

Different styles of Khmer sbai


Lao women wearing colorful sabai or phaa biang in traditional dance

In Laos, this garment is known as phaa biang or sabai. It is common for Lao women to wear sabai as it is considered traditional clothing. A sabai can also be worn by men in weddings or when attending religious ceremonies. The type of sabai typically worn by Lao men often has checkered patterns. Sabai can also be a long piece of silk, about a foot wide, that is draped diagonally over the chest covering one shoulder with one end dropping behind the back.[11]


In Malaysia, Sebai is a cloth wrapped around the neck to cover the shoulders with both ends hanging on the chest similar to a scarf hung over the shoulders.[12]


Mon women wearing traditional clothes in Mon State, Myanmar

The ethnic Mon is also known to have similar tradition of wearing the shawl-like sabai called Yat Toot in Mon language, diagonally over the chest covering one shoulder with one end dropping behind the back like that worn by Lao women. This tradition distinguished them from other ethnic groups in Myanmar. The Mon people of Myanmar and Thailand today were the descendants of various Indianized polities notably Dvaravati. Artifacts from Mon Dvaravati sites in what is now Thailand depicted a group of ladies wearing what is similar to sabai.


Thai women wearing sabai at Jim Thompson House

Artifacts found in ethnic Mon Dvaravati sites depict group of ladies wearing what is similar to sabai. Sabai (Thai: สไบ, RTGSsabai, pronounced [sābāj]) or pha biang (Thai: ผ้าเบี่ยง pronounced [pʰâː.bìaŋ]) is shawl-like garment, or breast cloth. Sabais can be used by women or men. The sabai is also known as a long piece of silk, about a foot wide, draped diagonally around the chest by covering one shoulder which its end drops behind the back. Sabais could be worn around the naked chest or on top of another cloth. The practice of wearing Sabai along with Victorian cloth was a common practice during the reign of King Chulalongkorn and lasted until the reign of King Vajiravudh when Westernized clothing became more fashionable.


See also


  1. ^ a b c Maxwell, Robyn J.; Gittinger, Mattiebelle (2003). Textiles of Southeast Asia: Tradition, Trade and Transformation. Periplus Editions. ISBN 9780794601041.
  2. ^ Varasarin, Uraisi (1984). Les éléments khmers dans la formation de la langue siamoise (in French). Peeters Publishers. p. 113. ISBN 978-2-85297-161-5.
  3. ^ "สไบ - Thai / English dictionary meaning - สไบ ภาษาอังกฤษ แปล ความหมาย". Retrieved 2020-03-09.
  4. ^ Chuon Nath Khmer Dictionary. 1966, Buddhist Institute, Phnom Penh
  5. ^ a b "លក្ខណៈពិសេសនៃពណ៌ស្បង់ចីវររបស់ព្រះសង្ឃពុទ្ធសាសនា". Radio Free Asia (in Khmer). 2015-01-21. Retrieved 2019-09-07.
  6. ^ "Custom & Tradition". Retrieved 2020-03-09.
  7. ^ Nadeem, Zuha (2019-10-01). "Traditional Thai Clothing-16 Beautiful Outfits From Thailand". Outfit Trends - Ideas How to Wear & What to Wear. Retrieved 2020-03-09.
  8. ^ Books, Better World. "Buy New & Used Books Online with Free Shipping". Better World Books. Retrieved 2020-02-24.
  9. ^ Nadeem, Zuha (2019-10-01). "Traditional Thai Clothing-16 Beautiful Outfits From Thailand". Outfit Trends - Ideas How to Wear & What to Wear. Retrieved 2020-03-06.
  10. ^ "Civara, aka: Cīvara; 10 Definition(s)". Wisdom Library. 2009-04-11. Retrieved 2019-09-07.
  11. ^ Bonnie Ghazarbekian, Jane Siegel, Sawaddi, 15 years, p.130.
  12. ^ "Carian Umum - Sebai". (in Malay). Retrieved 2020-11-15.

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