To be a visitor means to adjust to various cultures, regardless of how uncommon they may be for us. This could be exciting and thrilling at the same time. On my way of getting into multi country Asia tours, I realized that Cambodian traditions and customs are the results of influence from both Khmer and Buddhist cultures. The main idea is sharing and respect, especially for seniors, visitors, and in sacred locations. We have prepared a brief etiquette guide for tourists in Cambodia. So, if you are planning a trip to explore the charm of Cambodia, I would like to share this useful article with you.
Greeting Customs in Cambodia
Greeting etiquette in Cambodia is quite simple. Like some neighboring Asian countries, the Cambodian has a traditional greeting gesture, and they also adapt to Western greeting style.
• The Cambodian traditional way to greet others is done by joining together your two palms with your fingertips in a prayer-like gesture in front of your chest. The gesture is followed by s slight head bow.
• Cambodian classified people into different hierarchies of respect and the higher the level, the higher your hands should be joining when greeting them. For example, when meeting a monk, the Cambodian will place their hand so that the fingertips would touch their forehead instead of their chest.
• A lot of the locals would greet foreigners by giving them a handshake, just like the way the Western countries would do.
• If someone greets you first, make sure to do the same. It is very impolite to ignore others.
Eating Etiquette in Cambodia
I think a lot would agree that eating is always the most exciting way to learn about a country’s culture. Therefore, it is better to know about the dining etiquette in Cambodia before you dive into the country’s finest dishes.
• Let the elderly start their meal first, it is a sign of respect.
• The cook should start eating after everyone else had begun.
• Do not put the fork into your mouth, it is considered impolite to do that.
• Use the fork to move the food to the spoon if you are using a fork and spoon simultaneously.
• Use separate eating utensils for shared dishes and your own dishes.
• It is advised not to put your chopstick vertically on your bowl of rice. The locals do that only with incense sticks in ceremonies for the deceased.
• Left a little food on the plate before you finish, don’t finish everything.
Dressing Etiquette in Cambodia
Contrast to popular belief, dressing rule in Cambodia is quite simple: The most basic concept is to avoid showing too much of your body. In detail:
• Although the locals rarely wear shorts in public, it is still possible for tourists to choose this kind of clothing to combat the summer heat.
• Dressing etiquette for women is somehow more restricted because of the Cambodian culture. Short shorts, tight stretch, yoga pants, miniskirts or other clothing that is too revealing should only be used in your private room.
• It is best to wear modestly. Cambodian men typically outfit includes a short-sleeved shirt with collar and long trousers. Women can wear skirts that are longer than the knee.
• Extra dressing rules will be applied when you visit temples and pagoda, or contact with monks. The following parts of your body must be covered: upper arm, thigh, knee, shoulder and the preferably the lower leg for the women. When entering the pagoda, don’t forget to remove your hat and sunglasses and shoes.
• Avoid clothes that portray war, violence or religious content. They are all sensitive subjects for the Cambodian.
• Nude sunbathing is inappropriate anywhere in Cambodia. Don’t do it.
Tipping Etiquette in Cambodia
Generally, tipping is not a big aspect of Cambodian culture. However, it is better to know the appropriate etiquette to show your gratitude for the local worker and help to support their community.
• Tipping in restaurant: There is no fixed standard on how much you should tip, but anywhere between 5% to 15% of the total bill is fine. Don’t feel obliged to tip anything if you’re not happy with your service.
• Tipping for hotel services: The same rule is applied – you do not have to tip the staff if you are not satisfied with their service. And if you feel led to do so, $1 is the perfect tip for the bellman or the maids. Because of the low income, that amount of tip is very significant for them.
• Tipping for the tour guide: A trip is always more exciting when having a tour guide and a driver accompanying. It’s good to leave the nice tour guide and the driver about 10% of your tour value. After all, they will try their best to give you everything they know about the place and help to translate if you need it.
• Tipping for the taxi driver: There are two ways to tip your taxi driver. You can either do it by giving them an extra dollar or let them keep the change. It is a great way to encourage drivers who are considerate and friendly.
Cambodian Etiquette in Gift Giving
Although most of the time of your holiday in Cambodia will be spent on traveling and sightseeing, it is still worth to know about gift-giving etiquette in case you will socialize or make a friend here.
• If someone invites you to have dinner at their house, you should bring a small gift to show your gratitude. Flowers, a fruit basket, a box of chocolate or a bottle of wine are all excepted.
• When giving someone your gift, make sure to do it with both of your hands. Not doing that will be a sign of lack of respect.
• The typical Cambodian would not open your gift right in front of you with excitement, so don’t expect that and do the same thing if they give you a gift.
• Sharp objects like a knife are considered to bring bad luck. White objects are the same as white is the color of funerals. Make sure you don’t choose them as a gift.
• The majority of Cambodians don’t celebrate their birthday, especially the elderly.
Etiquette in Visiting a Cambodian Religious Site
Cambodia is famous for its abundant temples and pagodas throughout the entire country. There’s hardly any tourist would go to Cambodia without visiting one. Together with the dressing etiquette above, below are the rules that you should know before entering a sacred location.
• Avoid making loud noises because the pagodas and temples must be kept quiet and peaceful. Don’t talk loudly, laugh or yell, and also remember to put your phone on silence before entering.
• Show your respect by avoiding inappropriate conversations, wearing headphones or sunglasses.
• If you see a monk seating, don’t seat somewhere higher than them. If you want to have a conversation with them, don’t do it while standing.
• Women are not allowed to touch a monk or give them something directly.
• If you want to take a photo, ask someone who works there, usually the monks, for permission. Please avoid taking a selfie with a statue of the Buddha behind you, it is considered very rude to do that.
Other General Etiquette in Cambodia
• With the main cultural influence from Asia culture and Buddhism, it is easy to understand why the Cambodians are so conservative regarding sexuality topics. Keep that in mind and avoid displaying intimate gestures in public, especially with the opposite sex. Holding hand with your spouse when walking is OK but placing your arm around an opposite sex Cambodian friend for a photo is not advised.
• Respect the elderly by letting them lead the way or hosting the conversation and choose a seat that is lower than theirs.
• A lot of houses and services places in Cambodia don’t allow wearing shoes indoor. Notice that before entering one.
According to Buddhism belief in Cambodia, the head is the most sacred body part and the feet are the dirtiest.
• Therefore, when in Cambodia, don’t touch someone’s head, even the children.
• If you are seating on a chair, don’t raise put feet high, and if you are seating on the floor, you have to tuck your feet inside to avoid pointing them toward someone.
Useful & Essential Phrases for Tourists in Cambodia
Greeting Phrases in Cambodia
Som Dtoh (som-toe) – Sorry/ Excuse me
Chom Reap Sour (chom-reap-sore) – Hello (formal): the phrase itself is used to express the respect to the elders and people in the higher class.
Susadei (soos-a-day) – Hello (informal): this phrase is usually used between friends and colleagues.
Chom Reap Lear (chom-reep-lear) – Goodbye (formal)
Lee hi (lee-hi) – Goodbye (informal & prevalently used)
Bah (bah) – Yes: it is used if you are male
Jah (chaa) – Yes: it is used if you are female
Arkun (ar-koon) – Thank you: do not forget to say thank you with a smile.
Communicating Phrases in Cambodia
Teu nak niyeay phea sar anglei tay? – Do you speak English?
Nee yeay yeut yeut – Speak slowly
Khnum yol – I understand
Khnum ot yol – I don’t understand
Som ni yeay mtang tiet – Please write it down
Som ni yeay mtang tiet – Please say that again
Thal maong puon man? – What time is it?
Emergency Phrases in Cambodia
Banthoy L’boeun – Slow down
Phleung ch’heh – Fire!
Ch’hob – Stop!
Chuoy khnyum phang – Help!
Chuoy hau bolisa mok – Call the police
Useful Cambodia Phrases at the Market
Bo man (bow-man) – How much?
T’lay (t-lay) – Too expensive
Moi, bee, bai, boum, bram, bram moi, bram bee, bram boum, dop – 1 to 10
Baht Saddam – Turn right
Bhat Schweng – Turn left
Da trong – Go straight
Som chop tini – Please stop here
Sohn ork knhum toev… – Please take me to…
Santhakea – Hotel
S’thantoot – Embassy
Thorneakea – Bank
Or soth s’than – Pharmacy
Phsar – Market
Puo ja nee than – Restaurant
Essential Cambodia Phrases at the Restaurant
Chnang – Delicious
Haal – Spicy
Koon yohm ot cheh nyam sach the – I am a vegetarian
Som tuk/ beer – Water/ beer, please
Som ket loy – The bill, please
Bang kon nouv aina? – Where’s the toilet