Cambodian people are well-known for their hospitality and warmth. Out of respect, visitors to the Kingdom should take care to observe local customs and practices. You may find it useful to familiarise yourself with the following common dos and don’ts before embarking on your trip to Cambodia.
Please note that Cambodia is in a renaissance period after a destructive civil war, but poverty still strikes visitors and touches their emotions. On a daily basis in all tourism spots visitors will be approached by street or temple children trying to sell something or just begging. Please read ChildSafe 7 tips, and watch this video. The temptation to give to children is difficult to resist, but be aware that it is only encouraging them to remain in the streets rather than going to school; and may lead them towards drugs and prostitution.
DOs in Cambodia
- Ask for permission before taking photographs of any Cambodian people or monks.
- Support the local economy by buying Cambodian food and handicrafts, or simply try a traditional Cambodian meal.
- It is customary to remove your shoes when entering a place of worship such as a pagoda or temple. Additionally, visitors should dress appropriately when inside a religious site (upper arms and legs should be covered, hats removed).
- It is respectful to remove your shoes when entering someone’s home.
- A respectful way of greeting another individual is to bow the head slightly with hands pressed together at the chest (known as “Sampeah”).
- If invited to dine in a Cambodian family’s home, it is polite to bring a small gift for the host such as fruit, dessert, or flowers.
- If invited to attend a Cambodian wedding, it is customary to bring cash as a wedding gift.
- When using a toothpick at the table, use one hand to cover your mouth.
- Keep business cards ready, and present them with both hands. Accept business cards with both hands.
DON’Ts in Cambodia
- The feet are considered the lowest form of the body and the head the highest form. Don’t point or gesture with your feet or put your feet on the furniture. Also don’t touch someone on the head.
- Don’t start eating before your host if you are a guest at a dinner.
- Women should never touch male monks or their robes, or hand something directly to them.
- Show respect by not taking photos or disturbing monks during prayer times.
- Buying and consuming any type of narcotic drugs is illegal.
- Kissing and hugging in public is very impolite. Wearing revealing clothing is also not considered appropriate even though other tourists may do this.
- Do not purchase historical artefacts or rob the Cambodian people of their history.
Knowing a few words of Cambodian language always earns smiles from the local people.
Suor s’dei – hello
Lia sun howie – goodbye
Sok sabai chea teh? – How are you?
Knyom sok sabai – I’m fine
Baat (for man) Jaa (for woman) – Yes
O-te – No
Aw khun – thank you
Somh toh – I’m sorry / Excuse me