During your stay in Cambodia, you will most probably be touched by the kindness of the Cambodian people. In most places, you’ll be warmly welcomed and guided by local residents, eager to show you the treasures of their country. Although your Cambodian hosts will do their best to tolerate tourists’ involuntary mistakes, stemming from different cultural and social conventions, the following tips will help you understand Cambodian culture and avoid social misunderstandings.
Do’s in Cambodia
- Cambodian people greet each other by saying “Chum Reap Suor”, accompanied by a gesture of pressing their palms together in front of their face and slightly
bowing forward, which is called ‘sampeah’. Your Cambodian hosts will be happily surprised to see you using the ‘sampeah’ to greet them.
- Shaking hands is now more and more acceptable, usually with men, and after a ‘sampeah’. When offering a gift to a Cambodian person, especially an elderly, it is the convention to present it with both hands.
- Before entering a sacred place, such as a Buddhist pagoda or the Royal Palace, please remember to take off your shoes and your hat. Also please remember to
be dressed in a clean and modest manner. Especially, women should wear a t-shirt or a blouse with short or long sleeves and a skirt or pants at least at knee-length.
- When entering someone’s home, please remember to leave your shoes at the entrance. Although your Cambodian hosts will often insist that you keep them for your comfort, they will always appreciate your consideration for their home.
- Although Cambodian people enjoy having their pictures taken, do ask for permission first.
- If you buy foods at a street cart or a stall in a market, please remember that the price is usually cheap. Please remember that Cambodia is still a developing country and the Cambodian people are just starting to be familiar with other cultures’ customs and expectations. So be patient when communicating and interacting with your Cambodian hosts.
Don’ts in Cambodia
- In the Cambodian and Buddhist culture, the head is the most sacred part of the body. Please DO NOT touch or pat the head of people, even children.
- Similarly, as the feet are the lowest parts of the body, DO NOT use your feet to point at someone or something, to get the attention of someone or to push an object to someone.
If you go to a pagoda and have to sit on the floor, DO NOT sit cross-legged or with your legs outstretched. Instead, sit slightly sided on your heels. If the position becomes uncomfortable, try to shift on your other side.
- Buddhist monks are deeply revered and respected. Women are not allowed to touch a monk’s robe or his body.
- The Cambodian society is relatively conservative and public displays of affection, such as kisses and hugs, are considered inappropriate and offensive behaviors.
- In public areas, on sacred grounds such as pagodas, and in public buildings, avoid shouting, as well as laughing and speaking excessively loudly.
- As cultural customs are different in Cambodia, please DO NOT resent Cambodian habits, which may be considered rude in your country.