"Scenes of Cambodia courtesy of Jody Hanson"

Cambodia: The Dos and Don’ts of the Kingdom

By Jody Hanson

For travelers: Dos and Dont’s in Cambodia

All sorts of foreigners wander through Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder. There are the tourists, the volunteers, the ex-pats, the travelers, the dodgy types on the run, the scammers, and the sex-pats. No shortage of types and motives.

Whatever the reason for visiting or living in the Kingdom there are a few etiquette rules that will go a long way to making your stay more enjoyable.

"Scenes of Cambodia courtesy of Jody Hanson"
Scenes of Cambodia courtesy of Jody Hanson


Learn some Khmer. Even a few words will help:

Sok sa bai? How are you?
Chum ree-up soo-a. Formal hello. Soo-a s’day. Informal hello.
Som dtoh. Excuse me.
Or-kuhn. Thank you.
Som ket loi. The bill, please.

Smile. And the Cambodians will smile with you. Add the sompaith — hold both hands together and bow slightly with the higher the hands and the lower the bow the more respect – and your status will increase exponentially.

Learn the phrase “This is the Kingdom.” It comes in handy for all sorts of annoying situations – like tuk-tuk drivers who don’t know where the Royal Palace is. If it doesn’t work the first time, keep repeating it under your breath.

A friend came up with another phrase, “Every day is groundhog day.” If things are really getting to you, alternate phrases.

Remove your shoes. Invest is an easy-to-kick off pair as when need to come off at all the temples, people’s houses and many business places.

Use two hands to give or accept everything: money, bills, parcels in shops. A slightly less formal practice is to touch your right forearm with your left hand if doing a one-hander.

Memorize the essential transportation phrases:

bot ch’weng – turn left
bot s’dam – turn right
d/t aowo trahng – go straight
chopep jee nee – stop here


Flash the flesh. Yes, young western women – often accompanied by a blond ponytail – do look adorable in short-shorts and little singlets. But they also attract all the wrong sort of attention from the local males.

Cambodians – by culture and tradition – are a clothes conservative bunch.

Think of the Royal Palace tour rules as a guideline. Covered shoulders for men and women; skirts/shorts that are at least below the knee. If you packed for a stay at the nude Temptation Resort in Mexico do not despair. Go to the market and buy local cotton clothes that you can donate to the street people when you leave.

Expect tuk-tuk drivers and moto-dop riders to know where they are going. Always carry the name card of the hotel or guest house with you. The ones with maps are particularly helpful. Orient yourself so you can navigate your tuk-tuk or motodop back even after a wild night on Street 51. Even after one-or-five-too-many remember the transportation phrases. Alternatively write them down or have them tattooed on the bottom of your hand so you can point to them.

Cause anyone to lose face. No matter how obviously wrong someone is, suck it up. Never criticize in public, point fingers or raise your voice. Do a bit of a sompiah and repeat “This is the Kingdom” under your breath five times.

"Author Jody Hanson"About the Author:
Jody Hanson is an insufferable travel junkie who currently lives in Cambodia. To date she has visited 107 countries, lived in eight and holds passports in three. Her – some would say irresponsible – retirement plan is to keep going until she drops. At that time she wants a Muslim burial: wash the body, wrap it in a white sheet and plant it by sundown. In the meantime, Hanson continues to have more than her share of adventures and misadventures, both of which she embraces equally.

Contact Jody by email: jh@j-hanson.com
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