Cambodia is a favorite destination for holidaymakers from around the world, attracted by its stunning scenery, ancient temples, and welcoming culture. Cambodians are known to be friendly and proud to show their traditions to tourists.
However, it’s important that foreign tourists show respect for locals and their values throughout their time in Cambodia. This is highly appreciated in all cultures and ensures a more positive experience for travelers.
A Southeast Asian gem, Cambodia may seem quite different from what Western visitors are used to. In this article, you’ll find useful tips and advice to make the best of your time in the country.
What Do I Need to Know Before Traveling to Cambodia?
A trip well planned is a hassle-free one. That’s why it’s important to become familiar with your destination before traveling.
Cambodia is an overall very safe country. The U.S. government ranks it as a Level 1 country for safety, meaning that visitors are advised to exercise normal precautions. Except for avoiding very remote areas, there is nothing that visitors should worry about in advance.
Cambodia allows visa-free travel to citizens of only 9 countries. This means that you’re very likely to need a Cambodian visa (click here to learn more) in order to cross the border and start exploring.
90% of Cambodian people speak Khmer, the official language of the country. It would surely be difficult to learn Khmer before leaving but Cambodians really appreciate a foreigner greeting them in the local language. Here are a few useful expressions:
- Sou sdey: “Hello”
- Li hi: “Bye”
- Ah kun: “Thank you”
Cambodians are used to tourists and will be able to communicate with you in English. Due to the country’s past as a colony, French is also widely spoken.
What to Wear in Cambodia
The dress code in Cambodia isn’t particularly strict. Your number 1 priority when packing your bags should be to bring comfortable clothing. You’ll likely spend hours exploring incredible archaeological sites surrounded by lush jungle and depending on the season, the weather can get very hot and humid.
That’s why comfortable shoes and light, loose trousers and shirts should definitely find a place in your suitcase. Don’t forget your sunglasses and a hat.
That said, there are places where conservative clothes are required. That’s the case, for example, for temples and sacred sites like the famous Angkor Wat, but also for the Royal Palace and monuments commemorating the Civil War. In these sites, shorts and sleeveless shirts are not allowed. If you want to be admitted, you will have to keep your knees, shoulders, and cleavage covered.
What to Avoid in Cambodia
Cambodians are very open and welcoming people who understand that tourists come from different cultures and are not used to their etiquette. A faux-pas will not get you in serious trouble.
However, tourists should try to avoid the following:
- Taking photos of Buddhist monks without their permission
- Disrupting prayers and other rites while visiting a temple
- Touching the head of people, including children, as it is considered the most sacred part of the body
- Public displays of affection
- Touching a Buddha statue
What can you not eat in Cambodia?
You’re likely to fall in love with Cambodian cuisine and its mouth-watering street food but some caution should be exercised with specific fresh ingredients to avoid feeling sick during your holiday.
In general, it’s advisable to stick to bottled water and only eat cooked foods. Things to avoid include:
- Raw vegetables and salad
- Fruit that you cannot peel
- Meat and fish that have not been thoroughly cooked and/ or have been sitting outside for a while before being served
There are several gestures and behaviors that are considered normal in Cambodian culture but that Westerners may not be used to.
The common greeting in Cambodia is the som pas. To perform a som pas, press the palms of your hands together in front of your face, bow slightly, and say the words “Chum Reap Suor.” This will impress the locals greatly.
Since Cambodian people are so friendly, you may be invited to someone’s home. In that case, it’s common practice to buy a gift, which must be offered with both hands. Remember to take your shoes off before entering the house.
Since the temperature and humidity may make it difficult to work at some point during the day, rest times and naps are very common in Cambodia. Moreover, note that the workday starts very early for most businesses, when the morning air is still fresh. For this reason, it’s best to avoid leaving your activities for the afternoon while at the same time remembering that most restaurants close the kitchen at around 9 pm due to the early morning start.
If you don’t see a price tag, it’s considered normal to bargain for the final price of an item when shopping. If you walk away, you’re likely to be called back and offered a better deal. Make sure to agree on the ride fare of tuk-tuks before getting onboard.
Daniel Moore is an experienced content writer. He is associated with many renowned travel blogs as a guest author where he shares his valuable travel tips with the audience.