Cambodia culture is dominated by the Khmer people, who make up between 90-95% of the population.
The Khmer people have imbued this Southeast Asian country with its own rich culture and history that stretch back for many centuries into the past.
One of the best features of Cambodian culture is the warmth of the Cambodian people.
Today the majority of Cambodians are Theravada Buddhist and their religion has a marked effect on their culture, customs, traditions and etiquette.
Understanding this side of Cambodia is important to get all you can from your visit and avoid any embarrassment.
Customs in Cambodia
Unlike western culture, where individual rights and freedoms are held dear, in Cambodia culture the group’s needs come before the individual’s needs.
Like many other Asian nations, the concept of “face” is also important to Cambodians and visitors should be aware of this and their actions to avoid anyone losing face in any situation. In Cambodian custom, face is generally lost when people are criticized or embarrassed publicly and face can be given by giving compliments.
Greeting Each OtherIn Cambodia culture the traditional greeting is a little bow with the hands clasped together like in prayer: your bow will be deeper for a more highly respected person.
Some Cambodians have taken to the western practice of shaking hands, but the bow remains the more usual greeting. People are usually addressed with the honorific title “lok” for men and “lok srey” for women followed by the first name, or both first and last name.
Some western travelers may be somewhat shocked to see same sex friends hugging each other, walking down the street hand in hand or arm in arm. These are considered non-sexual displays of friendship and are quite acceptable.
Public displays of affection between romantic couples however, are not culturally appropriate in Cambodia and will probably be considered offensive.
In western culture, we tend to judge someone that will not meet our eyes as shifty. In Cambodia culture, indirect eye contact is a form of respect and direct eye contact is usually only made with social equals.
- A big no-no in Cambodia and in most of Southeast Asia is to touch anyone on top of the head.
- Down at the other end, it is not considered polite to point your feet at anyone and especially not at a Buddha statue or Monk.
- If entering a temple, ensure that you sit cross-legged to avoid offence.
- In temples men should wear long pants, so no hairy legs poking gout thanks gents, and women should avoid any clothing that exposes the shoulders.
- Avoid handing anything to anybody with your left hand.
- To pass things politely, touch your left hand to your right elbow and pass the object with your right hand.
- It is polite to remove your shoes before entering someone’s house and obligatory in a temple.
So In Short...
Cambodian people are very friendly and warm people. They understand
that you come from a different culture and will be patient of small
cultural faux pas, so no worries there!
However, they will also appreciate an effort to understand some aspects of Cambodia culture. This would make a big difference in your interaction with the locals, in a positive way.
Have A Great Story About The Culture?
Do you have a great story about this? How did you find Khmer culture? Shocked, blended right in? Share it!
Where would you like to go next?Back to top
Go to Poverty in Cambodia for a brief account how it came about and how to deal with it while you're there.
What do the local folks wear? What should you wear? Here's a quick look into the Khmer's traditional dresses and also a simple dress code for travelers.
The locals are a big fan of karaoke. But apart from the pop songs, there are other kinds too. The classical Cambodian music is deeply valued by the people.
In downtown Siem Reap, you'll see restaurants offering free traditional dance with your meal. Here's you'll find out more about those dances and other kinds as well.
Learn simples phrases that earn smiles from the locals. It's a great ice breaker and perhaps, just perhaps, they'll be extra nicer to you for learning their language.
Go from Cambodia Culture to Cambodia Travel Information.
Return from Holiday In Angkor Wat (homepage).