Customs & Habits to know in Cambodia

Similar to their neighbors in Vietnam and Thailand, Cambodians of Buddhist tradition exhibit good manners which are worth following in order to have a pleasant stay and visit to their sacred places. A few months ago, Edouard George, our President had the unique opportunity to obtain an audience with the Queen Mother of Cambodia. Ideally, here is another episode of our few travel tips, as well as a bonus on proper etiquette with the Royal Family: 

Photo Laurent Weyl

Etiquette with the Royal Family of Cambodia

Let's first start off with the customs regarding the Royal Family of Cambodia - If you are lucky enough to meet one of the members, you must absolutely respect some precise rules of etiquette. As mentioned earlier, our President, Edouard George, had an audience at the Palace in Phnom Penh with Queen Mother Monineath of Cambodia, who is the widow of King Sihanouk. In 2014, she abdicated her position in favor of their son Sihamoni, who serves as the current King.  

To greet a member of the royal family, you must do a curtsy by bowing in a pronounced manner. 

During an audience, it is preferable to bring gifts such as flowers for the Queen Mother, which always pleases her especially orchids. 

Then, wait until a member of the Royal Family invites you to sit down or serve yourself a drink before doing so.

Photos Laurent Weyl

Say Hello

“Sompiah” is the traditional way to say hello and goodbye in Cambodia. To properly greet, hold your hands together in front of your chest, and then bow your head slightly, while looking at your interlocutor in the eyes to show your respect. The higher your hands are, the more respect is given, and to accompany the “sompiah”, use the expression “susaday” [suzadé], which means “good morning”! 


Table Manners: Watch Out for the Fork

Table etiquette in Cambodia has unique peculiarities - To begin with, it is very rare to find a knife in a restaurant because Cambodians generally only eat with a fork, spoon or chopsticks. It is sometimes considered impolite to put a fork in your mouth, so it is better to use chopsticks or a spoon. You can also use the fork to push food onto the spoon. 

It is not uncommon for foods you did not order to end up on your table, such as: sandwiches, lychees, winter melon drinks and sodas. By all means, be cautious if you eat/drink these items because you will get charged. However, tea is more often free. 


In Sacred Places and Meeting the Monks

You are going to be seeing a lot of monks while traveling in Cambodia, so you need to know how, or rather, how not to interact with them. Women, in particular, should never touch a monk or give them anything (even a monk's mother cannot kiss her son). 

Most monks are not allowed to eat after noon. For this reason, be careful not to eat or snack around them during this time. Also, if a monk is sitting, you should sit down as well before starting a conversation with them.

Never point your feet at something sacred, such as a picture of Buddha, because it is considered very rude. In addition, always respect the local dress standards - especially in religious locations like the Angkor site. Instead, it is more appropriate and acceptable to cover your arms and legs. In addition, always remember to remove your shoes before entering a temple, as well as any hat or headgear. 


As everywhere in Asia, do not touch children's heads.

Never touch a person's head - especially that of a child’s. For according to Cambodians, children's heads are deemed just as sacred as the seat of the soul, so only their parents and geniuses can touch them. Therefore, caressing their heads would be interpreted as stealing their souls.