Thank you for reading our first article on Cambodian customs and traditions! We hope you enjoy our next item on the quirks of living in this great country.
Unlike Europe or the western world, Cambodian greetings don’t involve a kiss or the shaking of hands. Instead, they offer a Sompiah, which is a traditional greeting where you place the palms of your hands together, bow your head, and with a smile say, “Chum reap sour” or “Sousday” which are both forms of hello in Khmer.
The rule is that the higher you hold your hands and the deeper the bow, the more respect you offer the other person. Similarly, it is appropriate to give all money with two hands and if you have to pass something to another person, you should offer it with your right hand whilst touching your right arm with your left hand.
Any time you enter a Cambodian home or temple it is common courtesy to remove your shoes. As you enter, your host is sure to offer you a welcome drink of tea which should be accepted with a gracious “Akun” (thank you).
If you are lucky enough to be invited to share their dinner, do not think about having a snack beforehand. You’ll sit down at the table around 6:30 pm and be home for sure 2 hours later. Cambodians don’t spend as much time at the table as we do, forget about your 4-hour lunches on Sundays with your family. Also, don’t look for a knife around your plate, the cutlery usually stops at the fork, chopsticks, and spoon.
For a real lesson in flexibility, try sitting on the ground at a Khmer household with your feet always placed behind your knees. Cambodians are able to sit in this position for hours without needing to readjust but after a few minutes we are sure you will be squirming in your seat.
Prahok! If you don’t know what it is, we are sure that you will smell it before you see it. Made from fermented fish paste, Cambodians eat this item in the same way that we French eat our cheese. It is a truly Cambodian food, and an experience that you will never forget…be brave!
But Cambodian fare is not always so intense. Even though its neighbours’ dishes are more celebrated internationally, the food here is amazing and you won’t be able to spend any time here without falling in love with the flavours of Amok, or Lok Lak. There are so many fruits here that many people in Europe don’t even know about and we encourage you to taste as much as you possibly can, even the insects, spiders and stuffed frogs!
One of the big perks of being in Cambodia is the price of the beer. You can get a can of local lager for under a dollar and you even have the opportunity to win prizes ranging from another can, to fifty thousand Riel, or even a brand new car!
Road traffic is an interesting phenomenon to observe in Cambodia. Even if it may seem chaotic, it is actually the result of a certain hierarchy of priorities: at the top is the big pickup truck, then in order, the SUV, the small car, the tuk-tuk, the motorcycle, the bicycle and finally the pedestrian. Whatever you do, don’t try to fight the hierarchy. On the mean streets of Phnom Penh, size matters!
Don’t be surprised to see a whole family on one motorcycle. The father at the front, the mother at the back, the first child stuck between his parents, the second standing in front of the father pretending to drive, and the baby on its mother’s knee.