Tourists may be familiar with the idiom “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Each country has its own special culture that visitors should follow to avoid misunderstandings. Before a trip to Cambodia, learn something about the greeting rituals used in the country and find out what to expect from transport, shopping and other customs.
The sampeah is a formal greeting in Cambodia, especially used to show respect to those of high position. For this greeting, Khmer people place their palms together in a prayer-like fashion while bowing slightly. There are different ways of bowing when performing the sampeah. When praying to the Buddha, the person places his palms together close to his or her face and brings his or her hands toward the ground three times. It is also important to note that when greeting elders, the higher the hands and the lower the bow, the more respect is shown. It is a sign of respect and politeness.
Today, Cambodians do shake hands in greeting, as in other countries around the world, or use the sampeah before shaking hands. You can kiss women’s cheeks if they are close friends, as the French greeting style or Beso-Beso in the Philippines.
You should not point your hands at someone or touch their heads, even children’s heads or hair, as those are considered as the most sacred parts of the body.
Tourists should be careful to never have the soles of your feet directly toward anyone. When in a Khmer house or temple, you should not sit cross-legged. Visitors must take off shoes and hat before entering a temple. It is not allowed for tourists to sit on a higher position than a monk. Women should never touch a monk.
It is never acceptable to show anger, which expresses a loss of control and is extremely impolite. In case you are unsatisfied, for example, a waiter brings you the wrong dish, a seller does not understand what you want, or someone jumps queue at the cinema, you should smile and keep calm.
We all know that Cambodia is developing after the war and service standards are often lower than tourists may expect. So keep calm with waiters, receptionists and others around you.
You should be aware of Cambodia’s disputes with neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, mainly concerning small land areas near the borders, which are the legacy of war. Be careful not to compare Cambodia with other countries in front of local people.
Like in other South East Asian countries, Cambodians show great respect at Buddhist sites and temples. Visitors should be careful to have suitably formal, modest clothes when entering temples or the royal castle in Phnom Penh.
Krama is a popular scarf, helpful and easily taken along during a trip. The handmade scarf which can be wrapped around the head or neck is made of cotton, and is very useful for tourists to avoid the sun and dust in Cambodia. Krama is also used for many other purposes, such as carrying children, as a tablecloth or as a hammock.
Tourists must be careful with motorbike taxi drivers, tuk tuk drivers and pedicab drivers. You should plan your transport carefully for each trip. Traffic is hectic and attention to safety is lax, some say this is because more than 90 percent of Cambodians believe in reincarnation!
In Cambodia, drivers sit on the left and drive on the right, but tourists must observe every direction because Cambodian traffic is chaotic.
Many visitors love spending time in Cambodian traditional markets or jewelry shops, silk shops, decorative shops or clothes shops. The most famous markets are the Russian Market and Phsar Toul Tompong Market.
Remember that many items on sale are counterfeits, so you should ask your friends before making a purchase.
Cambodian currency is the Riel, but USD is accepted widely so tourists do not need to spend much time changing. Until now, the Cambodian economy and bank systems are controlled by USD.
You should carry cash with you; the Cambodian economy runs on a cash basis and at many shops you can only pay in cash.
Cambodian shops will not accept US currency notes that are torn or dirty, so be sure to have notes that are new and not damaged.
Security and Health care
Cambodian medical and emergency services are very poor, so purchasing travel health insurance is a must before you leave home. Tourists should not drink tap water and be wary of ice water in restaurants.
Pick-pocketing and robbing are common in Phnom Penh, so pay attention to your surroundings and keep your valuables close.
Do not expect clean public toilets everywhere in Cambodia. Keep this in mind before leaving on a long trip, and if you do have to use a ‘bush toilet’ always look around for any signs warning of land not yet cleared from bombs and mines.
To get a visa, your passport must be valid for at least 6 months. You should also make copies of your visa and passport, which are helpful in case it is lost.
Note that the checked luggage limit on most flights here is only 20 kg. For heavier bags you have to pay USD9 for each additional kilogram.
You will need USD25 for airport tax upon leaving Cambodia to travel to your next destination.
Cambodia is home to many festivals, which are great times to visit, but if you come to Cambodia on business, remember that most businesses, offices, shops, government offices and banks are closed during the festivals.