Understanding and How to Behave in Phnom Penh Before Visiting


Understanding and How to Behave in Phnom Penh Before Visiting

Planning a visit to Phnom Penh, the bustling capital of Cambodia, involves more than just booking flights and accommodations. To truly appreciate and respect this vibrant city, understanding its culture and knowing how to behave are essential. Here’s a guide to help you navigate Phnom Penh with grace and respect:

Cultural Sensitivity

1. Respect for Buddhism:
– Buddhism is deeply ingrained in Cambodian culture. When visiting temples such as Wat Phnom or the Royal Palace, dress modestly (covering shoulders and knees) and remove shoes before entering sacred areas.
– Refrain from pointing your feet towards Buddha statues or monks, as this is considered disrespectful.

2. Greetings and Politeness:
– Cambodians value politeness and respect. Greet people with a friendly “Sua s’dei” (hello) and a slight bow.
– Use “Som Orkun” (thank you) and “Soksah-bye” (happy) when interacting with locals. Learning a few basic Khmer phrases will be appreciated.

[Learn basic Khmer]

Cultural Norms

3. Public Behavior:
– Public displays of affection are frowned upon. Keep intimate gestures private to respect local norms.
– Avoid raising your voice or displaying anger in public. Cambodians value harmony and a calm demeanor.

4. Tipping and Bargaining:
– Tipping isn’t expected but is appreciated, especially in restaurants and for exceptional service.
– Bargaining is common in markets like Central Market or Russian Market. Approach it with a smile and a friendly negotiation spirit.

Understanding Cambodia’s History

5. Sensitivity to History:
– Cambodia has a painful history, notably under the Khmer Rouge regime. Sites like the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are solemn places. Dress respectfully and behave solemnly to honor the memory of those affected.

Practical Tips

6. Traffic and Safety:
– Traffic in Phnom Penh can be chaotic. Exercise caution when crossing streets, and use designated pedestrian crossings when available.
– Keep valuables secure, especially in crowded areas and markets.

7. Environmental Responsibility:
– Cambodia is working towards environmental sustainability. Respect the environment by minimizing plastic usage and participating in responsible tourism practices.

Dining and Etiquette

8. Dining Etiquette:
– Wait to be seated at restaurants. It’s polite to let the host or elders order first.
– Use both hands to receive or offer something, such as money or a gift.


Understanding and respecting Phnom Penh’s culture and customs before your visit will enrich your experience and foster positive interactions with locals. By embracing Cambodian traditions, showing respect at cultural sites, and practicing common courtesy, you’ll not only enjoy your time in Phnom Penh but also leave a positive impression as a culturally sensitive traveler. Prepare to be enchanted by the city’s history, charm, and warm hospitality as you embark on your journey through the heart of Cambodia.

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