Dos and Don’ts when Traveling in Cambodia

dos and donts when traveling in cambodia

When preparing for a trip to Cambodia, there are several things a traveler should take in to consideration. Apart from checking health information before traveling to Cambodia, foreign travelers should find out if they need a visa to visit the country. There are only a few countries whose citizens can visit Cambodia visa-free for short stays. All other foreign nationals are required to obtain either a Cambodia eVisa or visa on arrival in order to gain entry to the country.

The Cambodian eVisa is available through a simple Cambodia online visa application form which only takes a few minutes to complete with personal and passport information, eliminating the need to apply from an embassy or consulate or wait in border queues for a visa on arrival. It allows a total stay of 30 consecutive days in the country, and applicants receive an approved Cambodia eVisa visa email.

Once the traveler has received an approved visa for Cambodia, they will be able to begin planning their stay in the country. There are some things travelers should take care to avoid while in Cambodia, such as participating in an elephant ride, which can encourage cruel practices, and disrespecting locals by not following local customs. The best way to avoid the latter is to brush up on common etiquette in Cambodia before departing for your trip.

Cambodia Etiquette

The best way to impress locals in Cambodia is to learn the common greeting, known as som pas. Cambodians greet each other with the gesture of pressing their palms close together in front of their face and slightly bowing forward, while saying “Chum Reap Suor”.

As elders are held in high regard in Cambodian society, the hands are held higher during som pas when greeting either elders, teachers or officials, with the fingertips either touching the chin or nose. Other instances where you might want to hold your hands higher during som pas include to show extreme gratitude or sincere apology.

Hand shaking as a greeting is also becoming more popular in Cambodia, particularly among men and after a som pas has already been exchanged. The best practice for greetings in Cambodia is to return the welcome gesture you were originally given.

Some other important rules of Cambodian etiquette you should practice while in the country:

  • Present a gift to a Cambodian person with both hands, especially an elder
  • While in the company of an elder, allow them to take the lead in all activities
  • Try to never sit higher up than the eldest seated person in the room
  • Do not touch or pat the head of anyone, even children, as the head is considered the most sacred part of the body in Cambodian and Buddhist culture
  • Do not use your feet to point at someone or something, or to to push an object to someone, as feet are considered the lowest part of the body in Cambodia
  • Ask for permission before taking any photographs of local people
  • Avoid public displays of affection, considered inappropriate behavior in Cambodia
  • Take your shoes off at the entrance to someone’s home.

What to Wear in Cambodia

Although Cambodia is a hot, tropical country, locals tend to dress as modestly as possible. In general, tourists are not expected to cover up too much outside of the exceptions of temples and other sacred buildings. Shorts and t-shirts are considered perfectly suitable attire for outdoor wear, although tourists should avoid wearing clothes that are too revealing, such as miniskirts, short shorts, or tight pants.

When visiting the Buddhists temples in Cambodia, or entering a government building or someone’s home, tourists are expected to dress smart and more conservatively. Women are expected to wear a knee-length skirt or pants, and are able to wear a t-shirt or a blouse with either long or short sleeves. All visitors to sacred sites should remember to remove their shoes and hat, and completely avoid wearing any clothing with religious imagery such as depictions of Buddha or Hindu gods.

Cambodian Rules for Temples

Apart from the strict clothing rules for pagodas (temples) in Cambodia, there are several other regulations for Cambodia’s sacred sites that visitors should keep in mind. One of the most important is the need to obtain a temple pass in order to visit the busiest sacred sites in the country, including the iconic Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.

When visiting a temple in Cambodia, it’s important to remember that Buddhist monks are deeply revered in Cambodian society, and should be addressed with respect at all times. Women in particular should take care to not touch a monk’s robes or body, or hand a monk an object.

Other rules that visitors should abide by when visiting a sacred site in Cambodia include:

  • Avoid shouting, laughing, or speaking excessively loudly on sacred grounds.
  • Avoid any kind of disrespectful conversation while in a pagoda
  • Turn off all electronic devices when visiting a temple, and remove headphones
  • Do not touch a Buddha statue
  • Do not turn your back to a Buddha Statue until you are least a few meters away
  • Ask for permission for taking photographs of the Buddha, and leave a small offering in the donation box if you do
  • Avoid sitting higher up than any seated monks or the Buddha statue
  • Do not sit with crossed legs or legs outstretched if you have to sit on a floor in a temple. You can sit on your heels. Completely avoid pointing your feet at the Buddha.