Researching the local dress code is good practice for foreign visitors every time they are planning a trip abroad and Cambodia is no exception.
Just like applying for your visa in advance and making sure there is accommodation available if you’re traveling during the peak season, knowing what to pack will make your holiday more hassle-free and enjoyable.
The weather isn’t the only factor to take into account. Of course, tourists are advised to wear comfortable clothes at all times and especially when walking around the many landmarks and tourist attractions that Cambodia has to offer. However, they are also advised to follow the local dress code and etiquette, which can be considered slightly more conservative than what most Western visitors are used to.
Traditional Cambodian clothing is made of the finest cotton and silk. It’s designed to keep one cool and comfortable during hot and humid days and, therefore, is ideal for tourists too.
What to Wear on Holiday in Cambodia
Staying comfortable should be your number 1 priority while holidaying in Cambodia. Although there are a rainy season and a ‘cold’ one in Cambodia (from August to October), you can expect high humidity and temperatures almost all year round. 95 °F and 90% humidity are not rare occurrences.
Loose and light clothing will be your best bet to stay fresh as you explore the country — cotton and linen are usually the materials of choice for tourists and locals alike while white and other neutral colors will keep you safe from both sun rays and annoying bugs. Don’t forget a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
Is It OK to Wear Shorts in Cambodia?
You will soon notice that locals tend to dress more on the conservative side compared to what you may be used to during the summer in the West. Although swimsuits and shorts are considered the norm at the beach and are not unusual on the islands in general, it’s unlikely that you’ll see Cambodians wear shorts and tank tops in most towns.
There are then specific sites (temples and sacred sites, the Royal Palace, and somber monuments in Phnom Penh commemorating the Civil War, for example) where bare knees and shoulders are not acceptable and you will not be allowed in if you’re wearing shorts.
Is There a Dress Code at Angkor Wat?
Once the capital of the Khmer Empire (8th to 16th century), Angkor Wat is today still an active spiritual site attended by Buddhist monks and local devouts for worship. Yet, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is also one of the most visited tourist attractions in Asia.
The APSARA National Authority (ANA) is the institution responsible for the management and conservation of the area. Part of its work is also the effort to ‘harmonize the tourist experience with public safety and respect towards [the local] community’.
They issued the official Angkor Wat Visitor Code of Conduct after liaising with local communities, visitors, tour guides, and restoration teams. The Code of Conduct includes simple rules for tourists who wish to explore the site respectfully and covers topics like access to restricted areas, smoking, dress codes, and other Dos and Don’ts.
The dress code for Angkor Wat prohibits revealing clothes such as garments that leave shoulders, knees, and cleavage exposed. It also informs visitors that monks are respected and revered and should not be touched or approached for photographs, especially by women. It should be noted that Angkor Wat is a smoke-free site.
What Is the Traditional Dress of Cambodia?
The majority of Cambodians dress casually on most occasions. During festivities and other formal events, they may wear a fully traditional outfit.
Cambodia is proud of its textiles and silk weaving is considered an important part of Cambodia’s cultural past. Ever since ancient times, local women have been using complex methods (such as the twill technique) and intricate patterns.
The Cambodian Sarong: the Sampot
Used by men and women across the country and considered the national garment, the Sampot is a rectangular cloth worn around the waist. Its history goes back to the Funan era, when it came into use due to a royal order issued by the King.
The Sampot can be draped and folded in multiple ways and there are several variations in style and material which may be an indication of the wearer’s social status.
One Cloth for Many Uses: the Krama
Few garments impress foreigners like the krama. Used ubiquitously by children, men, and women in all regions, it has a surprisingly varied range of uses. It consists of a thin cloth made of silk or cotton and it can be ornate with several patterns — although most people prefer a simple gingham pattern and red or blue colors.
Most Cambodians wear the krama around their head as a scarf or bandanna to protect themselves from the scorching sun. However, it can be used as a decorative garment or even as a hammock for children.
Finally, it’s also considered a form of weaponry by Bokator fighters, who wrap it around their heads or fists. The color of the krama will indicate a fighter’s martial art skill level — from white (the lowest level) to black (the most advanced level).