When you travel abroad it is really important to learn about the culture and etiquette of the destination that you are travelling to.
Whilst most of us know what is and isn’t considered offensive in European destinations, those who go on tours to Cambodia and other countries in South East Asia can be forgiven if they do not know what is deemed good manners and what is considered rude.
In Cambodia the main religion is Buddhism, and this means that certain actions can be regarded differently than they would here in the UK. In the past, holidaymakers have been deported for stripping and got into trouble for disrespecting local customs.
So with this in mind we have asked a number of experts to share tips about social etiquette in Cambodia and what you should wear to some of the stunning temples that the country boasts.
It is important to be respectful of any rules and regulations in Cambodia, no matter whether you think they sound absurd or not.
JB & Renee, who own the travel site Will fly for food, said it is important to be as respectful as possible, especially at the likes of Angkor Wat.
They said; “Our tour guide from a recent trip to Turkey put it best: ‘Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It no longer belongs to Turkey, it belongs to the entire world. It is all our responsibility to take care of her and ensure that she is here for future generations.’”
They added, “The same applies to Angkor. We are all responsible for her preservation. When you visit, remember to be as respectful as possible. Admire her beauty, take all the pictures you want, but try not to touch anything. Each unnecessary touch brings her closer to decay, and when she’s gone, she’ll be gone forever.”
Do a little research
Mike from the Bemused Backpacker says that a little research can go a long way when you are travelling to a country you know little about.
He says, “Doing research on local culture and customs beforehand is essential, and respecting those local rules and norms should always come before your own fun and entertainment as a traveller. It is all about respecting the culture you are a visitor in.”
In an article about the importance of respect for travellers he adds, “No one expects you to completely understand all the nuances and practicalities of each culture you visit, but they do expect you to do just a little research, know just a little bit about the culture and think and act responsibly.”
Millions of holidaymakers travel to the likes of Angkor Wat and other spiritual sites in Cambodia in an attempt to get a grasp of the culture. To help preserve Angkor Wat and other important religious sites as well as to enhance visitors experiences there are a number of guidelines visitors need to follow.
UNESCO have shared a number of rules visitors to Angkor Wat and other religious sites need to follow and one of the most important to be aware of is that touching carvings or leaning on fragile structures, moving or taking artefacts and doing any graffiti is prohibited.
Shorts and skirts above the knees as well as showing off bare shoulders are not allowed in sacred places, according to UNESCO.
Visitors are also encouraged not to take backpacks, tripods and umbrellas with sharp tips to temples and ancient monuments as they can cause damage to these important sites.
So if you are planning a trip to Angkor Wat then make sure you dress respectfully and wear either long shorts, a long skirt/dress or trousers.
Monks are highly respected in Cambodia and across most of South East Asia. This means that if you want to take a photograph of them you should ask permission first.
If you are a female traveller then touching a monk (even a handshake) is forbidden. Women should not stand or sit too close to monks either, so be aware to follow these rules.
Do not give candy or money to children
UNESCO also advise visitors to Cambodia to not buy candy or items for children and not to give them money as this can encourage them not to go to school and instead beg for money.
This advice and more is detailed nicely in the below:
Handshakes or the sompeyar
Handshakes have now become widespread in Cambodia as Cambodian men greet each other with a handshake and greet foreigners with a handshake as well.
The traditional Cambodian greeting is called the sompeyar and is still used by women to greet foreigners.
The gesture is one of politeness and respect and is where the hands are placed together with the fingers pointing upwards in front of the chest and the head leans forward as if you were bowing.
Displays of affection
It is best to avoid displays of affection in public. Although times are changing, an article on Rough Guides states that people can still find holding hands or linking arms offensive.
This is even more offensive in the provinces of Cambodia, so if you are travelling with your partner try not kiss or hold hands in public.
Table etiquette in Cambodia is very different from here in the UK. For a start it is very rare that you will find a knife at a restaurant as generally Cambodians only eat with a fork, chopsticks or a spoon.
It is deemed rude to put the fork in your mouth, according to Travel Fish, and therefore it is best to use chopsticks or a spoon. You can use the fork to push food on to the spoon.
It is also not uncommon for foods that you have not ordered to be placed on your table such as sandwiches, lychee, winter melon drinks and coke. If you eat/drink these items you will be charged, but if it is tea then that is often free.
For the lowdown on when to go check out our article on the best time to visit Cambodia