Cambodian etiquette: a politeness how-to guide

These culture tips are taken from Lonely Planet's guide to Cambodia.

Top 10 tips to earn the respect of the locals

Take your time to learn a little about the local culture in Cambodia. Not only will this ensure that you don't inadvertently cause offence, but it will also ingratiate you to your hosts. Here are a few top tips to help you do that.

1. Dress code

Respect local dress standards, particularly at religious sites. Covering the upper arms and upper legs is appropriate, although some monks will be too polite to enforce this. Always remove your shoes before entering a temple, as well as any hat or head covering. Nude sunbathing is considered totally inappropriate, even on beaches.

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Image by Lars abroad

2. Making a contribution

Since most temples are maintained from the donations received, remember to make a contribution when visiting a temple. When visiting a Khmer home, a small token of gratitude in the form of a gift is always appreciated.

3. Meet and greet

Learn the Cambodian greeting, the sompiah, and use it when introducing yourself to new friends. When beckoning someone over, always wave towards yourself with the palm down, as palm up with fingers raised can be suggestive, even offensive.

4. A woman's touch

Monks are not supposed to touch or be touched by women. If a woman wants to hand something to a monk, the object should be placed within reach of the monk or on the monk's 'receiving cloth'.

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Image by tylerdurden1

5. Keep your cool

No matter how high your blood pressure rises, do not raise your voice or show signs of aggression. This will lead to a 'loss of face' and cause embarrassment to the locals, ensuring the situation gets worse rather than better.

6. It's on the cards

Exchanging business cards is an important part of even the smallest transaction or business contact in Cambodia. Get some printed before you arrive and hand them out like confetti. Always present them with two hands.

7. Deadly chopsticks

Leaving a pair of chopsticks sitting vertically in a rice bowl looks very much like the incense sticks that are burned for the dead. This is a powerful sign and is not appreciated anywhere in Asia.

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Image by alshain49

8. Mean feet

Cambodians like to keep a clean house and it's usual to remove shoes when entering somebody's home. It's rude to point the bottom of your feet towards other people. Never, ever point your feet towards anything sacred, such as an image of Buddha.

9. Hats off to them

As a form of respect to the elderly or other esteemed people, such as monks, take off your hat and bow your head politely when addressing them. Never pat or touch an adult on the head – in Asia, the head is considered the most sacred part of the body.

10. Toothpicks

While digging out those stubborn morsels from between your teeth, it is polite to use one hand to perform the extraction and the other hand to cover your mouth so others can't see you do it.