If it is your first time, here are some essential things you need to know to have a fun and safe trip in Cambodia.
By nature, Cambodians are gentle so when you’re walking through the capital inappropriately sporting a bikini top or no shirt for men, don’t expect to be confronted. However, do expect to insult. Buddhism dominates in Cambodia and Cambodians are modest people, so remember where you are and dress appropriately. When entering pagodas, religious structures, temples or palaces, women must cover their shoulders and wear a skirt or trousers that fall below the knees. Several tourists last year found themselves in court after posing nude at Angkor Wat.
Loss of face
Cambodians smile at everything. This doesn’t always mean they are happy or that when they nod and smile in agreement that they understand, which can become frustrating. Loss of face is a huge issue in Cambodia, which includes admitting you don’t know something. Often, if the smile is followed by a nervous giggle, it’s best to ask again. So when you order your meal without extra chilli and the waitress smiles, looks slightly baffled and lets out a laugh, it’s best to double check your order.
There’s no shaking hands or waving in Cambodia. The official way of greeting is a sampeah, and there are different ways of carrying this out to show respect. The sampeah is achieved by placing both palms together like a lotus flower in front of the chest. For peers, the level is kept at chest height, for elders or higher-ranking people, the hands are placed at mouth level, and for parents, grandparents or teachers, it is at nose level. For kings and monks it is at eyebrow level, and when praying, it reaches the forehead.
Keep your cool
Getting back to the loss of face, anger gets you nowhere in Cambodia. Shouting or raising your voice will only cause embarrassment to the person you’re directing your anger at and will only further fuel the situation. Remember to stay calm, firmly reiterate your point and try explaining further.
Driving in circles
Most tuk tuk drivers at hotels will have a working knowledge of the city but don’t expect others to, even if they claim to know where they’re going. It’s best to vaguely figure out your route first, or use Google maps to direct you. Don’t be fooled into thinking pointing it out on a map will help because when it’s being read upside down and the driver is vaguely pointing somewhere, you’ll sharp realise many can’t read maps either.
Don’t give to kids
Despite the rising economy and swelling middle-class, poverty is rife across Cambodia and tourist hotspots come coupled with both begging and selling. Kids often sell books, bracelets and trinkets at bars and restaurants throughout the day and night. No matter how cute they are or how convincing they seem, don’t fall into the trap of buying or giving as this only serves to fuel the cycle. NGO Friends International has devised a series of tips for travelers.
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