Your new local habits in Cambodia

Hello everyone,

Living in Cambodia is a great way to immerse in a new culture and lifestyle.

Have you embraced local customs since you've lived in Cambodia? If so, which one(s)?

Did local customs change the way you see things, appreciate life or organize your daily routines? As far as the language is concerned, did you learn new expressions or words and do you use them?

What do you like most about the lifestyle in your host country? Are there any local specificities you are still struggling with?

Thanks in advance,


Hi Priscilla

I hv stayed in PP for 2+ years, working in the garment industry. I hv known a few local friends from workplace. Most locals are friendly but unforunately many of them don't have plan for future or looking for any upgrading for themselves. Many foreigners have the same common quote abt the locals, lazy.  Lazy sound heavy to use but I would rather use the word 'slack'. Very few initiate to learn.  They also do not know how to reciprocate kindness to them. I once financially sponsor a young gal with housing and school fees as she seems to be a good gal who wants a bright future. But this young gal starts to change and hardworking seems to be so difficult for her. At the end of the day, she took me as an enemy when I retracted from my financial support as I noticed she is not putting effort at work and study.  Last month, she stop her job after working for 6 months (I got her a job in a logistic company after she decide to stop working as a private taxi driver). She also stop her university study(supposed to graduate next year) and decide to go USA to work illegally for better income. 

It sadden me that she gave up her family and a good job to go for something unknown. We are not obligated to offer help but when we do, we are taken for granted. When we withdraw from helping, we are taken as enemy.

Well this happens , but it's not only in Cambodia, but the post is informative , as I've heard before with helping homeless organizations here also , you must " vet" them vigorously , in order to make sure your money makes a difference, thank you , good information , beware , if your giving straight up money , sometimes with giving time and knowledge , you get your money's worth so to speak

Hi I used to ride in a motor dock everyday to save my money since it is expensive if I ride in tuktok. But what I miss in my country is the cheap fare. We have a regular fare for the first 4 kilometers and add Php 1.00 per succeeding kilometer. Here in Cambodia I spend $2.25 for my fare everyday! but in the Philippines that amount would be my fare for 3 to 4 days already!.

I agree with what you said "Lazy" when you need something for them to accomplish it would take you days or weeks of waiting with unacceptable reason "busy" but you don't know what they're busy of. but when they need something from you they want it right away as if there's no later or tomorrow even you're still doing something. But about the help some Cambodians are very helpful without asking any in return especially men. As per my experience here in my workplace my men colleagues always concern if I'm ok or offering help, saved me from my mistakes, always well in our conversation sharing about their life and point of views but some females were just look at me or avoiding me even greetings they cannot do. I also noticed them that they don't trust each other but instead they let me know their secrets maybe because I'm an expat and they know that there's someone whom they can keep their secrets to.

Just remember, if you want to help them, don't put expectation from them. Many don't know abt gratitude. They sometimes think we are happy to help them and they dont feel obligated to return any appreciation.

Hey Priscilla,
I lived in Cambodia in 2010 then moved to Thailand for a couple of years. 4 years ago I moved back to Cambodia and married a wonderful girl with a wonderful family. I go to temple with her, attend many weddings, funerals and family gatherings and find the more you embrace the local culture and customs the more enjoyable life is I Cambodia. The people are for the most part the greatest attraction of this country.
I've learned a little of the language, can negotiate properly in any situation however I rely on my wife to help out when the going gets tough.
As with any move to a foreign culture acceptance is the key.
I now prefer beef noodle soup for breakfast.......

I'm having the same problem. Thanks for sharing.  :)

Thanks for your insights. Women seem to live in a different world here than men. I found an article on rape law enforcement  (non-enforcement) and domestic abuse that gave me some perspective.

You are very fortunate to have found a wonderful partner. Please accept my congratulations and a little envy. :)

Thanks for the good wishes. I'm very lucky.

I'd say Cambodia is a great place for a holiday if you're a seasoned traveler. 

The people are generaly nice; but its also typical asian etiquette ( dont flatter yourself ).

I miss my cold mugs of Anchor beer and french fries by the river lol.

Would you like to share this article.  Where can I find it online?  thanks … n_Cambodia

If you Google: Domestic Violence in Cambodia you will find more information, especially the PDF on how laws discriminate against women in Cambodia.

Thanks for your interest in this topic. It will help you understand how Cambodian women will respond to you.

Will Norell

We have been in PNH for over 10 months. I'm here with my Australian husband and my 6yo daughter and 2yo son. My husband found the lifestyle here difficult partly due to the language barrier. It took him 4 month to finally get a job in teaching which he hates. He was hoping to get in the environmental industry which doesn't exist. He has complained about how his students (teenagers) don't listen to him or respect him but they treat their khmer teachers differently maybe because they get spanked?
I think some people are a little lazier here because their wage is crap and specially when they work for someone else. There is a hierarchy here, why bother doing something if you could leave the job for the person younger than you.
We live around Oressey market and they work very hard. Up at 4am  and down at 7pm. The locals selling fresh vegetables and meat are lovely. But sometimes a bit too friendly. My 2yo son is a star where ever he goes. Male or females they love to touch his face and kiss him YIKES!!!! He gets so much attention from these strangers when we're out and I literally have to disinfect him once we get home.
But the sellers in the actual Oressey Market are really rude. They don't like helping you and god forbid you ask them a question about their products and don't make a purchase.
And it's ok to use old ripped up khmer currency but they will not accept torn or stained US notes.
The traffic is crazy, it's about who is more daring to kill themselves or others goes first and they don't like to use their brains pushing in all directions until everyone is stuck. They would rather block traffic then let someone through. They really work for themselves. This is a kingdom of survival of the fittest right? Park anywhere you feel, do what ever you feel. No rules in this country as money buys everything.
Enough with all that negative. I have relatives who loves my husband and they are so caring and lovely. They are hospitable and the women work all day preparing food for the men. They are the way they are because they have to try and survive for themselves in this part of the world because their own greedy government is just as selfish. In general the culture is calm, happy innocent. They love to drink heaps of beers and force it down each other, but that is all fun and games for them.
My kids teachers are all caring and loves my children. I wish I could take them back to Oz with us. Hope you all have a better experience here in Cambodia which is so expensive!!! as for us we are getting the hell out of here.

Are you in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap?  Good idea to leave before your children feel the way you do.
Good luck.

Hi Priscilla,
I have worked in several countries with poor and indigenous people who have been severely traumatised. The usual effect is a breakdown in the social fabric. They forget social obligations, which results in a general loss of cohesiveness in the community. Therefore there is much less belief in anything beyond gaining benefit in the immedite present. Morover this trauma gets passed down and the new dysfunctional behaviours get established. Disregarding the needs of other people, being totally selfish and reserving strategic thinking for mainly corrupt pathways, such as how to steal and rip people off, unfortunately becomes the norm and can remain for generations. It is not helped by having no top-down role models or an education system that doesn't incorporate the teaching of ethics.
The statements above are, of course, broad-brush. I have met many fine Khmer, who have dealt with me in a thoughtful and kind manner, unfortunately they do stand out.
What I find heartening though is to speak with younger Khmer, who are or have taken education seriously and are ambitious to participate in the modern world. Hopefully, their insights and resilience will put the 'wonder' back into the kingdom.

It may also be interesting to hear people's opinions about the varieties of expat behaviour in Cambodia.

I could not have a more opposite experience , I find nobody is rude , and , I'm fascinated to hear these stories , I personally would never consider leaving , but to each their own , I feel like I'm reading about a different country ,sorry , but if I felt this way I too would leave , yesterday!

We are actually in Phnom Penh. But I heard it's nicer in Siem Reap??
It's just a hard life here and I'm glad I've done it because my kids are picking up the language really quickly and I get to spend time with my relos.
The great thing is that I could have a good night out with just $20. It's an experience!! And we've made so many friends (expats) along the way. As locals tend to keep to themselves.
My new habit would be drinking beers everyday.... because it's so hot and cheap :)

I don't know if contributing here is much about personal feelings and personal experience only, but maybe it is? I tend to look at a lot of forums, speak quite a bit with other expats and probably about the same number of Khmer and then try to think about the whole digest. Then there is your own personality and how you perceive things. I do not work here or have any business, but I speak with a lot of people who do and you would have to have rose coloured glasses to declare everything A-OK, especially for Khmer at the bottom end of the economic scale.

Well rose colored glasses, is not the case , kind of believe your treated as you treat people , maybe just could be difference in our perspective , of course not everybody wonderful anywhere , called human nature , but I always remind myself I'm visiting their country , just a thought , but once again , I'm open to being soured on the whole thing if that day comes , but I would certainly leave before I became bitter , maybe something to think about ??

Thanks Will.  Much appreciated.  My younger son and family will be moving to Shinoukville (sp) in January.  My wife and I plan on helping them get established and then move back to the states.  I want to know as much as I can about the Cambodian culture before January.  What you sent me is very helpful.
Best wishes.

I've never been there, but from what I've read S. is a special kind of place because of the tourist economy and beach climate: not typical of the rest of Cambodia. Be sure to visit other areas like Siem Reap and Battambang.

There are sure black sheeps everywhere. I hv just left Phnom Penh after 2 years. Many Asian foreigners I spoke to dealing with locals when staying in PP,  mostly gave negatively comments, just a small percentage are positive.  When foreigners treat the locals good, locals think it's right since they are poor, foreigners are richer.  But when foreigners retreat helping them after realizing  the locals do not appreciate the help, the locals turn the table.

Just don't expect too much from locals. They do not know how to take care of your help.

Yes I agree , you know I've always felt that if your really helping , then gratitude is not nessasary , helping and other people being thankful for it is not the point in helping , sure it's nice , but if we are looking for gratitude , then your giving for the wrong reason , I always try to donate anonymously , this way in not dissipointed and also feel this is the right attitude in giving , but I'm no saint , I sure want the government to know at the end of the year because I want that tax write off , so greedy to the end us Americans ha

I believe based on reading about the subject and some personal experiences, that a society based on oppression such as that found in Cambodia, beginning with the French colonial period and extending to the current domination by Vietnamese elites, ends up creating a master/slave dynamic that is internalized by the oppressed person. Either you are their hated master, or they are your master and can act out all the resentment they feel (mercilessly exploit you.) Unfortunately, the oppressed person doesn't see any other reality. The thin veneer of Buddhism covering the Confucian values of social hierarchies based on "religion", and absolute obedience to those "above" you doesn't help foster love and equality and sharing.

Very nicely put , I'm going to shut up now as you seem a lot smarter and more insightful than myself !!

Hahaha... thanks. I wish I could apply my "smarts" to the world outside my head
Turns out I brought all my "emotional baggage" with me from the it's a real struggle to have a happy retirement here and not just recreate the unhappy life I tried to leave behind.
Good luck to you....

You also ,I was just devestated by my divorce from a women I loved and still do , so I totally understand about emotional baggage , I'm also working on shedding it , my idea was to get as far away as possible , thus Cambodia , good luck , hoping it will all work out for both of us


Sorry for late reply, Twins Guy, think our posts were at cross purposes. I did not speak about how I personally feel about various people and systems in Cambodia, as I don't think it matters much and I generally don't find that people have consistent attitudes over time in any case. I live rurally, have my local sangkat chief over for dinner as well as the local police, who are my neighbours and regularly spend time with Khmer and expat friends. As an expat I am aware of some privileges I can have here and also of my lack of any real rights, so it is not about how I feel on the basis of whatever luggage I may carry from the various countries I have lived in, but about trying to understand this country and how I can adapt to being comfortable and stay engaged  with the issues I hear about. We are all different, with different needs, so what works for you may be anything from impossible to trivial and uninteresting to me. You can refer to your impeccable approach and attitudes only and give yourself a pat on the back no doubt, if that's what you get off on, but if you look at the wider world and  try to understand  something of what is going on in this society, your attitude may have little relevance to the bigger picture. BTW your exchange with M Morell seems a lot more constructive.

Well maybe I gave wrong impression , please excuse me if I made this personal it is and was not , we all have different I'mpressions in same country , and just a twist of my circumstance can be the difference, I have never been accused of having a impeccable approach to anything , ha im sure I have given the wrong impression , but things are not perfect here by any means , most of all I certainly did  not want to criticize your experience are trivialize them , in a old man and I know sometimes I'm givin the benefit of being old , so my deepest apologies , but my approach to life is mine and I find at best 50% of time I'm wrong , maybe I'm stretching that 50% , but please don't take this to mean I have a better approach , most likely I do not , just like the different thoughts on same issues , gosh I'm into a hell of discussion with my brother over USA politics, as I like Clinton he likes trump, although I think I'm right , 18 million people voted for him in primary , so I'm pretty sure I'm not smarter than all 18 million , once again friendly difference of thoughts and opinion, by no means do I think my thoughts are any better than yours , matter of fact I'm always open to changing them , I certainly did not want to offend you , and if I did my deepest apologies, good luck it's obvious you know more about this culture than I do , but patting myself on back , well it's nothing with all the mistakes I have made in life, that I have ever had the luxury to do, I brought a lot of baggage with me here , and I'm doing my best to shed it , probley best I keep my opinion to myself , and yes I have been told this 1000 times , and it looks like you are number 1001, so you the majority, not I , sorry again , maybe I need to just stick to reading , not writing , wish you so good travels and life here atre wherever you are,

I love $1 cold handles by the river 😉😉..PP is more fun than SR and its also much bigger.

I am going to Siem reap for second time Thursday , although first trip in March was
1. So hot!
2 I just spend both days at the temples ( they are fantastic) this trip I'm going to check out the town , I have only lived in small cities , more towns In USA , so I love the big city , and so far I love Phnom Penh , but willing to try something different , as I will be staying in Phnom Penh untill November 1, I feel I need to vote in upcoming election , and spend hoiidays with my children and grand children , my twin 15 year old daughters arrived yesterday , and I'm excited to see them of course and show them around , they to will be spending almost three months with me in Southeast Asia , next summer , so we are going to decide which we all like best for next stay , thank you for reply , I have found this website invaluable, so much good information , and different perspectives , thanks again , and happy travels , my name is Rod

It is a laid back environment. With low skill level n little education, self motivation is difficult.

They need you to paint them a can do picture  n lras by example. There are good workers too.

It is about asskicking to get things going.

Hi Viqiong

You are so right.  Half of the population are teenagers and their parents , either no or low education hasnt been able to educate their children well. So many youngster think a $500 can buy a car. They are just so laid back. Sometimes  asskicking doesnt motivate them.

gulfport :

I love $1 cold handles by the river 😉😉..PP is more fun than SR and its also much bigger.

Horses for courses. For me, PP is a city with terrible traffic, full of self-proclaimed "VIP's" that think traffic rules don't apply to them, scamming Tuk-tuk drivers, frequent bag and phone snatches, lots of pollution, and so on.

Much prefer Temple Town.

Something to consider when in PP is not everyone you deal with is Khmer. There are Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and Philippinoes scattered among the Khmer people. I have never been treated rudely by the Cambodian people. I also do not look for gratitide from the poor I help. I typically do not hang around the touristy areas, instead staying at hotels that are typically frequented by non tourist, I eat either at small local cafe's or street vendors. I do think that sometimes we project our expectations on to the local people if we are not careful. I find the countru, the people and culture fascinating and very stress free.
I know some basic Khmer and can do business in the market or with street vendors. The tuk tuk drivers are sometimes hard to take and some are too pushy otherwise I enjoy my time there and am looking forward to my move there.

I'd never thought of it that way, but that fits; master/slave paradigm.
I have found that if you give help financially, with time, school work, whatever, they will become very demanding for more and appear sincerely upset should you grow weary of the presumption. Suddenly you become a barang skie (western dog).
As a Westerner, I would never become physicaly violent with students, so students would just amuse themselves doing one another's hair and nails, playing on their phones, bullying the weaker ones and stealing their stuff, whereas the Khmer teachers were shockingly violent to their charges and had respect. I soon learn to give the impression that I would happily kill them and their families, and, hey presto, they behaved and became fawning. Very disturbing. I don't work schools, anymore!
Bullying and corrosion isthe only way to get things done here. That or cash then more cash then more cash.
Carrot and stick.
Some are more advanced, though.
This system, though, does give one freedoms that are off limits in the West; I love it. It is more visceral, more human if less humane.

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