Dos and Don’ts in CambodiaAndrew Mason
The Khmer people highly value manners and respect, especially regarding religion. They are warm and welcoming by nature and will generally forgive foreigners for their mistakes, but taking the time to learn the local customs will make a big difference to your travel experience.
Take a look around and you will soon notice that the people of Cambodia tend to dress conservatively, and it is best for visitors to follow suit, especially when visiting sacred places such as temples. Despite the heat, men should keep their shirts on at all times, while it is also best to avoid wearing sleeveless t-shirts and shorts in temples. It is also impolite to wear shoes inside temples as well as family homes and some businesses.
In the Temple
Be careful in your treatment of Buddha images as they are extremely sacred. It is better to avoid touching them altogether but if you do have to touch them, handle with extreme care and never touch someone’s personal Buddha statue or amulet unless you are invited to. It is rude to point the soles of your feet towards a Buddha image, and it is best when sitting to tuck your feet to one side so that the soles point backwards. There are certain parts of the temple that you may not be allowed into or cannot touch or sit on. Look for signs or follow the examples of others if you are unsure.
Monks are forbidden from having female contact, so women must take care to keep out of their way if coming across a monk in a crowded street or bus. Although women are permitted to talk to monks, even their mothers and sisters must first pass any objects such as food to a man before the monk can handle it.
If you are lucky enough to score an invitation to a Khmer family home, it is important to observe the correct etiquette. Each home has a special place, either just inside the doorway or just outside, where shoes are kept. Make sure that you remove your shoes and place them here and follow the actions of the other diners when it comes to eating. The head is considered sacred by Khmer people and it is important to avoid touching people’s heads, while the feet are unclean and should not be used to point with.
In the conservative Khmer society, kissing and holding hands in public with members of the opposite sex is taboo and should be avoided.