Cambodian Culture - Rich culture of Cambodia

Cambodian Culture - Rich culture of Cambodia

You won't immediately find out when coming here as a tourist, that certain things in the traditions of the Khmers are quite different than in the western mentalities. But when living here, you will year by year learn about and as soon you thought that you understand about things, you will see that you just understood about nothing. The way to learn about people living in this country is to learn their language. Otherwise you won't have any contact here others than just people thinking about how to get as much money out of the western visitor as possible. The following things explains the western world hitting the Khmer mentality.

Loosing Faces

Khmers are quiet and patient people and to get angry means somebody is loosing his face. Now westerners are usually not that patient people. Khmers often like to get westerners a bit angry and to make funny jokes when they achieved to see a farang loosing his face. But they do absolutely not appreciate if western make same jokes with them.

I have no money - Admien loi

The Admien loi is the story what you will hear every day once coming to this country. You will hear it from people really having no money and the same way you will hear it from people driving luxury cars and having several houses. But what most of those Khmers really don't have is money. As soon they have money, they will invest it in gold, land, cars, houses, real estate or whatever else. And then it's time again to explain the western people living usually cheap, driving the cheapest cars and living in small cheap rooms here....i have no money...can you pay me...give me...borrow me.

I have no money - Borrowing Money

Consider it as a present when you borrow a Khmer money. You will never ever get it back. You will get asked every single day if you could borrow money to someone over here. Sometimes it's real and people really don't have much, but you will make sometimes a long face when you get asked if you could borrow someone a couple thousand dollars for buying the next better cars. And your face will even be longer when the same guy asking you for money for his nice car is seeing yourself driving a small motorbike.

A westerner wants something back from a Khmer

It's the land of smile as long you give, pay and make presents. But even you have an agreement that someone has to give you something back later you will see any other face than a smiling one. Depends on the amount of money or on the value of things you want back how dangerous it's getting for you. When it's just about smaller amounts the Khmer will just make mobbing with a westerner until he leaves everything behind and runs away. When it's about bigger amounts the westerner will bring himself into massive danger and he will see that whole Khmer families will stick together against him to protect the gattered things.

Goin' out with Khmers

Usually when going out with Khmers you are considered as an ATM card and when the bill is coming it usually comes straight away into your hands. Sometimes Khmers like to check out westerners how far they can go with them and even you thought you paid once enough and your Khmer friends could once pay your bill. You are wrong. It's not gonna happen. You could pay their bills 1000 times and even maybe one of them is owner of a certain business and you need something small from him....You will make a long face again, when you see you get charged 1 dollar from the same guy you invited for several hundred or thousand dollars before.

You are my brother

Being a brother of a Khmer as westerner means, you are not his real brother, but he started to like you a bit and will not squeeze you as hard as before any more. It means, that the Khmer started to respect a westerner and maybe i will happen that a westerner is getting certain things and services for free...sometimes. But still the money will go just in one direction.

Setting up a business for Khmers

As long you bring things and money to someone, he will always give you a smile. Westerners are setting businesses up over here usually for their girlfriends and themselves. And often it's all in the name of the girlfriend, because westerners cannot own land in this country. As long as you are paying and investing you will be on the safe side. But as soon you stop with payments you will see different faces and more family members coming by. When you stopped payments you got useless and you will soon see yourself getting bills in the own business yhou brought up after they overtook it from you. The day you stopped to pay is usually the day to get rid of a westerner. And the way how to stay with Khmers together over long time is. Let them know there will be more and do it a slow way.


As long a westerner is useful, it's as in Thailand the land of smiles. But when a westerner stopped payments and help the smiles usually very often end quite immediately and the mobbing chapter starts. Mobbing is the commmon way to get rid of a westerner. Khmers are world champions in mobbing and the procedures start with ignoring, not speaking with the westerner any more and you will see yourself opposed and sitting alone against whole clans doing this games with you until you give up and run away. The way to stop mobbing is to start payments again and let them know there is something to get from you.

Building this country up

Cambodia had almost nothing a couple years ago. They opened the borders then to the western world as Thailand did before 25 years and everybody is welcome to open his own business over here. Initially when it all started in 2006 and the first westerners in crowd came over here, land leases have been given out for 10 years and more to dream conditions. Westerners could lease land right on beaches for 200 bucks with a 10 years lease. In the meantime prices for those leases are 5-10 times higher and leases go down to 5 years. Often when westerners are stuck in their things and built something on a running out lease, negotiations with the landlord is then often getting a bit inconvenient when trying to extend such leases and when the Khmer landlord sees the inconvenient situation of the westerners they often increase prices of the lease a couple times higher than before and the period for the new lease is usually just a few more years then (3-5). It is still the way that borders are open for anybody and any westerner is getting a business visa in the hope he brings all his money over here. But it won't last more than 5-10 years until the whole infrastructure is built up here and then it will be time for the same thing what happened in Thailand by Thaksin in 2006. Thailand enforced Visa regulations end of 2006 and it got almost impossible for westerners to life in Thailand if they were not 50 years old. The Thais overtook the whole thing built up by the westerners and tried to kick them all out....except of those ones retired bringing just money and not taking something as well. Many of those which were used to life in Thailand changed to Cambodia after 2006 when they got tired of the visa runs which they had to do all 3 month ( 2 month visa + 1 month extension ).


When staying a bit longer here in country, many westerners will have to pay deposits for houses, apartments, guest houses or whatever they rent out from Khmers. Usually the westerner will improve the value of the things with making it a bit nicer and often it happens, as soon he is not investing any more, the troubles will start. When Khmers see a more valuable object they could get back and rent it out for more again, they will try to get rid of the westerner...and of course...without payback of any deposits. So the stories about annoyed westerners over here are quite often about lost deposits. And even the deal was done with a western guy when signing up contracts. When it's about giving back any deposits, his Khmer wife or girlfriend will appear to handle to inconvenient situation.

Conflicts & the Sorry

Whatever a westerner is doing wrong, Khmers will expect a sorry from a westerner and mostly it's fine afterwards. But don't expect a sorry from a Khmer. Whatever he did wrong. I can end up a police stations and he will lie as much as he can to get as winner out of it. And there will never be a sorry. Now to get along with such things afterwards, you as westerner have to go to the Khmer and say sorry, even you have been right. Otherwise the conflict will never end. Happen sometimes that whole Khmer families split up just because none of them is able to go to another one to say. Sorry, let's forget about. That way smaller things can get to big shows with major consequences for everybody.


Think back what happened in this country before 30 years. It was the way that everyone with any skills got brought to killing fields just because a young man and his 2 friends ( Pol Pot ) educated in France had the unbelievable idea to bring Mao's idea about communism to Cambodia. So anyone having skills and influence got removed by the Khmer rouge and what was left of it have been people without education, fighting for something bringing them no prosperity into their country. A land of communism and slaves. When you look now 35 years later you will soon find out that most people are highly uneducated and understandings about things and absolute basic. And that's about human decent behaviour as well in conflict situations. How could it be other than that. But god thanks this country is developing now quick and the younger generation will be skilled. Most of the people living in this country are very young and plenty of them are going to in the meantime not that bad schools. You have almost none of the older generation which would speak English, but you have 8 years old Khmer children speaking at least English and if they grow up with a westerner, those children speak with 5 years already 3 languages sometimes.

What Khmers think about westerners - Karaoke vs Girlie bars

When Khmers are doing certain things with women it's happening in Karaoke where they sing with young women and it ends at nearby hotel rooms afterwards. What Khmers would never understand is why western men are socializing with ancient prostitutes after they got them out their girlie bars. So western men having Khmer girlfriends which are ancient prostitutes have a very low respect by Khmers. Often it's the way, that newcomers come here stay with well known prostitutes known by the Khmers. Consequence of all will be that none of the Khmers will make the mistake to be seen with such a westerner. If a westerner wants to get the respect of the Khmers he has to be married with an average Khmer woman what brings up a couple problem. Usually those woman have absolutely no idea how to deal with a western person and usually the westerner will not be able to access this class of Khmer women which are speaking English, when not living here long time and when not speaking the nations language. So where it almost always ends is that western men living here are dealing with girls and the lower class of people that way. First step to get acceptance is probably to learn Khmer. And this will take a couple years with a couple girls as girlfriends between.

Khmer language

Being a western person and having foreign people in your own country brings up something very basic. You expect that foreigners living in your country are speaking your language and behave the way you are used to in your own country. Now what foreigners are doing in Thailand and Cambodia is, most of them have not even the idea to learn the domestic language and try to teach Khmers about their western lifestyle to get along with it. It's mostly working just because of the high tolerance of Khmers. As long the westerner is bringing a load of money over here, he can do whatever he wants. But usually what is basic in a foreign country when living here is to learn the language. Khmer is completely different than Thai and what makes it that hard to learn is, that even you bought a dictionary which tries to explain you pronunciation, you won't have a change. The way it works is to ask Khmer people about every single word, what is extremely time consuming and most uneducated Khmers which speak a "yesterday I go" English wouldn't even give you the right translation for your word. To learn this language it's working the same way as learning any other language. Learn 2000 words first, start to speak small sentences afterwards and next step is trying to understand TV channels, which is a bit easier than understanding dialects of any provinces with loud music behind. The first 2000 words are in the same section on this website and it was plenty of work to get them down in my pronunciation in German, but maybe it works as well for English speaking people a bit better than the available dictionaries.


Khmer usually are well dressed with long shorts and proper shirts. Being a high and well accepted person means in Cambodia to wear proper clothes. Now that's the point where certain people of the western world are irritating the Khmers. Dressed with easy and cheap clothes means here having no money. And this is often not true when westerners are going holidays. But it's a little trick to let Khmer people believe you have no money. Khmer women always wear long clothes and sometimes even cover their faces not to get dark skinned by the sun.

Tanned Skin

Having white skin in Asia means having money. So whatever is having darking skin than white here let's the people think, this person has no money. Often Asian people cover their hands, faces and even wear socks not to get brown somewhere to fit into this scheme of rich and poor. But how to explain the Asian people over here that westerners coming from northern countries often pay 50 bucks an hour at solarium to get a bit darker than the average white color in rainy cold countries.

Being Higher

For people living in Asia it's all about to show the neighbour and other people how rich and high they are. They need to drive the bigger car, need to have the bigger house, the better motorbike and the more gold on their arms to let other people know about their wealth. Now this is sometimes a bit hard to understand as usually the real wealthy people in the western world don't usually really like to let other people straight away know about their wealth. Even westerners like to drive nice cars as well, you will never see that many 4.7 and 5.7 litre Lexus Jeeps as in Cambodia. What you sometimes see is not always real of course and plenty of people driving such monster vehicles are living in very small cheap rooms and houses. But important to show on the street who is the boss. The start-up with the whole thing is to have the most expensive mobile phone and that brings it now up, that almost anyone is going Samsung and for those who can afford the 200 dollar more expensive iPhones.

Pawn Shops

Imagine a Khmer has no money to pay his monthly rental for home or whatever. So first step to fix this situations which is quite common is to bring valuable things to the pawn shop, where they pay often up to 20% interest a week ( not a year ). That way they get their 200 dollar out of the pawnshop for a 540 dollar Samsung Galaxy Note II. Next step will be, how to pay weekly interest back to the pawn shop until 1-2 month they got somehow the money together to get their phones back. Things deposed in pawn shops are usually phones and gold and what westerners often hear over here is if you could not help to get their things back from the pawn shops with borrowing money which never comes back of course.

Coming from Provinces and living in rich cities

Often Khmers are coming from the provinces and are working in the rich tourist frequented cities as Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. All of them in the hope to get rich as quick as possible and sending back money to the families in the province. But usually those people are working for salaries around 100 dollar a month and every westerner would wonder how to survive with those couple dollar for a month. And it's then just possible, when several people share the same room. Even the smallest room in Cambodia costs already at least 70 dollar a month and together with a bit electric it's 100 for sure. So impossible for a Khmer person working in an average position to have his own home. But in the provinces those people and tehir families usually have their own land and properties and when working in cities they often just achieve to send a handful dollar a month back to province every month. Another section how to make the quick money in cities is prostitution, where Khmer women make up to 2000-3000 dollar a month. But that's another chapter and the how to having a western husband abroad and several western and 1 Khmer boyfriend over here. Often men changed their work and went into construction work where it's in the meantime possible to make 6 dollars a day, around 200 dollar a month.


Not really hard to understand why westerners are a target which lets Thai and Khmer people smile in Asia. An average income in Thailand is around 200 dollar and the same work brings 100 dollar in Cambodia. But as long Khmers are having their own properties they are usually getting along with it and just have to pay for a bit food and electric. It's then getting difficult to life with a 100 dollar a month, when they come from abroad and have to pay rentals for rooms. Even people working in higher positions in the government usually make not more than 300 dollar a month, and that's the why and where the corruption chapter is starting. And with corruption in the right position it's easy to top western managers salaries. Even here.


Now about the why most westerners really like to life in Cambodia is: You give a smile and you get a smile back. And this is for free. When coming from the western world you got used to it that you do not even know your neighbour after 10 years living next to him. None in the western world is talking to each other, anyone has enough money to fix his own things and none would have to ask the neighbour for a bit help. Depends on the country and it's region, but the western world is something where you will be glad to speak with somebody new once in a year and after work people are that stressed up that they just wanna be alone. And this is completely different in Cambodia, where everyone always has time for a talk and a smile. And whatever is hard and makes it difficult for westerners to life in this country and to deal with it's people. The relaxed style and the non-existing lonely feeling make it worth to come and life here. There is always somebody around for a talk. Source:

Deepak Kamboj

Deepak Kamboj

Deepak Kamboj started and conceptualized the powerful interactive platform - in September 2002, which today is the biggest and most popular online community portal for Kambojas in the world. He was inspired by the social and community work carried out by his father Shri Nanak Chand Kamboj. He has done research on the history, social aspects, political growth and economical situation of the Kamboj community. Deepak Kamboj is an author of various articles about the history of Kamboj community and people.