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20 Essential Greetings and Phrases for Traveling Cambodia

The official language of Cambodia is called Khmer, and is spoken by the majority of the population, as well as in some neighboring regions. Khmer has similar elements and is closely related to Thai and Vietnamese language, though is said to be much easier to learn and speak, as there is less complex tonality as compared to Thai or Vietnamese.

Do I need to learn Khmer?

The short answer is no. In most touristic spots, and workers in hotels, shops, or drivers, would normally be able to communicate in very simple (but sufficient) English with you. However, not everyone in Cambodia can speak English, so learning a few simple phrases can come in handy, and can impress a few locals, making is easier for you to build some quick connections.

Being able to say a few local words may also prevent you from being an easy target or being taken advantage of.

Note that some phrases have formal and informal variants. Formal ones are a good idea when addressing people older than you, or in a higher status. Informal is sufficient if having a casual interaction.

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1. How to say "Hello" in Khmer

Formal: chôm rab suôr (jom REE-up SOO-wer) ជំរាបសួរ

Informal: suô-stei (SOO-wer sa-DUH-ee) សួស្ដី

2. How to say "yes"

Yes (for men): bah (Bah) បាទ

Yes (for women):    Jah              (chaa)              ចាស

3. How to say "no"

No:              Ot Tèh         (ot-tei)             ទេ

4. How to say "Good morning/night"?

Morning: ârŭn suŏ sdei     (Arun SOO-wer sa-DUH-ee')  អរុណសួស្ដី

Night:       réatri suŏ sdei    (Ree Ah-TRE-ee SOO-wer sa-DUH-ee')    រាត្រីសួស្តី

5. How to say "Goodbye"?

léa ​haeuy     (LEE-er HIGH)   លា​ហើយ

6. How to say "Sorry" / "Excuse me"

sŏm toŭs (som-toe)     សុំទោស

7. How to say "Thank You" / "No thank you"

Thank you:   âu kŭn         (Or-koon)      ឣរគុណ

No thank you:    ort té âu kŭn    (ort-TAY or-Koon)   ទេ​អរគុណ

8. How to say "How are you?" / "I'm Fine" / "Take care"

In Khmer, the same phrase can be used to ask "how are you", to reply "I'm fine", and to say "take care". This is an all-around useful phrase that you will hear locals use a lot, so make sure you got the pronunciation right!

sŏkh sâbbay té (sock sa-BYE tay)     សុខសប្បាយ​

9. How to say "Do you speak English?"

ânâk chéh phéasa 'ângôklésâ té? (nak chae pea-asah ong-kleh sah teh)    អ្នកចេះភាសាអង់គ្លេសទេ?

10. How to say "How much is this?"

néh thley bôméan?  (ah NIH thlai pon-MAAN) នេះថ្លៃប៉ុន្មាន?

11. How to say "Too expensive…"

Thlai nah  (tlayee NAH)      ថ្លៃ​ពេក​ហើយ

12. How to say "What is your name?"

Chmûah éy? (cham-moo-ey)  ឈ្មោះ​អ្វី

13. How to say "My name is…"

khnyŭm chhmoŭh...     (knyom-cham-moo… )  ខ្ងុំឈ្មោះ ...

14. How to say "water please"

Sôm tuk (som TUCK) សូម​ទឹក

15. How to say "Where is the toilet?"

bâng-kôn ​nŏuv aina?    (Bang KOH-en NOO-ov ay-nah)      បង្គន់​នៅ​ឯណា?

16. How to say "The bill please"

Sôm Khèt Loy    (Som git Loy)    សូមគិតលុយ

17. How to say "Where can I find the ATM?"

È thi Ôem méan nowènea  (A-Tee-Em mean nou ey na?)    អេធីអឹម មាននៅឯណា

18. How to say "I don't understand"

Min Yûall tèh      (MIN Yo-ahl tei) មិនយល់ទេ 

19. How to say "How do you say this in Khmer?"

This is a particularly useful phrase to learn, as if you get this one down, you can ask any local for the correct pronunciation of any particular word.

Khmêr tha​ mât? (Khmer TA maht)    ខ្មែរ​ថា​ម៉េច

20. How to say "Call the police!"

Chuŏy ​hau ​bolĭâ ​môk!   (Juay hav po-lee maok)     ជួយ​ហៅ​ប៉ូលិស​មក!

Hand Gestures

As with any language, hand gestures are a good supplement to verbal communication, and can help convey your meaning. In many Asian cultures, certain hand gestures can help show respect and politeness.

Similar to Thai and other neighboring languages, bringing your palms together and doing a small bow can be a good way to express gratitude, or when greeting someone. The higher your hands are, the more polite. Normally, bringing your hands up to chest-height or nose-height is most common.

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