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Useful Phrases for your holiday in Cambodia

| Words by Zoe Crane |

Learning a few phrases before you travel is a sure fire way to raise a smile, and even a few giggles

If you’re planning a holiday to Cambodia you might already know that the language spoken is Khmer, pronounced kuh-mere. Many locals you meet will speak some English, but effort is always appreciated.

A little lingo can always raise a smileA little lingo can always raise a smile

Visiting the Temples

A visit to Cambodia is not complete without a visit to the incredible temples of Angkor, and some of the more remote temples as well. When first struck but how amazing these temples are you might be moved to the words “Nis chea bra sat laor bompot dèl khjnhom thloib khernh” to express “That is the finest temple I have ever seen”.

The days can get pretty steamy, so you will definitely get a chance to try “Kda-oo naH, pray-uhH 'euy” which means "Oh Goodness it's so hot", perfect for when temple touring in the Kingdom can get a bit sweaty! And when the heat of the day gets a bit too much, you can’t go past “Khjnhom neng nov arng hèl teuk neng pheuk cocktail” which means “I’ll be at the pool drinking cocktails”. Best used when you are actually staying at a hotel with a pool and cocktails.

Mr Seng a Travel Indochina local guide in CambodiaMr Seng local guide in Cambodia

Shopping

Can’t get enough of the bargains to be had at Cambodia’s excellent markets? If you’re hanging for your next shopping fix, you could stop a passer-by and ask “Phsar chit ti nis nov èh na?” Or “Where is the nearest market?” Once there, you’ll want to get the best price on that stunning scarf that would be perfect for your niece (and the three for yourself) so try “t’lai pek” meaning “That’s too much!” Remember that bargaining should be fun, don’t take it too seriously.

When you have finally bought all the scarfs, postcards, guidebooks et al, and the persuasive local sellers might not see your point of view about that, try “Awt tay, awkoon. Khnyom mee-uhn roo-uch ha-uhy. Moo-uhy tee-uht khnyom meun truh-oo kaa tay.” This means "No, thank you. I already have this. One more I do not need", which should get your point across nicely.

Local Markets in Siem Reap

Eating and drinking

Cambodia has some delicious dishes including the must try fish amok (our Cambodia country manager’s favourite) but for those with a taste for adventure I’d recommend the regional specialty, fried spiders. Many tourists recoil with horror at the thought of this, but gobble one down and finish with “A ping chean chganh”, meaning “Fried spiders are delicious” and you will be a local hero. You may just need something to wash it down with though, so you can’t go past the more commonly used “Som bière mouy teat”, or “Another beer please”.

You may be surprised to know that Cambodia has some vineyards, which you can visit and do tastings at. If you try this, the phrase “Sra Khmer pit chea laor man” might come in handy, meaning “Cambodian wine is actually pretty good”. If you are in a bar though, maybe stick to a nice French drop as I’m told in general the local stuff is terrible.

Speaking like a local

Now that you’ve mastered a few phrases, you are bound to be asked if you speak Khmer. A nonchalant “tek tek” should do the trick. It means “a little bit” and you will probably get away with it. (You can also use it when you are asked if you would like more chilli/garlic/pepper.)

If you are looking for a more poignant Khmer phrase, use this commonly used proverb. "Tver bonn ban bonn, tver baab ban baab". This literally means "do merit, get merit, do sin get sin" which is the equivalent of saying "what goes around comes around".

If you really want to talk like a local try using “Chra mos srurch” which literally means “sharp nose” but is used to mean a foreigner, or you might hear “barang” which means a European foreigner and is also used to refer to the French colonialists.

Have you tried to speak some Khmer in Cambodia? What happened?

Our small group tours of Cambodia are always flexible and allow plenty of free time for you to meet the locals and try out a few of your newly learned phrases (including the one about cocktails by the pool).