How do you greet someone in Cambodia?


In Cambodia, there are two ways of greeting someone, which are formal and informal way. If you want to greet someone, you might say “Chum Reap Sur” with Sampeah gesture by placing your both hands together in front of your face, and slightly bow your head, and it’s a very formal way, which is generally used to show warmly welcome and respect to other people. You can just greet someone by bowing your head down to show respect and politeness without having a word, but it’s an informal way of greeting.

There are five situation of greeting in a formal way that you should know to avoid any confusion.

Formal ways of greeting called “Sampeah” for travelers before visiting Cambodia:

  1. Lift up your both hands together at chest level and bow your head. Normally, this Sampeah is used to greet someone of the same age.
  2. Put your both hands together, and they should be pressed together below your mouth level, to greet your boss or people who are in higher status or older than you.
  3. Put your both hands together and in exact the same level of your nose, to show respect to your parents, and to greet your older relatives and teachers.
  4. As you already know, Cambodian people are kind of believed in spirits, and most of them are Buddhist, so they are showing great respect for monks and the king. Greeting monks and the kings differ from greeting people who are older than you or at the same age as you. Just know that, by greeting monks and the king, you should put your both hands together and placing them at eyebrow level, also don’t forget to slightly bow your head down.
  5. Last but not least, the highest position of Sampeah is when you are at sacred places like in the temples or when you pray for God to protect you, your family, and the whole country. Cambodian people place their both palms together at forehead level when they pray for god or when they are at the sacred places.

As one of Cambodian people, I know that many people are still confused with the hands gestures when greeting someone that you meet for the first time or people who are older than you. Many people in an attempt to be so polite have shown too much confusion by giving the greet of monk level to normal people. These actions are considered to be embarrassed, but still people should be cleared of Sampeah gestures. Please be well-considered before starting your Sampeah gestures to greet someone.

Sampeah is not only used to greet people, but It’s simply used to say thank you or apologize. Doing Sampeah is to show respect and politeness, without doing Sampeah is like a way of expressing an impolite and informal greeting to people in Cambodia.

Informal greeting in Cambodia for traveler should be aware of before visiting this kingdom of wonder.

1. Shaking hand

Shaking hand is not a formal way of greeting in Cambodia. It’s just like a foreigner greeting style, but we Cambodian don’t mind this gestures. This gesture is acceptable, and we really appreciate their respect and politeness. We will be highly appreciated more if foreigners greet us by doing Sampeah gestures because it indicates their understanding of the country’s customs.

Related: Do’s and Don’ts in Cambodia?

2. Nod and smile

Nod and smile are also one of an informal way of greeting, but you can do this greeting in some special cases. For street vendors, children, and strangers, they sometimes don’t need you to do Sampeah gestures, you can just smile and nod a little to express your greeting, respect, and politeness to them.

3. Saying hello (Sur Sdey)

By saying hello or Sur Sdey in Khmer is also an informal way of greeting. You can also say hello or Sur sdey with a little smile to show your greeting if you don’t have any ideas of doing Sampeah gestures towards Cambodian people.

Cambodia is a country that has the amazing culture and many historical places. Cambodian people are friendly, and kind towards everyone, and we will warmly welcome all of travelers and respect them as brothers and sisters.

Cambodian traditional dancers
Cambodian traditional dancers

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