We get it, you are wanting to learn more about the mysteries of Cambodia. From its beautiful jungles and beaches, to the warm and welcoming people, and with a whole host of ancient temples to explore! There is a lot of ground to cover. You’re going to need to arm yourself with more than a camera and a guidebook. You need a smattering of the language to help you on your adventures. Well worry no more, we have a hand-picked selection of the top 55 need-to-know Cambodian (or Khmer) words and phrases that will see you through.
You might even make one or two friends along the way! Yes, take the time to learn a new language whilst you travel, and your experiences will become richer. Use your new found skills to travel deeper into the culture and landscape than any of your mates would dare. Then come back and tell the tales!
So check out our guide, and commit these phrases to memory. We will cove many eventualities, and all the basic necessities. Order food like a pro, knowing how each word is pronounced. Book the best tours and embark on the best adventures with a handful of great organisational phrases. We cover small talk, and those all-important formal and informal salutations! Travel like a pro with our handy guide.
Greetings, Goodbyes and Getting to know you!
You never get a second chance at a first impression, so it’s great to have some common sentences in your lexicon. Just the bare minimum Khmer phrases will garner you a lot of praise. You would be surprised how many people travel to southeast Asia without learning so much as the basic hello.
- Chom Reap Sour (chom reap sore) // Hello (formal)
- Chom Reap Lear // Goodbye (formal)
- Leah heuy (LEE-hi) // Goodbye (informal)
This is a formal hello, with a standard and formal goodbye within the Khmer language. Cambodians have an extremely respectful culture, with elders and those of a higher social standing greeted using this formal manner. If in doubt, use the formal! Though if the person you are addressing is younger or the same age as you, it is safe to use the informal generally.
Here are some more general greetings:
- Arun suor sdei // Good morning
- Tiveah suor sdei // Good afternoon
- Sayoanh suor sdei (sayun soresday) // good evening
- Reahtrey suor sdei // Goodnight
It is common to hear this throughout the streets. Often in threes. The former, ‘Bah’ is the masculine pronunciation used by men, whilst the latter ‘Jah’ or chaa is the feminine pronunciation, used by women.
- Bah (baah) OR Jah (chaa) // Yes
The words below will also help you to no end when getting around politely in Cambodia.
- Ot teh (ot-tei) // No
- Som mehta // Please
- Arkun (arg-koon) // Thank you
- Som dtoh (som-toe) //Excuse me
The phrase som dtoh also works as ‘sorry’, and is great to use when you don’t understand something. Or even if you accidentally bump into someone!
If you want to get into some general chit-chat and make a new friend, you will find the Khmer phrases below invaluable.
- Niak mao pi patet nah? // Where are you from?
- K’nyom mao pi… (knyom mo-pee) // I come from…
- Neak chhmua ey? (chm-moo ey) // What is your name?
- Knyom Chhmua… (knyom-cham-moo) // My name is…
- Tau neak sok sapbaiy the? (TOW nyak sok SO-bye te) // How are you?
- K’nyom sok sapbaiy (knyom sok SO-bye) // I’m fine
Try adding Arkun (thank you), to the end of your answers, and watch as the locals swoon over you polite response!
Basic Khmer phrases like this can save you time and money when you are lost or stuck.
- Noev eah nah…? (NO-when-ee)// Where is…?
- Bawngkohn (bank-ON) // Toilet
- Sohnthakia (SON-takier) // Hotel
- Mon dtee bpeth (MON-tee-pet) // Hospital
- S’thaanii bpohlis (S-taani bopoli) // police station
And these simple directional words are super useful when needing to direct your tuk tuk driver to your destination!
- Baht schweng (bart-shweng) // Turn left
- Baht Saddam (bart-sadam) // Turn right
- Da Trong (da-trong) // Go straight
- Chop (chop) // Stop
- Tini (tinny) // here
Why not have a play around with combining a few of these to form a complete sentence. And if it moves you, add a ‘som’ to be extra respectful. What does ‘baht saddam tini som’ mean? (Spoiler alert, the answer is above)
Cambodia has so much to offer. So much so, that you might find yourself enlisting the help of a local guide or tour company to see it all. If your need help booking a trip, or just a point in the right direction, these should come in handy. And if you spend some time learning the local tongue, you might find local guides are a little more accommodating. You might even have a better adventure, pick up a few extra tips, and perhaps earn a new friend to show you some undiscovered parts of the country.
- Khnom chng tow leng (knyom chung tow leng) // I want to visit
- K’nyom min yl te (Knyom men yooul teh) // I don’t understand
- Yerng moke dol, pel na? (YENG mock do pel-NA) // When do we arrive?
- Kanlengna (KAN-lineh)// where
- Hetoavei (HET-avoy) // why
- T’ngai nih (TING-ay nee) // today
- T’ngai saaik (TING-ay saayk) // Tomorrow
- M’serl menh (miserl mine) // Yesterday
And finally, the get out of jail free card…
- Tii nih mian niak jeh piasah ohngkleh teh? // Does anyone speak English?
Whilst it can be super useful to know a few Cambodian phrases, sometimes you just need to explain something in your own language, lest it get lost in translation. We wouldn’t open with this, however. It is best to try and throw out a few Khmer phrases before you ask to speak English with someone. It is respectful.
Days of the Week
Now this is important when planning when you will be taking your trips, so make sure to learn this. You don’t want to turn up for an adventure only to find it departed yesterday! Time
- T’ngai jan (TING-ay jan) // Monday
- T’ngai onggeea (TING-ay ang-KEEA) // Tuesday
- T’ngai bpoot (TING-ay put) // Wednesday
- T’ngai bprahoaa (TING-ay pra-OOA) // Thursday
- T’ngai sok (TING-ay SO) // Friday
- T’ngai sao (TING-ay saoo) // Saturday
- T’ngai aadteut (TING-ay atut) // Sunday
When it comes to mastering the basics of a new language, food is where it is at! And Cambodian people absolutely love talking about food and cooking. So this little list may come in super handy for you. who are we kidding, everyone will need these in their lexicon.
- Phochniyodthan // Restaurant
- Knyom khleam (knoym-kleam)// I’m hungry
- Mahobe (ma-hoob) // Food
- Mo-nuh dtoom saik (MO-nu toom sayik) // Vegetarian
- Kynom jong baan bon-aem (kynom jon ban BON-em) // I want dessert
- Chhnang (ch-nang) // Delicious
Just as the Cambodians love to talk about food, they love to be complimented on their dishes too. Give your waiter or chef a huge smile by complimenting your meal!
- Sohm tach (som tack) // Water please
If you learn nothing else, this is an essential! It gets hot in Camobodia, humid too. So when you find yourself feeling the strain, a little water goes a long way. Saying please (som) is polite, though it is not generally considered to be essential. You will find a lot of locals forego this formality in exchange for speedy delivery.
- Som ket loy (som-ket-loy)/ The bill please
- Bo man (bow-man) // How much?
- T’lay (t-lay) // too expensive
Khmer Phrases like this are invaluable when dining, but can also be super handy when shopping in markets or feasting on street food!
What Language do they speak in Cambodia?
The official language spoken in Cambodia is called Khmer, though you may also hear it referred to as ‘Cambodian’. Belonging to the Mon-Khmer languages family, an indigenous collection of languages native to south-east Asia, it is spoken by 13 million people! It is even common amongst northern parts of Thailand and also in southern Vietnam.
The first thing to say is Khmer is written very differently from English. Rather than the types of letters used in the latin and germanic alphabet, it looks, to the untrained eye, like a series of squiggles, dots and lines. As such, spelling interpretations of Khmer into the latin-derived English can differ. However, so long as you follow the pronunciation guide, and are willing to work with a bit of trial and error, you will be fine. This is what learning languages is all about anyway, and the more you immerse yourself, the faster you will flourish!
What is the Common Greeting in Cambodia?
The most common greeting in Cambodia is ‘Susadei‘ (pronounced soosaday), meaning hello! This is commonly used informally to greet friends and acquaintances. These kinds of greetings are usually also combined with Sampeah. This is traditional hand-gesture given to establish an earnest greeting from your heart, to the heart of the receiver.
To formulate a sampeah, simply touch your palms together in front of your heart and bow your head to your finger tips as you verbalise your salutation. However, there are several different sampeah handplacings, which change based on who you are addressing. It is worth learning these to earn extras brownie points with the locals.
A similar thing can be said regarding the common greeting in Cambodia. Whilst you could used the informal ‘Susadei’ to greet everyone you meet, there are more respectful and formal salutations that elders will prefer! Let’s look more closely at both the formal and informal salutations you can expect to hear.
Are you ready for Cambodia?
Learning a Khmer can be daunting, though most often the fear that holds us back is not being perfect. Whilst this is a natural concern, it is wise to remember that everyone starts somewhere! It is also worth noting that locals are more often than not delighted to hear your speak their mother tongue. They will be encouraging, and could even help you learn a word or two more!
Be brave, and try out your new found skills through total immersion. And if it helps, share this with your travel buddies and start a friendly game of who can learn all these Cambodian/Khmer phrases fastest! A little healthy competition never did anyone any harm.
As the Cambodians say ‘Rikreay!’ (enjoy)
Not sure if Cambodia is for you? Check out our ultimate guide to Laos vs Cambodia!