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Greeting Rituals in Cambodia

Updated on January 9, 2016
A Cambodian Doing the Greeting
A Cambodian Doing the Greeting | Source

The Cambodia Greeting Ritual

With their palms put together as in a prayer and bowing slightly, the Cambodians do this Sampeah saying Choum Reap Sur (for hello) and saying Choum Reap Lear (for goodbye).

The Sampeah is performed in different ways depending on the age and status of the person one is greeting.

As respect is central to Cambodian culture, they have distinct ways of addressing each other. Formally, the Cambodians address a man with the respectful prefix Lok (Mr.) and Lok Srey (Mrs.) followed by surname and given name. Following Lok only with a surname is impolite so be sure you catch both names.

Within the family, they use Lok Ta for grandfather, Lok Yeay for grandmother, Ming for aunt, Oum or Pue for uncle, Bong Bros for brothers and Bong Srey for sisters. Nowadays, those of the same ages often just call each other with their given names.

As in many cultures, tradition sometimes gives way to modernism. But in Cambodia, even between ages, respect is still very much expected. You often find yourself being asked your age not because they are nosy but because they want to address you properly.

Note: This intro picture is of our friend, Soeung Sameang, who happily greeted us when we came back this time to Cambodia.

Planning a trip to Cambodia? - Here's a good guide for you

This book explores the different provinces of Cambodia including some of the remote ones such as Mondulkiri and suggests things you can do such as watching the Irawaddy dolphins, taking a tuktuk and other unique experiences you can enjoy in Cambodia.

National Geographic Traveler: Cambodia
National Geographic Traveler: Cambodia

Written by a fellow familiar with the region, this book is worth reading.


5. Various Ways of Doing the Cambodian Greeting, Sampeah

1. Cambodian Greeting for friends of the same age - Both palms are placed together facing each other at the chest level


2. Cambodian Greeting for persons more senior in rank and age - Palms are placed together facing each other reaching the mouth level


3. Cambodia greeting for parents, grandparents and teachers - Palms are placed together facing each other at the nose level


4. Cambodian Greeting for the king and monks - Palms are placed together at the level of the eyebrows


5. Praying to God and other sacred deities in Cambodia - Palms are placed at the forehead facing each other

Angkor and the Khmer Civilization (Ancient Peoples and Places)
Angkor and the Khmer Civilization (Ancient Peoples and Places)

This book is a good introduction to understanding Khmer culture.


The Sampeah: Greeting Ritual at the Heart of Cambodian Culture - Know more about Cambodian Culture

Majority of Cambodians are Khmer. Khmer practice Theravada Buddhism so this is the major influence in the rituals in Cambodia although many Khmer ancient customs and traditions have already been practiced in the ancient kingdom of Angkor as part of the community rites so they had been a part of their own unique culture as a people.

You can read about the ancient civilization of Angkor.

Do's and Dont's in Cambodian Culture

  1. Avoid touching a child or another person in the head especially putting your palm on the head of a child.
  2. Avoid pointing your toe towards another person. It is very impolite.
  3. Try to use your right hand when handing things over or receiving these. Also, in eating. Sorry for left hand people.
  4. Avoid pointing your fingers at the person's face. It is impolite even if sometimes, you only meant it for emphasis.

Another Sampeah Greeting from Cambodia - From Panya

Sampeah | Source

Cambodian Khmer Teach Children to Do the Sampeah Early

Panya at this age already knows how to do the Sampeah. It is often one of the first things parents teach their children. It is their pride when their kids are able to do this and kids are always made to perform this in front of guests.

Other Cambodian words of politeness

Learn a few words of greeting in Khmer and use these when you're there. The Cambodians will truly appreciate this gesture.

  1. How are you?

    luk-sohk-sah-bahy chia dteh?

    Sometimes I just ask: Sohk-sah-bahy(bai)? and they are happy.

  2. Fine, thanks.

    Sohk sah-bahy chia dteh, O-ku!n

  3. Thank you


  4. Good Morning

    Ah-ru!n soou-sdey

  5. Good Afternoon

    Dti-via soou-sdey

  6. Good Evening

    Sahy-yu!n soou-sdey

More useful Cambodian words

Please: Sohm

Sorry: Sohm-toh

Market: Phsar

Thank you: Akun

Yes: Baat (Man) and Cha(Woman)

No: Otay

Cambodian Greeting on Videos - Watch them do the Sampeah

Video showing how to greet the Cambodian way.

Tutorial Video on Cambodian Greetings

Sampeah greeting from a young Cambodian - We got this greeting in the Park in Cambodia

Little Girl Doing Sampeah
Little Girl Doing Sampeah | Source

This little girl was giving Sampeah to everyone she met in the park one Saturday afternoon.

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When you were in Cambodia, did you do the sampeah?

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Sampeah Greeting for the Monks - Monks on Procession in Cambodia

Sampeah to the Monks
Sampeah to the Monks | Source

Rank and Age Make a Difference in the Greeting

As you have already seen in the former pictures, rank and age differentiate the type of Sampeah greeting. In this picture, you see the greeting for the monks. Many people even kneel as the monks pass or when they offer something to the monks or when they ask for the monks blessing.

Take note if you're a woman, you cannot touch the monks. You have to keep your distance. Our friend monk can put his arms around my husband and hug him when we have not seen him for long but he can't do it to me. A big smile coupled with words of greeting is enough. I just do the Sampeah.

The Cambodian King Father doing the Sampeah Greeting - Cambodia in Mourning for the King Father

Offering to the King Father
Offering to the King Father | Source

Pillars of Cambodian Culture: Religion, King and Nation

The King is central to Cambodia's culture together with the nation and religion: Religion, King, Nation are the 3 pillars of Cambodian society. Cambodians also have elaborate rituals around death.

Cambodians, young and old, continue to pay their last respects to the King Father, Norodom Sihanouk. This speaks of how much Cambodians love their King and the respect accorded him. The mourning for the King Father will last for 3 months during which all scheduled celebrations like the water festival will be cancelled.

Young People Doing Sampeah Greeting to the King Father - Their Respect to the King

Offering to the KIng Father
Offering to the KIng Father | Source

A Cambodian Family Offering at the Temple - Kneeling in front of their God

Cambodian Family Praying in the Monastery
Cambodian Family Praying in the Monastery | Source
Living Dharma: Teachings and Meditation Instructions from Twelve Theravada Masters
Living Dharma: Teachings and Meditation Instructions from Twelve Theravada Masters

If you are only beginning to understand Theravada Buddhism, this is the book to guide you.


Cambodian Culture is Founded on Theravada Buddhism - Understand Theravada Buddhism Better

A book to help you understand Theravada Buddhism on which is founded the culture of Cambodia. Buddhism is at the heart of life of the Khmer, about 95% of Cambodians. This book simplifies the rather complicated precepts of this type of Buddhism through the teachings of its masters.

A Pagoda in Cambodia - At the Center of Cambodian Life

Monastery in Cambodia
Monastery in Cambodia | Source

Monks Walking in the Streets of Phnom Penh - Sets the tone in the city

Monks in the Streets of Phnom Penh
Monks in the Streets of Phnom Penh | Source

Cambodian Groom doing a Sampheah - Greeting his Guests

Cambodian Groom Greeting Guests
Cambodian Groom Greeting Guests | Source

Cambodian Bride Doing the Sampheah - Greeting the Guests

Cambodian Bride Doing Traditional Greeting
Cambodian Bride Doing Traditional Greeting | Source

The Sampeah is used by everyone - To greet each other

Temple in Bokor Mountain
Temple in Bokor Mountain | Source

The automatic reaction of Cambodians is always to do the Sampeah when meeting someone.

Cambodian Statues Doing Sampeah Greeting - You can see the statues in this pose all over Cambodia

Statues in Wat Botum in Traditional Cambodian
Statues in Wat Botum in Traditional Cambodian | Source

Try using Sampheah for greeting - While in Cambodia

The Royal Palace of Cambodia
The Royal Palace of Cambodia | Source

Another try at Sampheah - You get used to it

The Royal Palace in Cambodia
The Royal Palace in Cambodia | Source

Cambodians greet each other based on their Buddhist Beliefs - What's on auction on Theravada Buddhism

Cambodia follows Theravada Buddhism and all the important rituals and ceremonies in Cambodian Khmer life are founded on this. There are also other ethnicities in Cambodia and they of course have their own way of greeting but the majority are the Khmer so what is often referred to as Cambodian is mainly Khmer.

Traditional Songs are always sung in Cambodian gathering - They accompany every ritual in Cambodia

Dos & Don'ts in Cambodia
Dos & Don'ts in Cambodia

if you're travelling to Cambodia, get this book. It is excellent in its description and entertaining to read.


Know the dos and don'ts in Cambodia - Here's a book to help you

Understanding the do's and don'ts in the place you are visiting is a necessary preparation especially when you are going there for business. But even if you are going as a tourist, it is still important so you can act sensitively.

Share with us how other cultures greet each other - Or just leave us your thoughts on this lens

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    • profile image

      dellgirl 3 years ago

      Wow, this is so interesting and it's very informative. I learned a lot from your awesome photos. Thanks for the great lesson on greetings in Cambodia.

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 3 years ago from Europe

      I used the Sampheah greeting in Cambodia, but I'm sure I got the levels wrong. It didn't matter though, as I think people understood that I was trying to get it right and appreciated that.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @darkflowers: Am happy you enjoyed learning more about other cultures.

    • darkflowers profile image

      Anja Toetenel 3 years ago from The Hague, the Netherlands

      I had no idea Cambodia has such a wide variety of ways to greet each other, it is very interesting to learn about his. Thank you for your beautiful Lens ful of wondeful information and beautiful photos, it's a pleasure to learn more about your culture!

    • KamalaEmbroidery profile image

      KamalaEmbroidery 4 years ago

      It's very similar to the greeting used in India. "Namaste" - my soul bows to your soul. Except I've never noticed differences in India for social status. That part's more like bowing in Japan which I never could get right. Cambodia is so beautiful. I've wanted to visit for a long time, especially Angkor Wat.

    • profile image

      hmommers 4 years ago

      We shake hands or kiss on the cheek, depending on how well you know each other.

      I never knew the hands gave different levels in Cambodja. Not sure I would dare to visit out of fear to upset anybody.

      Great lens.

    • butternyk profile image

      butternyk 4 years ago

      Great place to be

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I love the way the Cambodian people greet, in India we too greet with a "Namaste or Namaskara".

    • profile image

      crstnblue 4 years ago

      Very interesting lens, Aesta1, thanks for sharing!


    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Oh, forgot to mention that I noticed the blessing didn't take when I was here in September, it has to be a year or so now....but it is a delight to revisit your work, always a labor of love!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I was absolutely fascinated the first time I came here and it is a pleasure to return to do a little dusting once again on your excellent teaching of the greeting rituals of Cambodia...beautifully presented with such a sense of honoring!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @LiteraryMind: It is indeed fascinating.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      What a great lens. It is so interesting to learn about other cultures.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @xtianfriborg13: Angkor Wat is a monument to that.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @takkhisa: Yes, I have seen it in Thailand but not in Sri Lanka for every day greeting.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 4 years ago

      I think Buddhists greet such way all over the world. I am a Buddhist and in my culture we greet the same way you do in Cambodia. Great lens.

    • profile image

      xtianfriborg13 4 years ago

      Goes to show the Cambodia has a very rich culture. It's important we keep those in mind.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @TaraWojt: I hope you get a chance to visit Cambodia one day.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @anonymous: I am glad you did learn some things from the greeting rituals of Cambodia.

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