Greeting Rituals in Cambodia
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.
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
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
- Avoid touching a child or another person in the head especially putting your palm on the head of a child.
- Avoid pointing your toe towards another person. It is very impolite.
- Try to use your right hand when handing things over or receiving these. Also, in eating. Sorry for left hand people.
- 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
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.
- How are you?
luk-sohk-sah-bahy chia dteh?
Sometimes I just ask: Sohk-sah-bahy(bai)? and they are happy.
- Fine, thanks.
Sohk sah-bahy chia dteh, O-ku!n
- Thank you
- Good Morning
- Good Afternoon
- Good Evening
More useful Cambodian words
Thank you: Akun
Yes: Baat (Man) and Cha(Woman)
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
This little girl was giving Sampeah to everyone she met in the park one Saturday afternoon.
Have you ever been to Cambodia?
When you were in Cambodia, did you do the sampeah?
Sampeah Greeting for the Monks - Monks on Procession in Cambodia
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
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
A Cambodian Family Offering at the Temple - Kneeling in front of their God
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
Monks Walking in the Streets of Phnom Penh - Sets the tone in the city
Cambodian Groom doing a Sampheah - Greeting his Guests
Cambodian Bride Doing the Sampheah - Greeting the Guests
The Sampeah is used by everyone - To greet each other
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
Try using Sampheah for greeting - While in Cambodia
Another try at Sampheah - You get used to it
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
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.