11 Important Vocabs To Know In Cambodia

Khmer people become very excited and humbled when you make an attempt to understand their language.

Cambodia. Photo: Celine Wherritt

Whether you’re coming to Cambodia for business travel, vacation, or anything else, a few key words can help you get by. The Cambodian language is called Khmer, pronounced kah-MAI. In this culture, much of the language is based on respect for your elders and family. More specifically, there are different ways to say ‘sleep,’ depending on if they are an elder, a peasant, or a stranger. Here are some essential vocabs:

Gemripsou (jem-REAP-sou): Hello formal.

This is used when greeting someone respectfully or when you meet them for the first time. This can be followed with “Succabai” (suck-say-BYE), meaning how are you.

Sous Dei (sooce-DEI): Hello informal (can also mean good morning/afternoon/evening).

This is when greeting a friend or after you are more familiar with that person.

Gemrip Leya (jem-REAP-leah): Goodbye formal.

Kadal (kah-DAL): Hot.

Considering Cambodia’s notoriously warm and humid climate, this word will definitely be used a lot!

Cha/Bat (Cha/Bot): Yes.

Females say cha, males say bat.

Otay (Au-TAY): No.

Akun Chan (Ah-kun-CHUN): Thank you very much.

In this culture, it is more common to say “thank you very much” than just “thank you” (akun).

Kyom Som (kyom sohm): I ask for…

This is how you can request for something. For example: Kyom som tok doh Koh… May I have some milk. It is important to know there isn’t direct translation for ‘please’!

Sa-at (sah-AT): beautiful/pretty.

Typically, sa-at sa-at means beautiful, whereas simply sa-at means pretty. Either way, it’s a very nice compliment!

Som thow (som-THOH): Sorry.

To make a sincere apology, you should say “Kyom som thow…” I’m sorry. Saying “som thow” alone is typically appropriate for less serious matters, such as bumping into someone.

Chmuy eh (Cha-MOOH-ay): What is your name?

You can respond with “Kyom Celine…” (insert your name here).

And just like that, you are on your way to successful travels! These are everyday words that may be especially important to locals who don’t speak English. In my personal experience, Khmer people become very excited and humbled when you make an attempt to understand their language.

Celine spent 5 weeks in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

Celine Wherritt

Product Marketing Intern

Celine is a student at UC Berkeley, she has often traveled to Cambodia and even conducts volunteering work in Southeast Asia. She is also active as a member of Model United Nations.

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