Basic Khmer phrases for getting around

A great part about travelling is experiencing how things are different to back home – different food, different cultures, different languages. While you may have heard some of the well-known foreign languages spoken by visitors in your home country, chances are slim that you’ve heard a bit of Khmer – the official language of Cambodia (pronounced khy-my).

While you’re killing time on your flight over, why not learn a few basic phrases to help you get around – yes, we know you can’t fly now during the pandemic … but that will change so use this time to plan!

Because you are unlikely to learn the Khmer script, we’re using phonetic spelling here.

Greetings (always smile when greeting!)

Chom Reap Sour (chom-reap-sore) / Hello (formal)

As in most Asian countries, the culture in Cambodia is extremely respectful to elders and those of a higher social standing, and so this more formal greeting is used in such cases.

Susadei (Soos-a-day)/ Hello (informal)

This is a more informal greeting that is used between peers or friends. It is also accompanied with a sampeah.

Chom Reap Lear (chom-reep-lear) / Good bye (formal)

Again, this is the formal way to say goodbye to elders and those in higher positions.

Lee hi (lee-hi) / Good bye (informal)

This is the more widely used and casual way to wave goodbye.

Soksaby (soks-a-bye) / How are you and I am fine

It may seem odd, but the Khmer way of asking ‘how are you?’ and replying, ‘I’m fine’ is the same.

Bah (bah) / Yes (male)

Jah (chaa)/ Yes (female)

Ot Teh (ot-tei)/ No

Arkun (Ar-koon) / Thank you

Being polite will get you far in Asia!

Som Dtoh (som-toe) / Sorry/ excuse me

Another polite phrase worth knowing.

Chhmua ei? (cham-moo-ey)/ What is your name?

Knyom Chhmua ___ (knyom-cham-moo)/ My name is _____

Directions

Using a tuk-tuk is your go-to transport in Cambodia, so learning these will be handy. Remember to add the please and thank you!

Baht schweng (bart-shweng) / Turn left

Baht Saddam (bart-sadam) / Turn right

Chop (chop) / Stop

Tini (tinny) / here

Da Trong (da-trong)/ Go straight

Eating out

Chhnang (ch-nang)/ Delicious

Som tach (som tack) / Water please

Som ket loy (som-ket-loy)/ The bill please

Vegetarians take note!

Aht saight / Without meat.

Bon lie/ vegetable. There are a few standard meat-and-rice and meat-and-noodle dishes in Cambodia. Typically they're all stir-fried in a wok. Adding ‘bon lie’ to the end of your order will let your server know you'd like to swap the meat for vegetables.

At the market

Picking up a few phrases will help you to barter.

Bo man (bow-man)/ How much?

T’lay (t-lay)/ too expensive

Don’t worry too much if you make mistakes – the locals will appreciate that you have tried, and a bit of mime and gesture and google and a calculator will help you to be understood.

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