11 Beautiful Words to Make You Fall in Love with the Khmer Language

There are a lot of words that will make you fall in love with the Khmer language.
There are a lot of words that will make you fall in love with the Khmer language. | @ GuoZhongHua / Shutterstock

Khmer, or Cambodian, is the official language in Cambodia and its ancient roots are steeped deep in history, with Old Khmer dating back to 600CE and standing as the official language of Angkorian kings. Influenced by Sanskrit and Pali, Khmer stands out from its neighbours because it is not a tonal language, with stress placed on the last syllable.

Chhan (chaan) / “moon”

The moon plays a pivotal role in the lives of Cambodians. As a predominantly Buddhist country, the Khmer calendar is lunar-based, with the majority of religious festivals, such as Khmer New Year and Water Festival, dictated by the full moon. The Khmer word, chhan, is often used as a male or female name and comes from the Sanskrit word for moon: canda.

The moon plays an important role in the Cambodian calendar.

Tep (tep) / “god”

You don’t have to look further than the ancient temples that dot the country to see the importance placed on gods in Cambodia. Angkor Wat’s walls are etched with legends featuring gods, divine spirits, deities and other ethereal creatures that draw on Hindu and Buddhist legends. Tep derives from the Sanskrit word deva, which means “god” or “divine”.

Gods form an important part of Cambodian culture.

Sa’at (sa-art) / “beautiful”

Cambodians love to appreciate beauty and you’ll often hear the phrase, “sa’at” — or “sa’at nas” (“very beautiful”) — being thrown around. Whether it’s elderly women clucking over a child, a fellow female admiring your hair or someone commenting on a social media update, this is one word that is worth knowing.

Sa’at means “beautiful” in Khmer.

Srolang (sra-laan) / “love”

From the love songs blasting out of speakers throughout the country to the romantic soap operas streamed on TV, Cambodians can be soppy when it comes to matters of love. Srolang is the word for love, with “Knyom srolang nyek” meaning, “I love you”.

Love is in the air.

Songsaa (song-saa) / “sweetheart”

Sticking with the romance theme, Khmers often affectionately refer to their girlfriend or boyfriend as songsaa, which directly translates to “sweetheart”. Cambodia’s first private island resort is called Song Saa because it is comprised of two small islands, Koh Bong and Koh Oeun, which directly translate as “brother and sister island”, but the term can also be used between lovers.

Lovers are referred to as sweethearts in Cambodia.

Bopha (bo-paa) / “flower”

Flowers feature heavily in Khmer culture, with lotus flowers given as offerings, petals strewn by monks during blessings and flowers adorning the hair of traditional dancers. The Khmer word for “flower”, bopha, originally derives from Pali and directly translates as “blossom”.

Flowers feature heavily in Cambodian customs.

Bong (bong) / “brother” or “sister”

If you’re heading to Cambodia, then bong is a word you’re going to pick up pretty quickly because everyone is your bong. Directly translating as “brother”, it is also used for women — although “sister” is bong srei — and can refer to a friend, peer, lover or someone slightly older.

In Khmer, bong refers to “brothers”, “sisters”, “friends” and “peers”.

Nimol (ne-moll) / “flawless”

Cambodian names often reflect traits and symbols of strength, courage and beauty that parents hope will be picked up by their young. Nimol is one such name that is usually reserved for boys; however, there are plenty of female Cambodians sporting it. Nimol translates as “flawless” but embodies phrases such as, “without blemish” and “without doubt”.

Nimol, meaning “flawless”, is a popular name in Cambodia. Dengue Fever’s front singer is called Chhom Nimol.

Pich (pick) / “diamond”

Wealth and prosperity are also highly desirable attributes in Cambodian society, with pich — “diamond” — being another popular name bestowed on sons. The precious gemstone is so highly revered that the man-made island off Phnom Penh that is studded with development in the form of high-quality condos, hotels and other projects, is named Koh Pich, or “Diamond Island”.

Diamond means “pich” in Khmer.

Bai / “rice”

While the British like to talk about the weather, Cambodians prefer to chit chat about food. And with rice featuring heavily in the Khmer diet, it’s little wonder that the word for “rice”, bai, appears in sentences when there isn’t even a grain in sight — although that’s highly unlikely at a Cambodian table. For example, “Moul nyam bai” means “Come eat,” regardless of whether there’s a bowl of rice on the table or not.

Rice fields

Chey (chay) / “victorious”

This is the most popular Cambodian family name, and with the important role strength and power traditionally play in Khmer society, it makes sense why the name is so common. Derived from the Sanskrit word, jaya, chey means “victory” or “victorious”.

Chey means “victorious” in Khmer.
culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.