A smile is never far away in Cambodia, with Khmers renowned across the world for wearing their signature grins. Often coupled with a twinkle in the eye, it is this trait that makes first-time travellers feel at ease from the moment they set foot in the country, and returnees feel like they are back home.
If you’re looking lost, your motorbike has broken down or you’re in clear need of help, a Cambodian willing to assist is never far away – a flock of them, in fact. Within minutes, you’ll find a crowd of Khmers collectively trying to find a solution to get you out of whatever pickle you may be in.
By nature, Cambodians are social – and they’re friendly. This means you’ll often find locals eager to invite you to join them at their table in the bar, say hello in the street or share whatever snacks they are carrying when they sit next to you on the bus. Another welcoming feature.
Cambodians are curious, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself bombarded with questions, starting with where you’re from, what you do, your marital status and whether you have any kids. This will quickly be followed by a multitude of questions about your country and way of life. Don’t be put off because Cambodians love to learn, and are more than happy to answer any questions you want to fire at them.
All you have to do is take a look at their recent past to see the resilience that is inherent in Cambodians. Decades of civil war, followed by the Khmer Rouge of 1975 to 1979, under which an estimated 1.7 million people died, almost crippled the country. However, Cambodians’ determination and strength has seen Cambodia rebuild itself at a rapid pace.
Many visitors to Cambodia are humbled by the kindness of the people and the generosity that is often shown despite, at times, extreme poverty. Don’t be surprised if a family with seemingly nothing offer to share their food with you or invite you to join in with celebrations and festivities.
This is another innate trait that many Cambodians carry, and adds to the charm of local life. Possessing heaps of humility, Khmers are modest people, who also know the meaning of the word respect and hold it in high regard. This is a factor visitors should remember and act accordingly.
Cambodians are proud people. They are proud of their strong history, which stretches back to the mighty Angkor Empire – the creators of Angkor Wat – and they are proud of their rich culture, which takes in apsara dancing, traditional arts and a swathe of artisanal crafts.
Pride in their country means locals are more often than not delighted to share their country with foreigners. On a basic level, this comes in the form of stories about their home village, for those who delve a little further, many Cambodians will happily invite you to join them on a trip home to enjoy family life.
Cambodians’ honesty can come as a shock to many first-timers – they have no qualms telling you, you are fat/ thin/ tall/ short/ should be married/ should have children, the list goes on. Don’t be offended, this is just the way it works in Cambodia and once travellers have got over the initial shock, this trait starts to grow on you.
Family sits at the core of Cambodian life and providing for your family is of the utmost importance. For many Cambodians, this means long working hours, seven days a week, and often without complaint – something that can definitely be admired.
Cambodians think on their feet and, even if it’s a band-aid solution, will quickly come up with the answer to a problem. Broken washing machine, wifi or motorbike? – no problem because in Cambodia it will be fixed before you know it.