21 Essential Khmer Phrases You'll Need in Cambodia

Learning some basic Khmer phrases can help you make friends in Cambodia
Learning some basic Khmer phrases can help you make friends in Cambodia | Bophay OukChan / © Culture Trip
Photo of Marissa
22 June 2018

If you’re heading to Cambodia, then picking up a few Khmer phrases is a good idea. While many Cambodians (especially younger ones) can speak pretty good English, knowing a few phrases in Khmer will warm the hearts of locals and bring about a few smiles – and even better deals. Here are 21 useful Khmer phrases to swot up on ahead of your trip.

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Greetings and essentials

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

Cambodians have an extremely respectful culture, with elders and those of a higher social standing greeted using this more formal hello.

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.

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

It may seem strange but the Khmer way of asking “how are you?” and responding “I’m fine” is the same.

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

Again, this is the formal way to say goodbye in situations where respect is required. Don’t forget to throw in a smile.

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

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

Bah (bah) / Yes (male)

Jah (chaa)/ Yes (female)

You’ll here a lot of “bah, bah, bah” from Cambodian men and “chaa chaa chaas” from women. Usually said several times.

Ot Teh (ot-tei)/ No

Learning how to say no will come in very handy for turning down the heckling tuk tuk drivers visitors face.

Arkun (Ar-koon) / Thank you

A polite thank you always goes a long way, wherever you are in the world.

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

This is another useful phrase that is well worth picking up before you land in the country.

Melanie van Leeuwen / © Culture Trip | Melanie van Leeuwen / © Culture Trip


Baht schweng (bart-shweng) / Turn left

A tuk tuk is likely to be your main mode of transport in Cambodia so learning a few phrases will come in handy.

Baht Saddam (bart-sadam) / Turn right

Another handy phrase for getting around.

Chop (chop) / Stop

You can throw a “som” (please) in front to be polite.

Tini (tinny) / here

Why not place some of your newly learned words together to say, “please stop here” or “som chop tini”.

Da Trong (da-trong)/ Go straight

Another handy phrase when your tuk tuk driver looks like he wants to take a wrong turn.

There are swathes of eco-experiences to be had in Cambodia | Melanie van Leeuwen / © Culture Trip

At the restaurant/bar

Chhnang (ch-nang)/ Delicious

Cambodians love talking about food as much as Brits enjoy moaning about the weather, so saying “delicious” will bring about a smile.

Som tach (som tack) / Water please

Cambodia’s heat means staying hydrated is essential.

Knyom khleam (knoym-kleam)/ I’m hungry

If you grasp this phrase, then you’ll soon find yourself being ushered to the nearest restaurant or street stall.

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

Cambodians don’t so often use the word “please” or “som” so this can be dropped for speed.

Melanie van Leeuwen / | © Culture Trip

At the market

Bo man (bow-man)/ How much?

Picking up a few phrases to take to the market with you will be rewarded with much better prices when bartering.

T’lay (t-lay)/ too expensive

You’ll definitely need this one if you want to haggle. Place more emphasis at the end of “lay” to highlight your level of horror.

Moi, bee, bai, boum, bram, bram moi, bram bee, bram boum, dop/ counting from one to 10.

Getting to grips with counting is a good way to get around as streets tend to be numbered rather than named in Cambodia.

Make some friends!

Making friends

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

This is an essential phrase for forging friendships with locals.

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

And, of course, you need to know how to say your own name back.

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