5 Things I’ve Learnt About Cambodian People While In Cambodia

Our visit to Cambodia was an interesting experience. I never really managed to get a grip of the country, I was confused, to say the least.

Sometimes I didn’t like it at all, other times I felt like I could easily settle down there for a longer time.

Cambodia was to me a country full of contradictions, and although I was happy to leave I would like to return again some time to see more.

In the end, these are the travel experiences that I treasure the most. The country made me love it and hate it at the same time.

These feelings are hard to write down or to explain to others, and often I can’t quite point out exactly what made me feel so great or bad about a place.

But here are some impressions that for me sum up a bit about the Cambodian people:

1. The Women Wear Pajamas All Day Long

Really, it’s not a pajama-looking outfit, they actually are real pajamas with teddy bears and everything. They wear it as casual outfits, and not just at home but sometimes even at work on the street.

When they dress up, they wear the most amazing outfits.

There was a wedding in a village we stayed, and for some reason most of the men seemed to stay at home or at the shop while their wifes went to the wedding – they looked absolutely stunning.

2. They Eat Anything!

Thick, juicy fried spiders in broth? No? How about some cockroaches?

This is no joke, no tourism stall for eager people to try disgusting things – this is real.

Deep fried tarantulas is a common snack all over Cambodia on the streets in small villages and markets in Phnom Pehn.

I’m not just talking about yucky things when I say they eat anything, it’s things like empty, plain baguettes: I’ve never seen plain baguettes without any topping being so commonly consumed and enjoyed as much as here.

3. They Speak English Very Well

I was surprised to see how many people spoke English so well, some even spoke with an Australian or American accent!

Kids, tuk tuk drivers and random people, they all spoke English really well in the cities.

4. Their Humor Is So Innocent And Free

Nathan was wearing broken glasses (better than nothing when it’s that sunny) on a bus from Laos to Cambodia, and no-one noticed until we crossed over into Cambodia, then a few 20-something guys on the bus noticed and thought it was SO funny – they couldn’t stop looking, and laughed for like 15 mins!

This was one of many situations in which we found Cambodians laughing at things we in the West wouldn’t at all consider funny – it was as though they had the same humor as an 8 year old – which I think was so great to see.

That freedom to just let go, be curious and laugh at anything was one of the best things about the Cambodian people, and it’s something which I think is lacking in the West.

5. The Country Has Not Recovered But The People Move On

I didn’t realize how little I knew about Cambodia until I got here.

I thought I knew more than I did, and seeing how the country has far from recovered from the horrific recent history was difficult to deal with.

The people have been betrayed from so many different sides, both from their own people as well as others.

The impact from the land mines was sad to witness, and so was Tuol Sleng.

But despite the fact that the criminals behind the Khmer Rouge still haven’t faced any consequences for their actions, and despite the fact that 45 people died from old land mines in 2010 – the people seem to want to leave it all behind – and forget…

Despite all the terrible things done to these people, they still put up such a bright face.

They smile and laugh often, but the ways they dealt with confrontation made me wonder.

Are they suppressing it?

While we were there the Thailand/Cambodia border started shooting at each other and people were killed on both sides.

Our tuk tuk driver told us the same night, in a very strange way. He laughed about it, nervously, so we had to ask him if he was telling us the truth – he was serious for a moment, but then he smiled and laughed again.

I wanted to ask more, but it was obvious that he didn’t want to talk about it.

Have you been to Cambodia? what were some of your impressions of the people there?

29 Responses to 5 Things I’ve Learnt About Cambodian People While In Cambodia

  1. Nonstop World Travel April 24, 2011 at 7:05 am #

    Agreed. We got the feeling that time stopped for about 25 years and then picked up again with a vengeance. The people we met there were amazing though…maybe it comes from the comfort of 24×7 pajamas.

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 25, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

      Yeah I think that is what actually happened. The Khmer rouge kind of made the country take a step back, and now they have jumped into the modern world with a giant leap, trying to adjust.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. James Cheyne April 24, 2011 at 6:36 am #

    Your point about contradictions is so true. I was there in February and found the same thing ….. Most places have fast, free wifi …. but no hot water …… just one that we found amusing. Of the six countries I visited in South East Asia, it was my favourite. I can’t quite decide exactly why either. – James.

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 25, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

      You are so right about the water and wifi situation! Thanks for sharing your experiences James.

  3. Steph April 24, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    The Cambodian people were actually my favorite of all of South East Asia. Sure there were a lot of scammers and incessant hawkers, but one on one everyone seemed incredibly genuine and friendly. Maybe it’s because I was there solo, but I had more genuine encounters there than anywhere else I’ve been.

    I do think you are right though, psychologically the people are still reeling from the violence there and it comes out in weird ways.

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, really interesting to read about.

      I agree, the people were very genuine, and although they acted and responded in strange ways sometimes, they meant well.

  4. It's Good For Us April 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    “I didn’t realize how little I knew about Cambodia until I got here.” I had exactly this same feeling! I was so unaware about the political situation of the country. We spent only few days but have to say that we totally agree with number 4 and 5.

    Good post.


    • Sofia - As We Travel April 25, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

      Yeah, like Socrates said: “The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know.”

      I feel that a lot in Cambodia…

  5. Sofia April 25, 2011 at 6:16 am #

    In my eyes, Cambodian are very nice. They are pure, simply, serious,friendly,honest…
    At first days, I could hesitate about their suggestion, but after then, I trusted them totally!
    I will go there again!

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 25, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

      That’s great to hear!
      Thanks for sharing your experience Sofia, I agree with you, I’d definitely go there again.

  6. The Word Phuket April 25, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    I found Cambodia quite un-nerving and yet also one of the most enjoyable places I have ever been. I wrote this in Siem Reap which probably best describes something i had trouble putting into words.


    • Sofia - As We Travel April 29, 2011 at 6:31 am #

      Thanks for sharing your post and experiences, Cambodia really has both sides and offers such contrast.

  7. Megan April 25, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    the pyjamas!! I’d forgotten about that. It made me very tempted to give it a go myself…I never did, though. What about you guys?? 😀

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 29, 2011 at 6:29 am #

      Haha yeah they looked really cozy, although a little warm for that weather? Maybe next time we’ll try it out…or not 😛

  8. Bluegreen Kirk April 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Pajamas all day doesnt sound too bad actually! I think I could fit in just fine with them but I agree the food is not for the fate at heart.

  9. Anthony April 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    You are dead on the money that it is a country of contradictions Sofia. When we were there we felt that we loved it and hated it at the same time. We loved the small little villages the best, as the people were so friendly and willing to help you with anything. Cambodia has a dark history and a lot of the people it is still very fresh and trying to move on with life is half the battle for most people living in Cambodia. I will definitely go back I think but really only to get to Vietnam most probably.

  10. Randy Kalp April 26, 2011 at 2:16 am #

    Really interesting post. I haven’t been to Cambodia yet, but I always enjoy reading about other travelers thoughts on places. It’s also good to know about the deep fried tarantulas; I had no idea.

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 29, 2011 at 6:46 am #

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post Randy, yeah the fried tarantulas were quite a surprise for us too.

  11. Huffstutler Katie April 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Interesting post! Other cultures are so intriguing. As far as I’m concerned, pajamas all day sounds awesome!

  12. location lloret de mar April 29, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    Sofia frankly saying i love your blog and also i have bookmarked your blog so that i can come back here in future too….The 5 thing you learnt about the Cambodian people are the same as i learn from my trip to there…

  13. Rashid Hikmany April 30, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    I have been there twice (the last time it was last yr). What realy interested me most is the people. I never seen people are so kind like khmer people. They are friendly and like to talk even if you meet the one’s who can’t speak english but they’ll try.

  14. Rashid Hikmany April 30, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    About the food, i think they used to it, because when Cambodia was in Khmer Roug for 3 years 8 months and 20 days, they really suffer, and during this hell years, they just eat everythings that they could, that why all this food it become normal for them. You won’t believe what was happen for those years but really true for Cambodians. About Love, Honest, Kind, Respect, Cambodian it still in the range of good people that u never think that could it be. even although they were pass too many problem in their life and culture ( France, Lun Nol, Khmer Roug….) i were there for month

    • Rashid Hikmany April 30, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

      This comment is from my wife.

    • Sofia July 18, 2012 at 7:04 am #

      Thank you for explaining where this food habit comes from, it is a very sad story, but it makes sense.

  15. Peter Rom01 February 10, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Thank you! Your share has really open my mind about my identity and curiosity of my motherland. There arn’t many sources about Cambodian people and I’m glad I stumbled upon yours! Reading what you wrote, I find it to be innately true about us Cambodian people. I hope to go to Cambodia someday. I’m glad you enjoyed your time there!

  16. Lisa July 18, 2012 at 1:15 am #

    Rashid’s wife comment was so true about Cambodian people. I went through this horrible regime (civil war) myself even though I was young. I still remember the time when people were trying so hard to survive. They would do anything by either working 12-24 hours a day for food or killing any insects/reptiles/animals when there was an opportunity in order not to starve to death. If you ever watched ‘Survivor Show’, it’s 4 times worst than that.

    • Sofia July 18, 2012 at 7:01 am #

      Hello Lisa,

      I’m so glad that you took the time to write a comment on this article. I can’t even imagine the pain that you and your people have gone through, and it brings me to tears thinking about it.

      Thank you for sharing and explaining why your food habits seem a bit odd, it totally makes sense.

    • Rashid July 25, 2012 at 10:52 am #

      Thanks for the mention.


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