How To Be Native in Cambodia

By Mark Wiens 16 Comments
Traveling in Cambodia
Traveling in Cambodia

From spending 24 Hours at Angkor Wat to aimlessly walking around the capital of Phnom Penh, in order to fit in to the Cambodian lifestyle, you will need to follow a few or possibly all of these tips.

1.  Parkas and Gore-Tex

If you venture outside or somewhere onto the street, whatever you do, don’t forget the North Face down parkas.  Locals don’t appreciate the glorious sunshine.  I saw numerous people rocking the latest in mittens, leggings,  scarves, and long johns.

2.  100cc Family Vehicle

The Dodge Caravan is no longer the family of 5 vehicle of choice.  Rather a family of five or six (and 2 or 3 generations at that) comfortably manages to finagle their way onto a 100cc Honda motorbike and cruise from place to place as a routine activity.

3.  Guerrilla Marketing

Local Cambodians have taken guerrilla marketing to the highest of world levels.  If you have something to offer, offer it at a price (includes advice).  If you have a 2 seater motorbike, ask everyone if they need a ride, even if it’s obvious they don’t.  If you have scissors, offer a haircut.  If you have hands, just start massaging unsuspecting victims.  And by the way, getting rejected 5 or 6 times is absolutely “NO” reason to give up.

4.  Wear Pajamas

This mostly goes to females and is directly correlated with the winter gore-tex.  Women love pajamas.  It is a frequency to see ladies dodging across traffic on streets, riding side saddle, or vending, all while  sporting the latest in Berenstain Bears or Digimon.  If you leave the house, don’t forget to “NOT change,” or if anything, add a parka, mittens, and a scarf to the repertoire.

5.  Invent the Remix

You better be up on the latest rap and pop songs, because they need to be remixed in Khmer, ASAP.  As I heard very familiar rap songs blasting on buses and in restaurants, very unfamiliar voices were projected.  If you are good at remixing, a video must also be produced, like Ghost Ride the tuk tuk in Bangkok.

6.  Overload Your Vehicle

If you have a truck, it is mandatory to load it to capacity, then add a few more tons of cargo, then add a couple family vehicles on top (100cc’s), and then add a couple generations of families to the very top.  This must be done even if no one really wants to go anywhere.  After completion of loading, you can get more advice from how to successfully drive a car in Indonesia.

Overloaded Truck in Phnom Penh

7.  Play House

Get comfortable on microscopic tables and chairs and sometimes using tiny utensils or other ” play house>” essentials.

The toy food sets and furniture I played with when I was a kid, become a full grown adults reality when eating outstanding cuisine on the streets of Phnom Penh.

8.  Chill Out

If there is not much to do in the afternoon it is required to take a nap on the back of a motorbike, in a hammock, on a fence pole, or with your leg vertically propped in some position that looks ridiculously uncomfortable.

Phnom Penh
Sunset in Phnom Penh

If you can master these daily norms you will easily fit in and possibly even start to become a local Cambodian.


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  • sophana

    13 years ago

    how funny i see comments from white people no offense but looks like u are right even thought i never been to Cambodia but i would love to go someday i herd nothing but great things about it nice documentary well a short one but nice love the food also

    • Mark Wiens

      13 years ago

      Thanks Sophana! Yes, if you get the chance to travel to Cambodia, it is an amazing country!

  • Caron Margarete

    14 years ago

    Heya Mark, I’m in PP now and I think this list is pretty spot on.

    I’d also add to #3 Don’t worry if you don’t know where you’re going. By the time your passenger works it out it’ll be too late and you’ll have to figure it out together.

    • Mark Wiens

      14 years ago

      Yes Caron very true, I was trying to get to a specific restaurant and chatted with a moto taxi for a while. Since he didn’t know where he was going, he asked all his friends, they looked at a map, and even though they still had no idea where it was, they offered to take me. That’s great!

  • Dan

    14 years ago

    The pajamas has always made me laugh, especially in the provinces, it seems it is almost a uniform in some places.

  • Brittany Sims

    14 years ago

    Your list is right-on! I have been in Cambodia for nearly 2 months now, and your observations gave me a good laugh. Great post (and great pictures!) Mark.
    I would have to add…
    #9 At dinner, dispose of your tissues and any animal bones by tossing them underneath the table;
    and #10 Drink your beer ONLY if it’s in a glass full of ice

    • Mark Wiens

      14 years ago

      Thanks Brittany,
      Too bad I didn’t know you were in Cambodia when I rolled through at New Years, we could have enjoyed some of these great things. Thanks for the additions to the list too!