Wondering what language is spoken in Cambodia? The Cambodia official language is Khmer and with some effort, you’ll be leaving this page with 10 essential Cambodian phrases in your pocket!
Are you worried that you may not be able to learn Cambodian well and communicate with the locals? Although many Cambodians speak some English, especially in touristy cities such as Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, there are also plenty who don’t speak much English at all! Don’t fret though! You CAN learn Khmer language easily and I’m here to help you out.
If you are visiting Cambodia for a long stay or just a few days, some phrases in Khmer (the Cambodian language) will definitely help you out!
Learning some Khmer words will be particularly useful if you are planning to venture off the beaten track, or if you are planning to spend much time in Phnom Penh.
Just knowing a couple of phrases will take you really far in Cambodia! Even if you’re only exploring the temples and the beach; knowing the Khmer language will help endear you to the people you meet, and may get you some discounts as well! Now that would be good wouldn’t it!
You’ll be switching from English to Khmer in no time at all, and be able to translate Khmer to English in your head like a boss! Let’s get to it!
Trying to learn Khmer pronunciation can be challenging, as there are some strange sounds that have no equivalent in English. Yet, you will find that locals usually aren’t shy about you on how to pronounce Khmer. You’ll be able to learn quite fast and change from English to Cambodian easily.
Let’s get you off to a great start with out English to Khmer translation with pronunciation.
These essential Cambodian phrases will make your Khmer study easy and your adventure to Cambodia a successful one!
The Khmer language and its phrases change depending on who you are talking to, as a sign of respect.
In this guide you will find the standard transcription for each phrase, and a pronunciation guide which is as phonetic as possible. Capital letters show the stressed syllables.
Let’s learn how to say hello in Khmer! There are a couple of different ways to say hello in the Cambodian language, depending on how formal you want to be. Both of these phrases can be used at any time of day.
When you are meeting someone older or more important than yourself, you should use the formal ‘jom reab suar’. It is pronounced ‘jom REE-up SOO-wer’.
When you meet someone who is the same age or younger than yourself, you can use the informal ‘suasdey’. It is pronounced ‘SOO-wer sa-DUH-ee’.
If you would like to say ‘good morning’ in Khmer, you can say arun suasdey. It is pronounced ‘Arun SOO-wer sa-DUH-ee’.
For a traditional Cambodian greeting, it is polite to use the ‘sampeah’, a gesture performed by placing your palms together in front of your body like the Thai wai. The height of the sampeah varies depending on how formal you want to be. When meeting someone older than yourself, your fingertips should touch your nose, but when you meet someone your own age, a sampeah at chest height is fine. Urban Cambodians may offer Westerners a handshake but will be pleased if you know the sampeah.
Saying goodbye in Cambodian is not difficult either. Let’s give it a go shall we?
Say ‘jom reap lia’. It is pronounced ‘jom REE-up LEE-er’.
Say ‘lia haeuy’. It is pronounced ‘LEE-er HIGH’.
Sok sabai literally means “safe and happy”. This phrase is great because you can use it to ask how someone is, to say that you are fine, and to wish someone well at the end of a conversation. How’s that for multipurpose?
Be a pro by saying the following: sok sabai te (sock sa-BYE tay).
If you are being asked you can reply ‘I’m fine’ by saying khnyom sok sabai (knyom sock sa-BYE)
Saying ‘take care’ is really easy. Just say the same word: sok sabai!
You are likely to be offered all kinds of things when walking down any street in Cambodia, including but not limited to tuk-tuk rides, massages, pedicures, postcards, books and souvenirs.
Vendors can be a little persistent but they usually aren’t pushy, and will leave you alone once they realise you’re not interested.
By learning to say no thank you in Khmer, you’ll be able to politely express your lack of intention to buy anything.
You can say ‘ort te, or kun’ (ort-TAY or-KUN).
Want to know how to say thank you in Cambodian? Cambodians are more economical with ‘thank you’ than, say, British people are.
Saying ‘or kun’ (or-KUN) just once at the end of a transaction is fine: no need to overuse it.
Save ‘or kun chraeun’ (or KUN CHRA-ern) for when you are feeling really extra-specially grateful.
After a hard day’s temple-hopping in the sweltering heat, you’re thirsty. It’s understandable! Luckily you’re rarely more than a stone’s throw away from a big red cooler box full of ice-cold refreshments. Woohoo.
Cambodian beer costs from 2,000 riel (50c) for a can or glass of draft. The local big brands are Cambodia, Angkor and Anchor, and in order not to confuse the last two, you have to pronounce the ‘ch’ in Anchor the same as ‘ch’ in ‘cheese’!
Som coca ma kompong (pronounced ‘som co-CA ma kom-PONG’)
Som tuk ma dorp (pronounced ‘som TUCK ma DORP’)
som beer ma dorp (pronounced ‘som BEER ma DORP’)
Local markets are a great place to experience the sights, smells and sounds of everyday Cambodian life and pick up some bargains to boot. Haggling is expected, so don’t accept the first price you are given – offer a lower price and prepare to meet somewhere in the middle. If you speak a little Khmer and English, and negotiate in a friendly manner, you are likely to get a good result (although you will almost certainly still pay more than a local for the same product).
Ah nih thlai ponmaan? (ah NIH thlai pon-MAAN)
Yoa nih muay (yo nih MOO-ee)
Thlai nah! (tlayee NAH)
The good news is, when you learn the Khmer numbers from 1 to 10, things start to look familiar after you’ve learnt the first five. The word for six is formed by combining the words for five and one, and so on. Seven is a special case, as it is often called brampel as well as bram pee.
In Phnom Penh pronunciation, bram sounds more like pyam, but in most other Cambodian accents the ‘r’ is rolled as in Spanish.
1 = muay (MOO-ee)
2 = pee (pee)
3 = bey (BUH-ee)
4 = buan (BOO-ern)
5 = bram (bram)
6 = bram muay (bram MOO-ee)
7 = bram pee / brampel (bram PEE / bram PULL)
8 = bram bey (bram BUH-ee)
9 = bram buan (bram BOO-ern)
10 = dop (dop)
Guesthouses and hostels in Cambodia are cheap and plentiful, and you can rent a basic room from just a few dollars per night. There isn’t really a specific word for ‘hostel’ in Khmer, but asking for ‘a cheap guesthouse’ will get the same result.
khnyom roa phteh somnak thaok (khnyom ROW pa-TEAR som-NACK TOWK)
Rolling off the bus after an eight-hour ride, you hail the nearest tuk-tuk driver and tell him the name of your guesthouse. He merrily assures you that he knows exactly where it is, repeating the name back to you several times.
You realise he might not know where he is going half an hour later, when he stops another tuk-tuk driver to ask for directions. Checking Google Maps, you realise you’ve gone for miles in the wrong direction!
Many tuk-tuk drivers (especially in Phnom Penh) don’t know the English names for places, can’t read maps and don’t know street numbers. They often pretend to know where you want to go and hope they’ll work it out on the way.
Save yourself some trouble by looking up your route in advance and helping your driver to navigate.
Bot sdam (bot SDAM)
Bot chwaing (bot CHWAING)
Tow trong (tow TRONG)
Rice and noodles are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Cambodia. A portion of fried rice or noodles costs from about a dollar, and you usually get condiments such as chilli and soy sauce so you can season it how you like. Cambodian food is delicious!
You can say ‘bai chha’, pronounced BYE CHAR
Say ‘mee chha’, pronounced ME CHAR
The word for please is ‘som’ (som) and you use it at the beginning of the sentence when you want to ask for something.
Cambodian men think it is fine to tell a woman that she is beautiful, even if they don’t know her. You shouldn’t feel threatened by this, as it generally doesn’t mean that they have any bad intentions. But it’s good to know the phrase, as well as when someones says I love you in Khmer, so that you can respond in the way that you want!
Srey sa’art (pronounced sruh-ee sa-ART)
Broh sa’art (bro sa-ART)
khnyom srolanh neak (khnyom sro-LINE nehk)
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What Cambodian phrases do you know?