Traditions & Customs
Cambodia is a country at a crossroads. While the more heavily touristed places like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are well adjusted to tourist behaviour, people in places such as Stung Treng or Banlung are less so. Always ask permission before you take somebody's picture, as many in the more remote areas do not like to be photographed, and some in the urban areas will ask for payment.
Dress for women is more conservative in Cambodia. While shorts are now acceptable in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, it is more respectful to wear knee length shorts or trousers when outside of these areas. While Cambodian women may prefer to dress conservatively in the daytime, covering much skin to prevent tanning which they find unattractive, at night the dress code is more revealing. Do not mistake such local women in nightclubs for prostitutes; they are out for a night on the town like anyone else.
Groups of young children can be found everywhere in Cambodia and many travellers feel 'pestered' by them to purchase their friendship bracelets and other wares. However, it's often the case that children enjoy the chance to practice their English on you- and by asking them their names and ages a conversation is likely to develop where the 'hard sell' is forgotten. Children and adults alike enjoy looking at photographs of your family and home country.
The Khmer Rouge issue is a very delicate one, and one which Cambodians generally prefer not to talk about. However, if you approach it with politeness, they'll gladly respond. People, in general, hold no qualms when talking about the Vietnamese; in fact, they have been widely perceived as liberators when they intervened in Cambodia in 1979 to overthrow the aforementioned brutal regime. The pro-Vietnamese regime gradually rebuilt all the infrastructure that was severely damaged by the Khmer Rouge's policy of de-urbanising the country leading to economic prosperity in the 1980s, with sporadic uprisings.
As in neighbouring Thailand and Laos, Cambodia is predominantly Theravada Buddhist. This means that monks are revered and are expected to take their duties seriously. As in Thailand, monks go around in the morning collecting alms from people. Monks must avoid physical contact with females, so women who wish to offer food to a monk should place it on a piece of cloth in front of him so he can pick it up. Monks are not allowed to accept or touch money, and offering money to a monk is considered to be disrespectful in the local culture. Should you wish to donate, donate food. As monks are not allowed to eat solid food after noon, they will stop collecting alms before then. "Monks" who hang out at tourist spots and solicit donations from tourists are imposters.