How to behave in Cambodia

This is a little helper for first-time visitors in Cambodia, as the life and behaviour is very different of the western world.

There are more than 3000 active NGOs, NPOs, and charities in Cambodia. Their programs are endless. Some of the projects have very bad impacts on society and the development of Cambodia or are simply fakes to generate funds for their organizers. Others are absolutely great, honest and selfless. To make the right choice is very difficult especially on a short visit.

If you want to volunteer and/ or donate money, make sure you are well aware of the work and targets of the chosen organisation. If you do not 100% agree with their targets and/or have a bad feeling, just look for another one or choose from APACHES recommendations. DO NOT just drop money in a donation box standing around wherever without having visited the organisation and its projects! THERE ARE MANY FAKE DONATION BOXES ALL OVER CAMBODIA! Apache generally cannot recommend to put money in any donation boxes at all. THERE ARE MANY FAKE CHARITIES ALL OVER CAMBODIA! Make sure the chosen Organisation is REGISTERED in Cambodia or at least in an other country. Cash money should only be handed over upon receipt and the possibility to check on bookkeeping!

Take yourself time to choose carefully. Honest organisations are usually NOT charging you for volunteer work. They usually choose volunteers with special skills needed for their work. They will maybe charge small amounts for accommodation and food if so. Standard should be, that the Organisation will recommend accommodation to you and you pay for it yourself. Apache cannot recommend Volunteer Organisations in general, as the majority of them are based on profit generating.  The fees charged will NOT help the poor but the Organizers. Apache believes Volunteer Organisations are useless in the times of Internet.

Cambodian people in general are very nice and rather distanced to foreigners. Especially the elderly have suffered extremly during red Khmer times and until the early 90s. They might still meet their punishers on the market or on the street on daily bases, because practically nothing was done to “work on” these cruel times. Many of them are still having nightmares and suffer from war traumata. Their behaviour might sometimes seem strange to foreigners. Just kindly ignore this if it happens to you. It might sound strange to you, but the murderers, torturers and war criminals are all over Cambodia as much as their victims. The government HUN SEN has no affords to punish them, as many of its members are former red Khmer themselves and/or have a rather fishy past .

APACHE strongly believes, that a huge part of Cambodias problems today are a result of the corrupt, inefficient and selfish system of this government witch is strongly supported by the UNO. Lepraman with son near Phnom Penh

The government HUN SEN of Cambodia cannot be compared to western style democracies. Cambodia today is only a democracy on the paper. The country is extremly corrupt. Critics are threatened, detained and sometimes murdered. Do not force anyone to talk about politics! Mostly people will ignore you once you start talking about politics and walk away. PUBLIC POLITICAL DISCUSSIONS OR OPEN CRITICS ON GOVERNMENT POLICIES CAN GET YOU AND ANYONE INVOLVED IN BIG TROUBLE! Avoid doing this for your own safety unless you know the person and the discussion is started by it.

A huge part of the population(ap.80%) in Cambodia is extremely poor compared to our western standards. What might look like simple life and happiness for us in reality means fighting for life on a daily base. Everyone involved in Charity visiting areas or villages of very poor people in Cambodia should be aware of the following facts and rules.

Poor peoples living areas are not a PHOTO ZOO! Ask politely if you think you need to take pictures. Respect people reactions and always ask yourself how YOU would feel about being photo “shot” day by day by foreigners. Be kind and friendly all the time. Pay respect to everyone at all time. Always remember that this could be YOUR situation in the future. Times always change!

Taking pictures of NAKED Children is ABUSE already!!!!Always remember that! If you cannot avoid taking pictures of (dressed)children, at least do it from a distance. This is no problem with a good camera.

Do not give candy to these children, as fruit and noodle packs are a better and healthier option. Do not give money directly to the people because that might cause big problems within the community. Better donate money to a trustful organisation. They know better how to use it.

NEVER touch children’s heads or lift them off the ground! Doing so might cause health problems to you because infections like cholera and diarrhoea or human flees are wide spread in Cambodia .The natural distance to foreigners will be destroyed as well. On a long run this might make the children easy targets for paedophiles or human traffickers.  Furthermore it is considered extremely impolite to touch children s heads in ALL SE Asia by culture because the head is seen as the seat of the soul and should only be touched by first grade family members. Don`t do it even you see others do it! Respect the khmer culture.

Do never walk into peoples homes, shags or huts with shoes this is extremely impolite. Guests are generally welcomed OUTSIDE the house. The inside is for first grade family only! If you are CLEARLY invited to enter the house, it is fine.Do never point at people with your feet as this is extremely impolite( in khmer body language it means FUCK OFF) and might even lead to violent reactions. Do not hang shoes on the outside of your backpack for the same reasons and do not ever put your feet on chairs , tables wearing shoes. This is considered very rude even without shoes.

Avoid drunk and/or intoxicated people or groups of locals wile visiting for your own safety. Do not sit down and get intoxicated in what ever way far off the tracks. Situations can change quickly

Unless on the beach, always dress politely(not bikinis,shorts or transparent shirts). People will treat you differently if you do so. Cambodians are rather conservative. Never wear expensive Jewellery or watches in very poor areas, to avoid greed and for your own security.

Screaming and shouting in the public is considered very rude in Cambodia and makes you loose your face and respect.

Even if you are facing difficult situations, try never to loose your temper. Try to solve the situation as smooth and quiet as possible. Generally the authorities will NEVER be on your side in a dispute with a Cambodian national. May you be right or wrong. This is very different of western countries. Long noisy and pressures discussions with police will end up in you being guilty no reason needed. Kindness and a little “tea money” can ease the situation.

For your own safety avoid to use illegal drugs in Cambodia. Especially hard drugs like Methampethamine(ice) are easy to get and often mixed with other substances. Heroin often is of very high concentration and underestimated by users which leads to several deaths every Year. Remember the medical standards in Cambodia are very low. Especially outside Phnom Penh.

Avoid to rent motorbikes as Cambodia seems not to have any traffic rules at all. Even smaller accidents outside big cities can get you in really big troubles, especially involving Khmers with money. If people are injured or dead you might spend months in jail, were as it does not matter whose fault it was. Cambodian jails are a nightmare. If you rent a car do also rent a cambodian driver! If you decide to drive by yourself, make sure you do have a VALID international drivers licence ! I would not do it though.
A khmer to khmer accident is handled totally different than a foreigner /Khmer accident!

Do ALWAYS carry your passport on you or have it locked in a safe place!

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