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How to Pronounce Phnom Penh and Other Basic Cambodian Phrases for Your Next Vacation to Cambodia

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How to Pronounce Phnom Penh and Other Basic Cambodian Phrases for Your Next Vacation to Cambodia

Lirene CilliersBy Lirene Cilliers   Posted 21st May 2024

Ever found yourself tongue-tied trying to pronounce "Phnom Penh" or wanting to say more than just "hello" in Khmer, the Cambodian language?  
Well, you've arrived at the right place!  
While many assume the language spoken in Cambodia is Cambodian, it's actually called Khmer (kuh-MAY). It’s an intriguing language with historical roots dating back to the 7th century. And if that’s not enough, the unique alphabet has 74 letters (yes, you read that right!).  
In this blog, we'll navigate through the uncharted waters of Khmer pronunciations and phrases. We’ll make it as easy as possible, while also getting you fully stocked with everything you need to engage in local Cambodian culture: from greeting a local with a warm "hello" to expressing your delight over that second bowl of delectable chicken amok.

“But do I need to speak Cambodian to visit Cambodia?” 

While it's true that English proficiency varies across Cambodia, particularly outside major tourist destinations like Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, the need to be proficient in the language is minimal. Learning a few basic phrases, however, can enrich your interactions and open doors to more authentic experiences. 

The people of Cambodia are renowned for their hospitality and their warmth. Should you encounter language challenges, rest assured that the generosity and willingness of locals to assist, often with creative non-verbal communication, will ease your way. 

Rest assured, if you book one of our guided cycling tours, our friendly local guides will be able to support you to bridge any language gap.

How to Pronounce Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. With busy markets, majestic palaces, and historical sites, it's a hub that provides plenty for the curious traveler to explore. 

Phnom Penh is pronounced pe-NOM pen.  

The name "Phnom Penh" quite literally translates to "Penh's Hill" or "Hill of Pen.”

How to Pronounce Siem Reap 

Siem Reap is the gateway to the ruins of Angkor, the seat of the Khmer kingdom from the 9th–15th centuries. Its name, when translated, means "Siam Defeated," which harks back to a historical victory over the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya.  

However, locals often embrace a more positive interpretation, translating it as "Siem Rising," signifying growth and progress.  

Pronouncing "Siem Reap" in English is quite straightforward. "Siem" is typically said just like the English word "see-em" or "si-em" with a slight stress on the first syllable. "Reap" is pronounced "reep," rhyming with "deep." 

The Basics: Common Cambodian Words and Phrases 

1. Hello - សួស្តី (Sous-dey) 
Pronunciation: (suh-SDEY) 

When saying hello (សួស្តី) or thank you (អរគុណ), accompany it with a slight bow and hands pressed together in a prayer-like fashion, known as "Sampeah". This is especially important when addressing someone older or of higher social status. 
Read more on how to greet in 11 Asian countries 
2. Thank you - អរគុណ (Or-kun) 
Pronunciation: (aw-koon) 
3. Please - សូម (Saom) 
Pronunciation: (sa-ohm) 
4. Excuse me - សុំទោស (Som toh) 
Pronunciation: (suhm TOH) 
5. Yes (for males) - បាទ (Bat) 
Pronunciation: (baht) 

Yes (for females) - ចាស (Cha) 
Pronunciation: (chah) 
6. No - ទេ (Te) 
Pronunciation: (teh) 

Say "no" (teh) gently and with a smile. Cambodians are very polite and direct refusal might sometimes come off as rude. It's all about the tone. 
7. Nice to meet you - រីករាយដែលបានជួបអ្នក (Rikreay del ban choub anak) 
Pronunciation: (rik-REYE del ban choub ah-NAHK) 
8. Goodbye - លាហើយ (Lea heuy) 
Pronunciation: (li-ah HEUY) 
9. Beautiful - ស្អាត (Sa'at) 
Pronunciation: (SAH ah-T) 
This phrase will quickly become your mantra on the Mekong Bike & Boat tour. Lauded by National Geographic as the #1 Ultimate Adventure, invites you to bike, boat, and walk the scenic Mekong from Vietnam to Cambodia. 

Food and Drinks: How to order and appreciate food in Cambodia 

10. Delicious - ឆ្ងាញ់ (Chnganh) 
Pronunciation: (ch'nanh) 

When you say something is delicious (ch'nang), be expressive. Cambodians are proud of their cuisine, and showing your enjoyment genuinely makes people happy. 
11. Wine - ស្រា (Sra) 
Pronunciation: (srah) 
12. Beer - ស្រាបៀរ (Sra biər) 
Pronunciation: (srah BEE-uh) 
13. Coffee - កាហ្វេ (Kafe) 
Pronunciation: (kah-FAY) 
14. Water, please - សូម ទឹកមួយ (Saom Tuk Muoy) 
Pronunciation: (sa-ohm took mu-oy) 
15. Check, please. - សូមគិតលុយ (Saom kitloy) 
Pronunciation: (sa-ohm kit-LOY) 
16. I would like___, please. - ខ្ញុំចង់បាន___.(Knhom chong ban___.) 
Pronunciation: (khnyom chong ban__.) 
17. Cheers! - ជល់មួយ (Choul mouy) 
Pronunciation: (choul MOO-ee) 
Buckle up because when Cambodians cheer, they mean business. If you're fortunate enough to share a drink with locals, you'll find that one "Cheers" (choul MOO-ee) might quickly turn into a series of gleeful toasts. 
Savor the flavors of Thailand and Vietnam on our Slow Road to Angkor tour. 

Useful Khmer Phrases to Use when Shopping 

18. How much? - តម្លៃប៉ុន្មាន? (Tamleih ponman?) 
Pronunciation: (tam-LAY pohn-MAHN?) 
19. I'll take it! - ខ្ញុំយក! (Knhom yok!) 
Pronunciation: (khnyom yawk!) 

Emergencies and Assistance: How to Ask for Help in Cambodia 

20. Help! - ជួយផង! (Chuoy phong!) 
Pronunciation: (chhoy pe-ong!) 
21. Hospital - មន្ទីពេទ្យ (Montipeth) 
Pronunciation: (mon-tee-PET) 
22. It hurts! - វាឈឺ! (Vea chhuh!) 
Pronunciation: (vay CHHUH!) 

We're all about having a great time, but your safety is our top priority. Rest easy knowing our guides are with you every pedal of the way, ready to help if needed. Our Cambodia bike tours are meticulously planned for safety, fun, and inclusivity—no matter how fit you are! 

Last, But Certainly Not Least:  

23. I love Cambodia! - ខ្ញុំស្រឡាញ់កម្ពុជា! (Knhom sralanh Kampuchea!) 
Pronunciation: (khnyom sra-LAHN kamp-BOO-chea!) 

Cambodians are deeply patriotic, and hearing foreigners' express affection for their country can open up warmer, more genuine interactions. 
So why not practice this phrase as you bike, hike, and kayak through Cambodia’s diverse landscapes.

Overcoming Language Hurdles to Unveil Unforgettable Adventures

That’s a wrap! Now it’s your turn to practice these phrases as you get ready to be awed, exhilarated and completely captivated by Cambodia's compelling allure.  

From inhaling the aroma of fresh Amok curry, to kayaking in the flooded forest, there is no better way to experience Cambodia than by bike.  


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