Just like in many countries around the world, drinking together is an important social event. Beer is Cambodia’s most popular drink and for many Cambodians, drinking beer together with friends, family, neighbors or colleagues is a daily routine.
If you’re planning to spend time with the locals (and you’re a guy), you will definitely be invited for a beer. If that’s the case, you may want to know some of the following local habits when it comes to drinking beer with Cambodians.
- Local beer is CHEAP. One can will cost you between 2000 and 3000 Cambodian Riel.
- Most popular brands are: Angkor Beer, Anchor Beer, Cambodia Beer and Ganzberg,
Drinking beer is a Guy’s Thing!
In Cambodian culture, drinking beer is considered a male thing. Girls and ladies drink water, cola or sometimes, on special occasions like wedding parties, they may drink wine. If a lady does drink beer, she may be frowned upon, depending on the situation. Some ladies drink beer with family or close friends at their home, but you won’t see them drinking in public places.
One zip, one cheer
Cheering together is an important part of the beer drinking process. Cambodians say ‘cheers’ with every sip they take. Basically it means that when YOU take a sip of your beer, everyone should (and vice versa).
Keep in mind that raising your can or bottle is not considered a proper cheer: the cans, bottles or glasses need to touch each other. Exception for when you are in a big group and sitting down on the floor. In that case you don’t need to get up.
Respect is also a thing when drinking beer
Showing respect to elders is a big thing in Cambodia and since drinking beer is just as important, people show respect when they drink beer with elders.
One of the most important aspects to keep in mind is that youngsters should keep their can lower than the elders in the group.
How to say ‘Cheers’ in Khmer?
The Khmer word for cheer is ‘Chuol Moy’, which means ‘One cheer’. It’s common to use it at the beginning of your drinking festival. People in your group will also use it randomly during the time you are drinking.
It’s also used when someone new is joining the group or when someone at another table comes over to cheer with you. Don’t be shy to take the initiative but don’t make the painful mistake of pronouncing it incorrectly!
It’s Chuol Muoy, not Choi Muoy!
Chuol means ‘cheer’ in Khmer. The letters /uo/ are pronounced as a /u/ and it should be pronounced clearly. Another Khmer word is ‘choy’, which means ‘f**k and basically ‘choy muoy’ means ‘one f**k’. Many locals enjoy it when foreigners mistakenly pronounce the word incorrect and some may even try to trick you into pronouncing it the wrong way.
Locals use the choy and chuol as a grammar joke and if you know the difference, your local friends will definitely be impressed. However you don’t want to make this mistake (intentionally or unintentionally) in formal situations and it’s not appropriate to use it when there is a lady present.
No beer, no cheer!
Chuol Mouy is only used when drinking beer. Are you not in the mood for a beer and rather drink water or coca cola, then you will soon find out that you’re being ignored when there is a ‘chuol muoy’ in the group.
Beer is mixed with ice cubes
Not many locals have a refrigerator, so to keep the beer cool, cans are kept in a bucket of ice cubes. When drinking beer it’s common to use a plastic glass and use ice cubes to keep the beer cool. However, since using ice cubes is so common in Cambodia, using ice cubes is not limited to beer that is not cooled.
Cans are shared
Trying to count the number of cans you drink, can sometimes turn out to be impossible. There are many situations where cans are shared between friends. Mostly this applies when you are drinking outside. When you visit a local street vendor to drink beer and eat some food, the beer you ordered is put in a bucket covered with ice.
It’s common to take one or two cans and share it between the people at the table. You only pay for the beers you drank and the beers that remain in the bucket are taken back by the vendor.
You can win a price
You may see locals check the label of the can whenever they open it. Almost all beers that are locally brewed and even some non-alcoholic drinks have some kind of promotion going on.
In most cases you will find a ‘Thank you’ notice on the can lid, but you also have the chance to get 1, 2, 5 or 10 free cans or even win a money price. Free cans are not 100% free. You can exchange them at the street vendors and some shops but still have to pay 500 Riel per can.
Bills are shared
Loosing face is a big thing in Cambodia and normally people who have no money to spend, will not join their friends to drink and eat together, unless the friend offers him to pay his part of the bill. If you are drinking outside with locals, (normally) the final bill will be shared between all people in the group.
For foreigners, however, there are some considerations….
As a barrang (foreigner), you are considered to be a rich person (doesn’t matter if you are or not). It’s fair to say that not contributing at all, would be very rude. If you are not sure what to do or how much to contribute, ask one of the members in the group what your best approach is. They will definitely understand and tell you what to do.
- In some Asian countries, the unwritten rule is: ‘he who invites, will pay the bill‘. This rule does NOT apply to Cambodia.
Drinking and driving
Just like in any other country, drinking and driving is considered a bad thing. However, you won’t see any local leaving his motorbike behind just because he had too much to drink. It’s common practice to stay at a friend”s house until they’re sober enough to drive again.
Drinking is considered a personal responsibility. If you drink too much and get into trouble, the problems are yours to solve and not your friends’.
Notes to self
Visiting Cambodia and planning to drink with the locals, here are some useful ‘notes to self’
- Don’t get into a drinking competition with the locals….you will definitely loose;
- Don’t get into an argument with drunks…. it can become very violent and ugly;
- Don’t drink locally brewed rice wine…. it’s super strong and can be lethal if brewed the wrong way;
- If you drink from the can, clean the top of the can first.
- You will get used to the ice cubes really fast…. don’t reject them.
- Leaving beer in the can is a sin. If you open a can, you have to drink the whole can
Drinking with locals is an happy event you will definitely not forget. Even when you don’t speak the language and have little or no interaction, you will enjoy the way the locals eat, drink, sing and spend their time together.
Drinking at HokSap (Road 60)
One of the most popular places for locals to drink beer is known as HokSap, which means road 60. It’s also the place to go when you want to have taste of Cambodia’s second most popular drink: Palm Wine. If you’re keen on local experiences and want to experience a night at HokSap, you can read everything you need to know on this page