Living With Your Khmer Girlfriend

Or, when East meets West in the domicile.

So there you are, an ex-pat boy, you have been here a while and you are either; a) not interested in, or, b) bored of, the girl scene here. However, you are not quite committed enough for a long-term, permanent, relationship with a pure white Khmer girl.

Somewhere along the line you have stumbled sideways into a grey girl, or two; and have decided to take the plunge, yup, you tell her to stop work and you move her into your apartment.

The harmonious joining of two such disparate cultures is not an easy or automatic thing; furthermore, let nobody persuade you that Asian women are subservient pushovers that kowtow to the master of the house without regard for themselves. This is a myth in part, I suspect, perpetuated by Western males having had the majority of their social contact with Khmer girls in some of the dodgy bars or karaoke parlours around Phnom Penh.

Despite all of this, the strategic goal of an affable living environment can be achieved with a little understanding and kindness, as well as the tactical co-application of cash and alcohol.

Let us breakdown the main areas of discord and assess them individually – in no particular order, or relevance, we have:


One of the hardest things for your freshly obtained grey girl to grasp will be the fact that it is possible to watch a single television channel for longer than 15 seconds – give me that damn remote!

She will also be perplexed to discover that karaoke does not need to be played constantly at full volume whenever one is in the house.

However, once broken of these Khmer habits, and once she has worked out how to use the DVD player, it will be difficult to get her off the sofa of an evening.

By way of a cultural compromise, you should also be prepared to watch a lot of very, very, bad Thai and Philippine soap operas, as well as some iffy Chinese action movies

Cooking and Cleaning

A tricky area this one. Having moved your grey girl in, she will instantly want to start changing things and top of the list will be you getting rid of your cook and cleaner. She will start listing the faults of your current employees as well as casting doubts and suspicions about their honesty. The main reason behind this is not that she dreams of washing your dirty underwear herself, it is the fact that if she does all of this, you will have an extra US$xxx each month to spend on her/her friends/her family/ et cetera.

With the cleaning, it is best to just not get involved at all. Any Khmer female – hell, any female – will have a much better grasp of cleanliness than your average male ex-pat.

The cooking is an area that will vary from man to man. Personally I can not cope with rice three times a day for more than 3 days running. Your girl will consider this strange, but you have to be tough on this from the start. Fortunately I happen to a rather accomplished chef, and teaching several basic non-rice dishes was easy. Also, D”s Books on St. 240 currently have a rather large selection of Cookery Books. For the truly desperate, I believe that The Garden Centre Cafe runs a cooking course.

Telephone etiquette

Depending on where you collected your grey girl from, along with the exact shade of grey that she is, will affect the volume of phone calls that she will receive – and at what hour of the day or night she will receive them.

I know of people who have been plagued day and night by former customers of various bars phoning and wanting the girl to meet them for a drink, or dinner. Obviously they were the rejected ones during your greys search for a barang boyfriend. However, she will not want to sever all of those ties during the initial few months of the relationship, just in case?

If you are serious [or at least semi-serious] about your girl a big display, using a subtle combination of anger and jealousy, will; a) put a stop to these calls, and, b) help convince her that you are serious about making a go of things. Khmers believe that jealousy is a great display of affection; although be warned that that works both ways.

Also there will be all of her grey girl friends who will be phoning and wanting a blow by blow account, progress reports and information on potential problem areas – also be aware of the converse situation, that any problems that your girl runs into will be cast out onto the grey girl network for solution suggestions. If she has a grey friend who is living with, or has lived with, a barang then they will be the first port of call. Be sure to cultivate a friendship with any such a person, it will help in the long run as problems arise. Also, be sure to listen to the advice of your own friends who have Khmer wives, fiances or girlfriends, there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel all on your own.


Ah, yes, this is a big one. The first, second and third things on any Khmer girls mind will be money. Having moved her in, your money will also be a source of constant worry for her. Every Dollar, Riel or Baht that you spend will be logged in the innate spreadsheet every Khmer girl has between her ears. If you do not think that your girl can recite your exact expenditure on anything for a given month, just try asking her sometime.

If you ever have an argument, you can guarantee that money will be the root cause, even if that fact is not readily apparent to you during the argument; for example, you might think that she is pissed off at you for rolling in at 4AM pissed out of your skull when you said at 7PM that you were popping out ‘for an hour or so’ – which would be the normal response and argument with the majority of Western women. HOWEVER, what she is really arguing about is the fact that you have blown US$30 in a single night on; beer, tips for back-massage girls and one slightly dodgy chicken kebab. That money to her represents a couple of week’s groceries, or a month’s rent for her mother in a wooden shack somewhere North of Phnom Penh.

One of the best long term defensive strategies for this is too only declare two-thirds of your actual income to said girl. Keep the rest carefully [and I mean carefully] hidden. When you go out for the night, leave all your cash at home except the one single, solitary, US$10 note that you tell her you are taking.

Once in your watering hole of choice, you can retrieve the large wad of rolled up twenties from between your butt cheeks and drink away to your hearts content. Alternatively, if you are on friendly terms with the barang barkeep at your local, you could do as I do, slip him US$50 or US$100 at the beginning of the month as bar credit and then just drink for free for the next few weeks – it saves hiding the cash somewhere at home.

Social Life

This is an area which also overlaps with Money, however, your idea of a good night out may not be the same as your girls. Sitting in a bar, having a few beers and chatting the evening away with friends in just not something that Khmers really do, or understand. If they go out for a sociable evening, it tends to be more purpose orientated:

– you go to a restaurant, you go to just eat, talking is often difficult, what with the ear-bleeding volume of karaoke singers and music.
– if you wish to carry on after that; you can go to a Khmer nightclub, where the music will again be played at a volume capable of causing internal haemorrhaging , you will carry on drinking and maybe have a bit of a dance
– or if your Khmer friends are not as hip as that, you will probably end up singing karaoke in a VIP Karaoke parlour, where the real purpose is really to get even drunker and fondle the girls

So the relaxed, casual, popping out for a beer or two with friends is alien ground for your average Khmer. Your grey girl will probably tire of accompanying you on such nights out, she will end up sitting on the same glass of coke for the whole evening, once you have her trained in the fact that it is rude to just sit at the bar for 3 or 4 hours and not order a drink of anything, ever. Depending on language skills, she may at first try and keep up with parts of the conversation, but she [and you] will quickly tire of attempting translations and explanations of every other; word, phrase or idiom used by a group of increasingly drunker ex-pats ? as she sits there with her warming coke.

Furthermore, your choice of venues becomes increasingly restricted with your [bored] grey girl in tow; any bars specifically orientated towards gentlemen are obviously out, as are the majority of ex-pat or tourist bars, as every NGO women with a 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser will look at you like you are scum and will assume that your girl is a whore – which gets very, very, tiring very quickly.

There are, however, a few bars around town, which are owned by ex-pat males that have been here for a while and that have Khmer wives, these are by far the best places to frequent with your grey girl. They also have the additional advantage of usually having several other Khmer girls in them for your girl to chat to in Khmer while you are busy complaining to the boys about the terrible rugby results, the fact that you just can not get a pint of Wadworth’s 6X in Cambodia, or any of the other issues that are truly important to us Englishmen.

Da Boom Boom

Suspect that this is the one most of you have been waiting for? Again, the exact shade of grey will determine performance in this area. The lighter the shade of grey the girl is, the more training and tutoring that will be required for mutual appreciation, even the concept that it is a mutually pleasurable experience might take a while to get across. However, curiously enough, visual aids are often more than welcome and appreciated by the girls, regardless of shading. I guess that none of the killjoy NGO women with 4×4 Toyota Land Cruisers have gone after that particular area of the VCD market yet.

One of the more curious things is that for the first month or so, your grey will probably be sleeping fully clothed with a sheet wrapped around here ? before, during and after any nocturnal activities that may, or may not, be taking place.

This level of shyness will be reduced in time, the best approach is to not try and force the issue too much, a little at a time will work eventually.

Lord Playboy

The views in this column are entirely those of Lord Playboy (of Phnom Penh, Sonteipheap and that muddy patch of ground next to the school) they are in no way are representative of Khmer440, its editors or staff, of any Ministry of the Royal Government of Cambodia who employs Lord Playboy, anybody who owns a Tico, of people who have more teeth than brain cells or that German chap Bernard I met in the pub last week. Damn, things will be different when I am running the Country.

3 thoughts on “Living With Your Khmer Girlfriend

  1. Dengchao Reply

    Sounds a bit craven to me LPB: It’s my money and I’ve always made that clear. Why should I be hiding it like I’m a dodgy Wall Street bloke?

  2. stevie Reply

    my Khmer girlfriend seemed nice at first, but she’s proven over 3/4 years together, that going further is probably going to be negative. I’ve given her lots of money and still she has nothing on her bank.She asks for money nearly every day and buys lucky numbers, gives it to the monks for blessings and sends it to her family, despite me constantly trying to learn her about consequences. She doesn’t clean our room and is with her friends more than she’ with me, even when I’m sick and i mean props sick.I try to be good and logical, but it doesn’t always work, of at all and it seems she gets more self destructive and relationship destructive by the day. She’s out now,she told me drinking with friends and then karaoke.She’s been out since we got up this morning.She bought a chicken, not firstly for us, no, its firstly for Buddha.I am just overcoming a sickness, so I can’t go out, but she’s gone anyway.She did the same thing a couple of weeks ago and had to be brought home pissed.I had to put up with a load of verbal and mind she didn’t choke herself, when she lay flat on the floor, being sick everywhere.I hope its not another repeat tonight.Fixing her dropped moto also cost me last time as well. I keep doubting if I am thinking wrong, but it just seems like I get the odd day of smiles from her and the rest, she seems intent on self/relationship destruction.I have done a lot of serious thinking and took more control of money, so we don’t get crucified. I’ve just bought her a fridge/freezer, cooker and kettle and paid the room rent, but its as if more is always needed.I do most of the cleaning, we eat at cafes and restaurants and although she has been to bars with me, its getting less to hardly existent.I try to think logically and treat her nice, but her stubborness makes it really difficult and it can be a massive test of patience.If she gets drunk tonight or keeps a mood on her tonight, she is daft enough not to come home at all.She’d prefer to keep up the awkwardness and sleep at a friends, which she’ done before.At the moment,one of the friends she says she’s with tonight has a Khmer boyfriend she lives with and and an American boyfriend, who has no idea.When he goes back to America, they’ll shack up again.Now, the Khmer one is in hiding.
    I keep telling myself, my girlfriend is nice and its cultural with us, but nothing seems to be clear.It really is as if she wants to shoot herself in the foot or something and it all makes me wonder if i should keep giving her an extra yard or just free myself as I am losing trust and confidence.

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