Dwellings are raised on stilts that sometimes extend as high as 3 metres (9.8 ft) off the ground. In this way, annual floods do not affect the main room in the houses of rice farmers, whereas rural farmers are able to use the ground level area beneath the house for working and to provide shelter for livestock. One or two wooden ladders, ramps or staircases provide access to the upper floor. The simplest houses consist of only one room on the upper floor, partitioned off to provide a storage place for rice, a bedroom for the parents, and a further space for unmarried daughters.
The original Khmer house is a stilt house, or pile, house. The structure consists of evenly spaced wooden pilings that extend from the ground to the eaves or the roof ridge historically called ridge-post framing. No provision is made at ground level for any form of wall cladding or protection against wind and rain; by day this area provides shade and serves as a living space for the inhabitants and their livestock. The upper floor, which is closed on all four sides, provides sleeping accommodation during the night; clothes, furniture and objects of value are stored here.
Based on the framework and depending on the size of the building, 1 – 3 pitched roofs are placed alongside each other; the central roof will be noticeably smaller and narrower. A hip roof is another variation of the typical roof of a Khmer house; this construction requires a large amount of material and is complicated, so that it is rarely seen. The shape of the roof defines the different house types. The Khmer house is an example of indigenous materials used with a traditional design called vernacular architecture.
Typically, the kitchen is situated at the back of the house, often some steps lower and attached to the main building; it is not uncommon for there to be two entrances to this room, one from the upper floor and one directly from the ground level. Sometimes the kitchen is in a separate building near the house.