Cambodia boasts a rich culture with its many ancient temples and impressive natural scenery. These include, empty beaches, mighty rivers and remote forests. Nevertheless, the temples of Angkor literally rise out of the jungle and are a magnet for visitors to Cambodia. Angkor Wat is the largest and most famous of the temples, visitors can quite easily spend a week exploring the hundreds of other exquisite structures. Phnom Penh is a bustling city, often overshadowed by glamorous Angkor. It is a city of contrasts with fine colonial architecture side by side with ramshackle streets.
Elsewhere, few visitors take the time to discover the hill tribes around Banlung (Ratanakiri province), the unspoiled countryside around sleepy Sen Monorom (Mondolkiri province) and the charming riverine town of Battambang with its faded colonial architecture. Those looking for relaxation make their way to Sihanoukville with its lovely sandy beaches and laid-back lifestyle. With the road network little by little improving, so much more of this delightful country is opening up to visitors who take the time to discover Cambodia beyond the temples.
History of Cambodia
The history of Cambodia began in the first century A.D with the establishment of a State called Funan. It is still renowned as being the oldest Indianized State in the whole of Southeast Asia. Modern-day Khmer customs and language evolved from this period in time. The State of Funan was situated in southern Cambodia and southern Vietnam and lasted for a period of 600 years. This dynasty gave way to the powerful Angkor Empire that was eventually responsible for establishing the Khmer Kingdom, as we know it today.
The following generation of powerful kings that belonged to the Angkorian dynasty reigned for a period of 650 years. Their empire covered much of Southeast Asia. Their territory stretched from Burma, which lies east, to the South China Sea and further north, right up to southern China. Khmer kings, during this golden period of rule built the most ornate and extensive temples or prasats known to mankind. These spectacular constructions were built throughout the kingdom. Angkor Wat is, of course, the most famous. Besides building the most majestic prasats on earth, Khmer kings were also responsible for huge agricultural feats of engineering which included sophisticated irrigation systems, great water reservoirs, and countless canal systems that guaranteed food transport. Some of these systems are still in use today.
Angkor became the capital of a great kingdom and the center for government, education, religion, and commerce. However, in 1431 a sudden shift of power took place. Angkor was invaded and eventually, completely ravaged. Mankind’s most predominant creation was plunged into total destruction. The entire population and wealth of a once proud civilization was abandoned and covered by tropical forest. Following the abandonment of Angkor, Cambodia's capital population migrated south to Long Vek, then further to Ou Dong, and eventually to Phnom Penh. The destruction of the mighty Angkorian capital also caused a decline, adaptation, and eventual replacement of Hinduism. Theravada Buddhism became the national religion.
As war started to escalate in Vietnam, Cambodia's borders increasingly became the targets of American and Vietnamese aggression. March 18, 1970, General Lon Nol, backed by the Americans, overthrew the Head of State. Consequently, Cambodia became deeply involved in the war, fighting mainly against the Khmer Rouge. Lon Nol's control over Cambodia's government lasted for a period of barely five years, until he was overthrown by the Khmer Rouge, headed by Pol Pot, on April 17, 1975. History repeated itself as soon as Pol Pot invaded. The entire population evacuated the city leaving a once vibrant capital in ruin and decay. The Khmer Rouge then proceeded to implement a “reign of terror” on Cambodia's entire population. People were brutally forced to work as slaves in the rice fields. These people had to endure long periods of hard, painful labor while effectively being starved at the same time.
Pol Pot's Kampuchean forced labor camps tortured, killed or starved to death an estimated two million people, including women and children. In 1979, The People's Republic of Kampuchea, supported by Vietnamese, liberated the capital. This presented the opportunity for the country to become re-established once again. Throughout the 1980s, Cambodia, with the assistance of the Vietnamese re-built its economy. In 1989, the Vietnamese withdrew from Cambodia and the country was re-named "State of Cambodia." Today, the Kingdom of Cambodia is once again a peaceful place to visit, the authoritarian, extreme-left Cambodian People's Party remains in government.
Time: GMT + 7
Area: 181,035 sq km (69,900 sq miles)
Population: 14.8 million (UN estimate 2005)
Population Density: 81.7 per sq km. (31.5 per sq mi.)
Capital: Phnom Penh. Population: 1.17 million (2005)
Geography: Cambodia shares borders in the north with Laos and Thailand, in the east with Vietnam and in the southwest with the Gulf of Thailand. The landscape comprises tropical rainforest and fertile cultivated land traversed by many rivers. The capital is located at the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers. The latter flows from a large inland lake, also called Tonle Sap, situated in the center of the country. There are numerous offshore islands along the southwest coast
Government: Constitutional monarchy since 1993
Head of State: King Norodom Sihamoni since 2004
Head of Government: Prime Minister Hun Sen since 1998
Language: Khmer is the official language and spoken by 95% of the population. Chinese and Vietnamese are also spoken. French was widely spoken until the arrival of the Pol Pot regime and is still taught in schools, but English is now a more popular language to learn among the younger generation.
Religion: 95% Buddhist (Theravada), the remainder Muslim and Christian. Buddhism was reinstated as the national religion in 1989 after a ban on religious activity in 1975.
Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Two-pin plugs are in use. Power cuts are frequent.
Social Conventions: Sensitivity to politically related subjects in conversation is advisable. Avoid pointing your foot at a person or touching someone on the head. Women should keep their shoulders covered and not wear shorts when visiting pagodas.
Photography: Permitted, with certain restrictions, such as the photographing of military installations, airports and railway stations. It is polite to ask permission before photographing Cambodian people, especially monks.