Mention Cambodia and the name Angkor Wat usually is the first thing associated with the country.
However, it is Cambodia’s rich cultural history, glorious civilization and turbulent modern times are but some of the reasons that draw curious travellers to this land. Through it all, the one constant, is the Khmer people – ever calm, polite and warm. Always smiling and dignified.
Contemporary Cambodia is the successor state to the mighty Khmer empire, which, during the Angkorian period, ruled much of what is now Southeast Asia.
The once great Khmer Civilization had declined over five centuries ago, but we still see its evidence today in the form of the sprawling Angkor temple complex, wide roads and ancient edifices.
Cambodia’s people must be some of the most resilient on the earth. Having experienced tortuous war years, poverty and horror, they still are courteous, friendly and welcoming. You will love the constant array of smiling gentle faces and the best compliment to pay your hosts is to remain cool tempered, calm and ready for a laugh.
Cambodia’s official language is Khmer, and this is spoken by the majority of the population. However, Vietnamese and several Chinese dialects can also be heard. Unlike the languages of Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and China, Khmer is non-tonal and has also picked up and adapted many words from Sanskrit and Pali. Khmer has also borrowed many terms from Chinese and European languages, particularly French. The roots of written Khmer derive from a South Indian alphabet. It uses thirty-three consonants, twenty-four dependent vowels, twelve independent vowels, and diacritic markers. Vowels may be written before, after, over, or under a consonant symbol. 50% of the population is literate.
Cambodia’s population stands at 12 million, of which the Khmer make up 90%. Other groups include Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and Burmese and various ethnic hill tribes, many of the latter living in the mountainous regions to the north and southwest. The Khmer account for 80% of agricultural workers, while the Vietnamese and Chinese dominate the business sector.
Buddhism has existed in Cambodia since at least the 5th century, and in its earlier form was a type of Theravada Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism has been the Cambodian state religion since the 13th century, and is currently estimated to be the faith of 95% of the population.
The area that is present-day Cambodia came under Khmer rule about 600, when the region was at the center of a vast empire that stretched over most of Southeast Asia. Under the Khmers, who were Hindus, a magnificent temple complex was constructed at Angkor. Buddhism was introduced in the 12th century during the rule of Jayavaram VII. However, the kingdom, then known as Kambuja, fell into decline after Jayavaram’s reign and was nearly annihilated by Thai and Vietnamese invaders. Kambuja’s power steadily diminished until 1863, when France colonized the region, joining Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam into a single protectorate known as French Indochina.
The French quickly usurped all but ceremonial powers from the monarch, Norodom. When he died in 1904, the French passed over his sons and handed the throne to his brother, Sisowath. Sisowath and his son ruled until 1941, when Norodom Sihanouk was elevated to power. Sihanouk’s coronation, along with the Japanese occupation during the war, worked to reinforce a sentiment among Cambodians that the region should be free from outside control. After World War II, Cambodians sought independence, but France was reluctant to part with its colony. Cambodia was granted independence within the French Union in 1949. But the French-Indochinese War provided an opportunity for Sihanouk to gain full military control of the country. He abdicated in 1955 in favor of his parents, remaining head of the government, and when his father died in 1960, Sihanouk became chief of state without returning to the throne. In 1963, he sought a guarantee of Cambodia’s neutrality from all parties in the Vietnam War.
In 1965, however, Sihanouk broke off diplomatic relations with the United States. At the same time, he allowed North Vietnamese Communists, then fighting the Vietnam War against the United States and the South Vietnamese in southern Vietnam, to set up bases on Cambodian soil.
In 1975, despite massive infusions of U.S. aid, the Khmer Republic collapsed, and Khmer Rouge forces occupied Phnom Penh. Pol Pot is a pseudonym for the Cambodian guerrilla commander Saloth Sar, who organized the Communist guerrilla force known as the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge ousted General Lon Nol in 1975, establishing a brutal Communist regime that ruled until 1979. While in power, the Khmer Rouge murdered, worked to death, or killed by starvation close to 1.7 million Cambodians.
Pol Pot died in 1998, and by early 1999 most of the remaining Khmer Rouge troops and leaders had surrendered. Rebel troops were integrated into the Cambodian army. In 1999 two Khmer Rouge leaders were arrested and charged with genocide for their part in the atrocities.
Cambodia is firmly in the tropics and even though it doesn’t experience cold weather the two yearly seasons are radically different and can seriously affect your travel plans accordingly. Its 440km-long southern seaboard borders the Gulf of Thailand and features
Bordering Laos in the north, Vietnam in the east, and Thailand to the west, Cambodia has the Gulf of Thailand on its 440km-long southern seaboard many idyllic beaches. More than 60% of its 181,035 square km is forested, with the north and southwest of the country consisting of tropical forest and highlands, while the central basin is fertile land dissected by the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.
The capital city Phnom Penh sits at the intersection of these two rivers. The Mekong passes through the entire length of the country. From the northern border, it travels 500km south until it crosses the Vietnamese border in the south.
Conventional long form: Kingdom of Cambodia
Conventional short form: Cambodia
Local long form: Preahreacheanachakr Kampuchea (phonetic pronunciation)
Local short form: Kampuchea
Former: Khmer Republic, Democratic Kampuchea, People’s Republic of Kampuchea, State of Cambodia
Name: Phnom Penh
Geographic coordinates: 11 33 N, 104 55 E
Time difference: UTC+7 (12 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Southeastern Asia, bordering the Gulf of Thailand, between Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos
13 00 N, 105 00 E
Tropical; rainy, monsoon season (May to November); dry season (December to April); little seasonal temperature variation
Mostly low, flat plains; mountains in southwest and north
Khmer (official) 95%, French, English
Buddhist (official) 96.4%, Muslim 2.1%, other 1.3%, unspecified 0.2% (1998 census)
14,952,665 (July 2012 est.)
KALEIDOSCOPE OF MOMENTS
The gateway to Eastern Cambodia, Kampong Cham is both the name of a province and the country’s third largest town. The province of Kampong Cham is located in the central lowlands of the country and straddles the Mekong River. “Kampong” means “the side of a river or any other body of water” with “Cham” referring to the Cham ethnicity of the Champa people.
In a recent 2013 political move, the original province was divided, with all lands west of the Mekong remaining Kampong Cham and to the east renamed Tbong Khmum province.
Kampong Cham city is a mix of the old and new, with a new temple being built in and around older ruins. The town itself is quaint and charming with its’ bustling early morning river scene and wide seaside boulevards. One of the principal highlights of the town, is the King’s residence which served as home for the ruling monarchs.
You’ll find the people of Kampong Cham, as elsewhere in Cambodia, very friendly, courteous and open to engaging with tourists.
Angkor Ban, a little village on the banks of the Mekong, one of the few not destroyed under the Khmer Rouge regime, and still retaining many of its venerable wooden houses.
The rural village of Angkor Ban is a unique monument to tradition. Centurion wooden houses stand intact on stilts among the bustle of local agricultural life. The village is shaded with banana trees. It was an excellent introduction to the Mekong banks: daily life with beautiful square-shaped houses on stilts, a temple with the usual kitschy display of colors, and slender cows which give us an idea of how wealthy the village is.
Kampong Tralach is both the name of the district and its’ chief town and is located in the south east of Kampong Chhnang Province, in central Cambodia. The District shares a border with Kandal province to the south and Kampong Cham province to the east. Tonle Sap (Tonle River) runs on a north-south axis through the district.
Kampong Tralach is the site of the former capital of Cambodia at Lovek. It was Cambodia's main city after the Siamese King Borommaracha II sacked Angkor in 1431. The new capital was located on the banks of the Tonle Sap River, halfway between Phnom Penh and the lower end of the Tonle Sap Lake. This new site was chosen to be more defensible than Angkor. The city became a wealthy trading centre and attracted various Europeans traders and missionaries through the 16th and 17th centuries.
One of the more popular attractions are the numerous ox carts rides available along the banks of the Mekong. These “Cambodian Limousines” carry visitors through small hamlets and into the countryside.
Siem Reap is located on the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake, the greatest sweet water reserve in whole South-East Asia. The proximity of the world famous temples of Angkor north of the city turned Siem Reap into a boomtown in less than half a decade. “Siem Reap” literally means “Siamese defeated”, referring to the victory of the Khmer Empire over the army of the Thai kingdom in the 17th century.
Kampong Chhnang is the capital city of Kampong Chhnang Province, in central Cambodia.
It is located just west of the Tonle Sap River and is a noted port. The small city is connected to Phnom Penh by a national highway route and railway. Phnom Kong Rei is a landmark located north of the city across the Tonle Sap River.
The economy of the area is dominated by rice production and many locals live on floating fishing villages during the high-water monsoon season.
The capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia is located at the confluence of three rivers-the Mekong, the Bassac and Tonle Sap. Despite its development, Phnom Penh has retained its charm and character: cyclos that weave through traffic with ease, broad boulevards, old colonial buildings, parks and green spaces, and above all its people who always have a smile for you.