From the 9th century to the 15th century, Cambodia was the center of the
mighty Khmer Empire, which was during this time based at Angkor. Angkor
Wat, the empire's main religious temple, remains a symbol of Cambodia
during its time as a world power, and is also the country's top tourist
attraction to this day. Cambodia was a protectorate of France from 1863
until the country received independence in 1953. During this period, Cambodia
was under Japanese occupation during World War II from 1941 to 1945. During
the 1950s and 1960s the country was under the rule of King Norodom Sihanouk,
where the country maintained a precarious neutrality in the wake of active
aggression against South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese.
In 1969 the USA began B-52 bombing operations in Cambodia to destroy Communist
bases in Cambodia. The US administration kept the bombing secret until
1970. In 1970 the Nixon administration briefly invaded Cambodia, and the
bombing continued until 1973. About 30,000-500,000 civilians were killed
during the bombing raids. During the 1970s and 1980s, the country was
plagued with a brutal civil war, a hated military monarchist regime, as
well as an even worse genocidal, agro-communist regime led by the Khmer
Rouge. During the Khmer Rouge period, autogenocide was committed against
millions of people who were perceived intellectuals, detractors of Marxism,
and some just innocent civilians. Millions fled across to neighbouring
Vietnam invaded in 1978 and the USA instituted an embargo on the new Vietnamese-sponsored
government. The Carter administration helped the Khmer Rouge to retain
its seat at the UN, giving the impression that Pol Pot's regime was still
the legitimate government of Cambodia. After United Nations intervention,
however, Cambodia has gained stability and has begun to rebuild the country's
infrastructure that was lost during the brutality that reigned in the
1970s and 1980s.
Cambodia underwent turbulent events from the 1970s until the early 1990s,
when elections, administered by the United Nations, were held. Ever since
then, Cambodia has enjoyed greater stability and peace. One effect of
this was the smooth transition when King Sihanouk abdicated in favor of
his son Norodom Sihamoni on October 14, 2004.
Cambodia is now a constitutional monarchy where executive power is held
by the prime minister. The head of the state is the king, who reigns but
does not govern. Although in the Khmer language there are many words meaning
"king", the word officially used in Khmer (as found in the 1993 Cambodian
Constitution) is preahmâhaksat, which literally means: preah-
("sacred", cognate of the Indian word Brahmin) -mâha- (from Sanskrit,
meaning "great", cognate with "maha-" in maharaja) -ksat ("warrior,
ruler", cognate of the Indian word Kshatriya).
On the occasion of HM King Norodom Sihanouk's retirement in October 2004,
the Cambodian National Assembly coined a new word for the retired king:
preahmâhaviraksat, where vira comes from Sanskrit vi-ra,
meaning "brave or eminent man, hero, chief", cognate of Latin vir,
viris, English virile. Preahmâhaviraksat is translated into
English as "King-Father" (French: Roi-Père), although the word "father"
does not appear in the Khmer noun.
As preahmâhaviraksat, Norodom Sihanouk retains many of the prerogatives
he formerly held as preahmâhaksat and is a highly respected and
listened-to figure. Thus, in effect, Cambodia can be described as a country
with two heads of state: an official one, the preahmâhaksat Norodom
Sihamoni, and an unofficial one, the preahmâhaviraksat Norodom
The legislature comprises a 61-member appointed
Senate and a 123-member lower house, the National Assembly, elected under
proportional representation by popular vote for 5 year terms. The judiciary
is very weak, since only a handful of lawyers and judges were left alive,
the rest being killed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.
Hun Sen of the Cambodian People's Party, or CPP, ousted his former co-prime
minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, son of Prince Sihanouk and brother
of current King Sihamoni, in a short but bloody civil war between the
two coalition partners in 1997. The CPP won the elections in 1998, and
formed a coalition with FUNCINPEC, Ranariddh's royalist party, but with
Hun Sen as sole prime minister. In the 2003 National Assembly elections,
the CPP won 73 seats with 47% of the vote, the opposition-liberal Sam
Rainsy Party won 24 seats (22%), and FUNCINPEC won 26 seats (21%). Eleven
women were among those elected. Following a year long deadlock during
which FUNCINPEC and the Sam Rainsy Party united to oppose the CPP, and
thus prevented it from forming a government, FUNCINPEC switched sides
and joined with the CPP, allowing it to control the two thirds of the
seats in the National Assembly needed to form a government.
Cambodia is divided into 20 provinces (khett, singular and
plural) and 4 municipalities * (krong, singular and plural). It
is also divided by District (srok), Communion (khum), Great districts
(khett), and also Islands (koh).
- Municipalities (Krong):
- Phnom Penh
- Province (Khett):
Thom, Kampot, Kandal,
Koh Kong, Kratié,
Prey Veng, Ratanakiri,
Siem Reap, Stung
Treng, Svay Rieng
- Islands (Koh):
- Koh Rong
- Koh Tan
Cambodia has an area of about 181,040 square kilometers, sharing an 800-kilometer
border with Thailand on the north and west, a 541-kilometer border with
Laos on the northeast, and a 1,228-kilometer border with Vietnam on the
east and southeast. It has 443 kilometers of coastline along the Gulf
The most distinctive geographical feature is the lacustrine plain formed
by the inundations of the Tonle Sap (Great Lake), measuring about 2,590
square kilometers during the dry season and expanding to about 24,605
square kilometers during the rainy season. This densely populated plain,
which is devoted to wet rice cultivation, is the heartland of Cambodia.
Most (about 75 percent) of the country lies at elevations of less than
100 meters above sea level, the exceptions being the Cardamom Mountains
(highest elevation 1,813 meters) and their southeast extension the Dâmrei
Mountains ("Elephant Mountains") (elevation range 500-1,000 meters), as
well the steep escarpment of the Dângrêk Mountains (average elevation
500 meters) along the border with Thailand's Isan region. The highest
elevation of Cambodia is Phnom Aoral, near Pursat in the center of the
country, at 1,813 meters (5,948 feet) above sea-level.
Temperatures range from 10°C to 38°C and Cambodia experiences tropical
monsoons. Southwest monsoons blowing inland bring moisture-laden winds
from the Gulf of Thailand and Indian Ocean from May to October, and the
country experiences the heaviest precipitation from September to October.
The northeast monsoon ushers in the dry season, which lasts from November
to March, with the driest period from January to February.
Despite the recent progress, the Cambodian economy continues to suffer
from the effects of decades of civil war and internal strife. The per
capita income, is rapidly increasing, but is low compared with other countries
in the region. Most rural households depend on agriculture and its related
sub-sectors. Rice, fish, timber, garments and rubber are Cambodia's major
exports, and the United States, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong,
Indonesia and Malaysia are its major export partners.
The recovery of Cambodia's economy slowed dramatically in 1997-1998 due
to the regional economic crisis, civil violence, and political infighting.
Foreign investment and tourism also fell off drastically. Since then however,
growth has been steady. In 1999, the first full year of peace in 30 years,
progress was made on economic reforms and growth resumed at 5.0%. Despite
severe flooding, GDP grew at 5.0% in 2000, 6.3% in 2001, and 5.2% in 2002.
Tourism was Cambodia's fastest growing industry, with arrivals increasing
from 219,000 in 1997 to 1,055,000 in 2004. During 2003 and 2004 the growth
rate remained steady at 5.0%, while in 2004 inflation was at 1.7% and
exports at $1.6 billion US dollars. As of 2004 GDP per Capita was $1900
USD, which ranked it 175th (out of 232) countries.
The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in
the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack
of basic infrastructure. Fear of renewed political instability and corruption
within the government discourage foreign investment and delay foreign
aid. The government is addressing these issues with assistance from bilateral
and multilateral donors.
Cambodia is ethnically homogeneous, as more than 90% of its population
is of Khmer origin and speaks the Khmer language, the country's official
language. The remainder include Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham and Khmer Loeu.
The Khmer language is a member of the Mon-Khmer subfamily of the Austroasiatic
language group. French is spoken by many Cambodians as a second-language
and is often the language of instruction in various schools and universities.
Cambodian French is a dialect found in Cambodia. It is also frequently
used in government. However, in recent decades, many younger Cambodians,
as well as members of the business-classes, have favored learning English
and it is gradually becoming the more widely-known.
Theravada Buddhism, suppressed by Khmer Rouge but now revived, is the
main religion, but Christianity is spreading in the country.
Khmer culture, as developed and spread by the Khmer empire, has distinctive
styles of dance, architecture and sculpture which have strongly influenced
neighbouring Laos and Thailand. Notable recent artistic figures include
the singers Sinn Sisamouth, who introduced new musical styles to the country,
and later Meng Keo Pichenda.
Bonn Om Teuk (Water Festival), the annual boat rowing contest, is the biggest
Cambodian holiday. The festival is held at the end of the rainy season when
the Mekong river begins to sink back to its normal levels. Approximately
10% of Cambodia's population attends this event each year. Popular games
include kicking a sey, which is similar to a hacky sack, cockfighting and
Rice, as in other South East Asian countries, is the staple grain, while
fish from the Mekong and Tonle Sap also form an important part of the diet.
The Cambodian per capita supply of fish and fish products for food and trade
in 2000 was 20 kg of fish per year or 2 oz. per day per person.. Some of
the fish can be made into prahok (a Khmer delicacy) for longer storage.
Overall, the cuisine of Cambodia is similar to that of its Southeast Asian
neighbours. The cuisine is relatively unknown to the world compared to that
of its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam, but has been described not as spicy
as Thai cuisine and similar to other Southeast Asia cuisines.
Customary Cambodian teachings include: that if a person does not wake up
before sunrise he is lazy; you have to tell your parents or elders where
you are going and what time you are coming back home; close doors gently,
otherwise you have a bad temper; sit with your legs straight down and not
crossed (crossing your legs shows that you are an impolite person); and
always let other people talk more than you. Khmer culture is very hierarchical,
in that the greater a person's age, the greater the level of respect that
must be granted to them.
(Khmer: Nation, Religion, King)
11°31' N 104°49' E
||Khmer; French and English often understood
by educated classes
- Water (%)
181,040 km (87th)
- July 2004 est.
- 1998 census
- Per capita
$29,344 million (86th)
||0.571 (130th) medium
- Summer (DST)
currency, although US Dollars are widely used.