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Cambodia, officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern of the Indochina Peninsula in South East Asia. Its total landmass is 181.035 km2, bordered by Thailand to the west, Laos to the north, Vietnam to the east and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest. It has a 443 km coastline.

Cambodia's climate is dominated by monsoons, which are known as tropical wet and dry because of the distinctly marked seasonal differences. There are two distinct seasons: the rainy season runs from May to October and the dry season lasts from November to April.

Siem Riep

It has a population of approximately 15.458.332 inhabitants, of which is 90% Khmer. Ethnic minorities include Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham-Malays and various indigenous peoples of the rural highlands.

Cambodia is a multiparty democratic country under a constitutional monarchy which was established in 1993. King Norodom Sihamoni who was chosen by the Royal Throne Council is the Head of State. The head of government is Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power through various coalitions since 1985.

The official language is Khmer, which is used by most people. Chinese, Vietnamese, hill tribe languages, other native dialects, French and English are also used.

Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, practiced by more than 95% of the population. Cambodian Buddhism is deeply pervaded by Hinduism, Tantrism, and native animism. Other religions are Mahayana Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.

Angkor Wat

Cambodia is divided into 24 provinces and the special administrative unit – the capital city Phnom Penh. Each province is divided into districts (srok), and each district into communes (khum). Each of the provinces has one capital district. The Ministry of Interior is in charge of administering provinces and municipalities.

Cambodia has established diplomatic relations with numerous countries, including many of its Asian neighbors, US, Australia, Canada, China, EU, Japan, and Russia. As a result of its international relations, various charitable organizations have assisted with social, economic, and civil infrastructure needs. Cambodia is a member of the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), ASEAN, and joined the WTO in 2004.

Although the Kingdom of Cambodia is rich in natural resources, decades of war and internal conflict have left it one of the world's poorest countries. The country ranked 110 of 178 countries in the 2015 Economic Freedom Index. However, Cambodia has one of the fastest growing economies in Asia with growth averaging 6 percent over the last decade.

Cambodia History

Cambodia has a rich and fascinating history.

The first humans in Cambodia were Stone Age hunters and gatherers. However, farming was introduced into Cambodia about 2300 BC. The first farmers used stone tools but from about 1500 BC they used tools and weapons made from bronze. By about 500 BC they had learned to use iron.

The development of new trade routes between China and Indian on the 1st century AD encouraged the appearance of settlers in the area. One of the first settlements was Funan, which founded the Kingdom of Funan, existed from the 1st to 6th century.

By the 6th century, Chenla has firmly replaced Funan, as it controlled larger, more undulating areas of Indochina and maintained more than a singular center of power. By the beginning of the 7th Century AD, all of Cambodia was highly civilized.

The golden age of Cambodia was arguably between the 9th and 14th centuries, during the time of the Khmer Empire. At this point in history, Cambodia’s achievements in the arts, architecture and other cultural elements were unparalleled in the rest of Southeast Asia. Its greatest legacy is Angkor, which was the site of the capital city during the empire's zenith. In its heyday, Angkor was a powerful kingdom that flourished and dominated almost all of inland Southeast Asia.

Cambodia in the past

From 1863 till 1953, it was a French protectorate, experienced the turmoil of war, occupation by the Japanese, postwar independence, and political instability.

The country's modern history has been bloody. Millions perished during the American bombing of 1968 - 1973, the civil war of 1970 - 1975, the Khmer Rouge regime (1975 - 1979), and the twenty-year Khmer Rouge insurgency which followed. This era of conflict and genocide has caused fundamental damage to Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge took root in northeastern jungles of Cambodia as early as the 1960s. The flash point came when Prince Norodom Sihanouk, was deposed in a military coup in 1970 and leaned on the Khmer Rouge for support. Between 1975 and 1978, an estimated two million Cambodians died by execution, forced labor, and famine. Vietnamese army overthrew the regime of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge on January 7th, 1979. When Pol Pot's troops retreated into the countryside, a long insurgency began which took 20 years to quell. The last fighting subsided only in 1999. The legacy of strife includes social and economic scars. Many millions of land mines were sowed throughout the countryside, and millions of them still lie, hidden and unexploded.

In 2004, King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated. His son, Norodom Sihamoni, succeeded him.

In the early years of the 21st Century, the Cambodian economy grew rapidly. Today, Cambodia is still a poor country but there is every reason to be optimistic about its future. 

Cambodia Culture

Cambodian culture and tradition reflect the rich varied history dating back many centuries. Over the years, the people of Cambodia developed a set of unique tradition from the mix of indigenous Buddhism and Hinduism. The roots of the nation lie in the systematization of wet rice agriculture and the gradual development of a more extensive political organization that climaxed in the Khmer Empire in the period 802–1431.

The most important cultural symbol is the ancient Khmer of Angkor Wat, along with the ancient Khmer Empire and its monumental antiquities. Pictures and bas-relief carvings of the four-faced tower of the Bayon at Angkor Thom and of Apsara (celestial dancing girls) are ubiquitous in homes and public buildings. Since independence, every flag has featured the image of Angkor Wat.

Apsara dance

Buddhist religious values permeate the fabric of Khmer society. In fact, Buddhism is a total way of life, a mindset, covering all areas of thoughts, words and actions. To the Khmer, to be Khmer is to be Buddhist, to be Buddhist to be Khmer.

Cambodia is a rural society. Some 80% of the population live in rural areas, and make a subsistence living through agriculture. They live by events not by the clock and their lifestyle is not governed by urban industrial mentality. That is not to say that they do not use watches or do not set times for events, but it is to say that they are event conscious. Besides, they place great value on interpersonal relationships. The whole of life is more or less constructed around this principle. Their relationships may even be considered of greater value than their own personal well-being. However, they are slow and reticent to accept new ideas. The strength of their society lies not in newness but rather in the security of forms and influences and yet not changes their cultural heritage.

Cambodians have been raised to respect their culture and are very traditional in their way of life. Tourists will see the well-mannered Cambodian expressing a friendly, respectful “Chumreap Suor” (traditionally greet with a “Sampeah” gesture) when they meet one.

Cambodians, both rural and urban, celebrate distinctive festivals and holidays such as Bonn Chaul Chhnam - Khmer New Year (April 13th or 14th), Bonn Om Touk - Water and Moon Festival (early November), which marks the annual flow reversal of the Tonle Sap, Victory Day (January 7th), and Paris Peace Agreement Day (October 23th).

Music occupied a dominant place in traditional Cambodian culture. It was sung and played everywhere - by children at play, by adults at work - and invariably was part of the many celebrations and festivals that took place throughout the year at Buddhist temples in the countryside. 

Thuy Linh

Image sources: Internet

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