Things to do - general

The Kingdom of Cambodia, formerly Kampuchea, is a Southeast Asian nation that borders Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the Gulf of Thailand. The capital city is Phnom Penh

Official Name: Kingdom of Cambodia

: 181,040 sq. km. (69,900 sq. mi.)
Cambodia is located on mainland Southeast Asia between Thailand to the west and north and Vietnam to the east. It shares a land border with Laos in the northeast. Cambodia has a sea coast on the Gulf of Thailand. The Dangrek Mountain range in the north and Cardamom Mountains in the southwest form natural boundaries. Principal physical features include the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong and Bassac Rivers. Cambodia remains one of the most heavily forested countries in the region, although deforestation continues at an alarming rate.
Cities: Capital–Phnom Penh (pop. 1.2 million), Battambang, Siem Reap, Kompong Cham, Kompong Speu, Kompong Thom.
National Flag :The flag of Cambodia symbolizes the country’s slogan: Nation, Religion, King. The two large blue stripes represent royalty and the center red stripe represents the nation. The image of the white temple stands for the nation’s religion.   National FlowerThe romduol, a small yellowish-white flower, is the national flower of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Since ancient times, Cambodian women have often been compared to the Romduol flower because of its attractive fragrance; a unique scent that is prominent in the late afternoon and can travel over long distances with the wind. With its sturdy stems that measure up to 30cm, the Romduol plant can grow to a height of 12 meters. These plants are being planted to enhance public parks.
Currency & Exchange:
The Cambodian official currency is Khmer Riels, However US Dollar is widely accepted in Cambodia. US Dollar has been used as commonly as Khmer Riels for High-Value items particularly dealing in the Hotels, Restaurant, Shops, high value possessions and Taxi.Cambodian hard currencies printed in : 50 Riels, 100 Riels, 200 Riels, 500 Riels, 1,000 Riels, 2,000 Riels, 5,000 Riels, 10,000 Riels, 50,000 Riels, 100,000 Riels. Tourist should carry some Khmer Riels for some small value deals.Credit card, Master Card, RJB, and Travel Checks are accepted in major Hotels, Restaurants, and Shops. Most Banks in Cambodia accepts above Cards for encashment manually or ATM machines and located in most high-population provinces such as Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanouk Ville and Battambong.Currency policy in Cambodia haven’t yet applied and seem to be freely convenience for tourist as they are at home unlike in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore. US Dollar against Khmer Riels, Rate at Shop, Restaurants and Hotels are approximately around 4,000 Riels/ USD. You can do the exchange in many places outside the banks and they are located almost everywhere near the markets.Terrain: Central plain drained by the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) and Mekong and Bassac Rivers. Forests away from the rivers and the lake, mountains in the southwest (Cardamom Mountains) and north (Dangrek Mountains) along the border with Thailand.
Climate: Tropical monsoon with rainy season June-Oct. and dry season Nov.-May. ClimateLike most of Southeast Asia, Cambodia’s climate is hot and warm almost all year round. The climate is dominated by the annual monsoon cycle of rainy and dry seasons. The rainy season lasts from May to October, and the dry season from November to April. December to January are the coolest months, while the hottest period is in April. The average temperature is around 27-28º
People Nationality: Noun and adjective–Cambodian(s), Khmer.Cambodia’s population is approximately 14 million. Ninety per cent of residents are Khmer; the rest are Cham (Khmer Muslim), Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Thai, Phnorng, Kuoy, Stieng, Tamil, etc. Population density is 78/ km2.
Avg. annual growth rate (2005) 1.96%.Health: Infant mortality rate–69/1,000. Life expectancy–57 years male; 61 years female.Ethnic groups: Cambodian 90%; Vietnamese 5%; Chinese 1%; small numbers of hill tribes, Chams, and Laotian.
Ninety percent of Cambodia’s population is ethnically Cambodian. Other ethnic groups include Chinese, Vietnamese, hill tribes, Chams, and Laotian. Theravada Buddhism is the religion of 95% of the population; Islam, animism, and Christianity also are practiced. Khmer is the official language and is spoken by more than 95% of the population. Some French is still spoken in urban areas, and English is increasingly popular as a second language.Religions: Theravada Buddhism 95%; Islam; Christian.

Languages: Khmer (official) spoken by more than 95% of the population; some French still spoken in urban areas; English increasingly popular as a second language.

Education: Years compulsory–none. Enrollment–primary school, 91.9%; grades 7 to 9, 26.1%; grades 10 to 12, 9.3%; and post-secondary, 1.4%. Completion rates–primary school, 46.8%; lower secondary school, 20.57%; upper secondary school, 8.92%; university, 6%. Literacy (total population over 15 that can read and write, 2006)–73.6% (male 84.7%; female 64.1%).

Type: Multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Independence: November 9, 1953. Constitution: September 24, 1993; amended March 6, 1999.
Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, and its constitution provides for a multiparty democracy. The Royal Government of Cambodia, formed on the basis of elections internationally recognized as free and fair, was established on September 24, 1993.
The executive branch comprises the king, who is head of state; an appointed prime minister; seven deputy prime ministers, 15 senior ministers, 28 ministers, 135 secretaries of state, and 146 undersecretaries of state. The bicameral legislature consists of a 123-member elected National Assembly and a 61-member Senate. The judiciary includes a Supreme Court and lower courts. Administrative subdivisions are 20 provinces and 4 municipalities.

Principal Government Officials
King and Head of State: His Majesty Norodom Sihamoni
Prime Minister and Head of Government: His Excellency Hun Sen
President of the Senate: His Excellency Chea Sim
President of National Assembly: His Excellency Heng Samrin

Cambodia’s real GDP grew at 5.5% in 2002 and 5.2% in 2003, with almost all of the growth coming from the garment sector. Growth in 2004 was strong at 5.5%, with the garment sector providing the biggest input into GDP growth. Inflation steadily increased from 1.3% in 2003 to 3.9% in 2005 to 6.7% in 2005. The national currency, the riel, was relatively stable over 2002 but depreciated slightly against the U.S. dollar in 2003. The National Bank of Cambodia made a series of limited yet effective interventions in 2004 to keep the riel to dollar rate at roughly 4,000 to one. The economy is heavily dollarized; the dollar and riel can be used interchangeably. FDI was recorded at $142 million in 2000 and gradually dropped to $121 million in 2004. In 2005, for the first time in five years, FDI increases to $216 million. In recent years Cambodia is showing a steady growth as the progressive economy. GDP (2005): $6.2 billion. Per capita GDP (2005): $448. Annual growth rate (2005): 13.4%. Inflation (2005): 6.7%. Natural resources: Timber, gemstones, some iron ore, manganese and phosphate, hydroelectric potential from the Mekong River. Agriculture (32.3% of GDP, 2005): About 4,848,000 hectares (12 million acres) are unforested land; all are arable with irrigation, but 2.5 million hectares are cultivated. Products–rice, rubber, corn, meat, vegetables, dairy products, sugar, flour. Industry (25.3% of GDP, 2005): Types–garment and shoe manufacturing, rice milling, tobacco, fisheries and fishing, wood and wood products, textiles, cement, some rubber production, paper and food processing.

Services (37% of GDP, 2004 est.): Tourism, telecommunications, transportation, and construction

Central government budget (2005): Revenues–$642 million; expenditures–$812 million; foreign financing–$273 million.

Trade: Exports ($2.9 billion, 2005)–garments, shoes, cigarettes, natural rubber, rice, pepper, wood, fish. Major partners–United States, Germany, U.K., Singapore, Japan, Vietnam. Imports ($3.8 billion, 2005)–fuels, cigarettes, vehicles, consumer goods, machinery. Major partners–Thailand, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, United States.

Economic aid received: Pledges of $601 million in grants and concessional loans for calendar year 2006. Major donors–Asian Development Bank (ADB), UN Development Program (UNDP), World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Australia, Canada, Denmark, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Thailand, U.K., U.S. According to the Cambodian Government, 95.2% of the $504 million pledged by donors for 2005 was actually disbursed.

Principal foreign commercial investors: Malaysia, Taiwan, U.S., China, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand.

Exchange rate (2007): 4,000 riel per U.S. $1.

World Heritage Site: Angkor Wat (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Over a period of 300 years, between 900 and 1200 AD, the Khmer Kingdom of Angkor produced some of the world’s most magnificent architectural masterpieces on the northern shore of the Tonle Sap, near the present town of Siem Reap. The Angkor area stretches 15 miles east to west and 5 miles north to south. Some 72 major temples or other buildings dot the area. Suryavarman II built the principal temple, Angkor Wat, between 1112 and 1150. With walls nearly one-half mile on each side, Angkor Wat portrays the Hindu cosmology with the central towers representing Mount Meru, home of the gods; the outer walls, the mountains enclosing the world; and the moat, the oceans beyond. Angkor Thom, the capital city built after the Cham sack of 1177, is surrounded by a 300-foot wide moat. Construction of Angkor Thom coincided with a change from Hinduism to Buddhism. Temples were altered to display images of the Buddha, and Angkor Wat became a major Buddhist shrine.

During the 15th century, nearly all of Angkor was abandoned after Siamese attacks. The exception was Angkor Wat, which remained a shrine for Buddhist pilgrims. The great city and temples remained largely cloaked by the forest until the late 19th century when French archaeologists began a long restoration process. France established the Angkor Conservancy in 1908 to direct restoration of the Angkor complex. For the next 64 years, the conservancy worked to clear away the forest, repair foundations, and install drains to protect the buildings from their most insidious enemy: water. After 1953, the conservancy became a joint project of the French and Cambodian Governments. Some temples were carefully taken apart stone by stone and reassembled on concrete foundations. Tourism is now the second-largest foreign currency earner in Cambodia’s economy, and Angkor Wat has helped attract international tourism to the country.

Cambodia has established diplomatic relations with most countries. The country is a member of most major international organizations, including the UN and its specialized agencies, and became a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1998.

Cambodia is a member of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). On October 13, 2004, Cambodia became the 148th member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Cambodia has very liberal visa regulations. It is meant to say a valid passport and visa are required for entry. Visas can be obtained at Phnom Penh International Airport or Siem Reap (Angkor) Airport. All travelers have to do is bring along two passport size photos and fill up visa application. A one-month tourist visa costs US$20 while a business visa costs US$25.00. Visa application form will be provided on inbound flights. Visas are also available at Thai/Cambodian overland border crossing.

Tourist visas can be extended for one month, but only one time. Business visas can be renewed indefinitely. Renew visas through a travel agent or the ‘Department for Foreigners’ on Confederation de Russie (‘Airport Road’), located opposite Phnom Penh International Airport. Renew Diplomatic, Courtesy and Official visas at the Consular section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Passport and Visas:
Cambodian e-Visa :
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has launched e-Visa which enables you to apply for a Cambodia travel visa online. Instead of applying through Cambodian Embassy, all you need is to complete the online application form and pay with your credit card. You will get your visa approved within 3 business days. Now you can obtain the Cambodian Visa by applying online now at Just log in and apply your Cambodian visa at your finger click.

Airport Tax:

International Departures: US$25
Domestic Departure: US$6

Border Information in Cambodia

By Airport
1. Phnom Penh International Airport
2. Siem Reap Angkor International Airport
3. Sihanouk Ville International Airport

By Overland and River Border

1. Thailand- Cambodia
There are everyday direct flights from Thailand to Cambodia either to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Other alternative you could go to Cambodia by overland border as following:

a). Aranyaprathet / Poipet, Cambodia (Working hours 8:00 am to 8:00 pm)
This official land border is good for tourists who wish to visit Siem Reap, Battambong and it takes about 5 hours by open-bus or shared taxi to get Siem Reap. Road condition from Poipet to Siem Reap is not that developed but a four wheels drive will be the best transportation recommended for this wet season (July to November). In the dry season from (December to June) is considerable for time to travel by this road.

b). Hat Lek / Cham Yeam-Koh Kong, Cambodia (Working hours 8:00 am to 8:00 pm)
This official overland border is good for tourist who wish to visit Sihanouk Ville, Phnom Penh, and the tourist could go to Sihanouk Ville by Boat which depart very morning 8:00 am. It takes 4 hours to reach Sihanouk Ville while at least 5 hours by taxi to Sihanouk Ville. The road condition from Koh Kong to Sre Ambil is a bit difficult while from Sre Ambil to Phnom Penh, Sihanouk Ville, Kampot are years round good condition and well-maintenance. You also could get upon arrival visa at this border check points as well.

c). Chong Jom / O’Smach, Cambodia
This is also an official overland border in the remote provinces, Oddor Meanchey, where tourist could obtain their upon arrival visa at the check points. Fewer tourists get into Cambodia by this check point.

d). Chong Sa Ngam / Anlong Veng, Cambodia
This is remote border, where was former Khmer rouge resident located and the last district to re-united after a long war in Cambodia. Tourist passes this border mostly from Sisaket, Thailand. Visa upon arrival is available.

2. Vietnam- Cambodia
There are everyday direct flights from Vietnam to Cambodia either to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Other alternative you could go to Cambodia by overland border as following:

a). Moc Bai / Bavet, Cambodia (Working Hours 8:00 am- 5:00 pm)
This is a biggest official border get between Vietnam and Cambodia, It takes about 5 hours to travel from Bavet to Phnom Penh and Visa upon arrival is available. There are several local taxi, mini-van, bus are waiting to transfer you until late evening. The road condition is good and well-maintenance.

b). Chau Doc / Kaam Samnor, Cambodia (Working Hours 8:00 am – 5:00 pm)
This is an official river-border on the Mekong River, is becoming the popular get way for tourists come to Cambodia from Vietnam by boat, ferry. It takes about 6 Hours to reach Phnom Penh Port. If you wish to go to visit Siem Reap, the only way is to take private taxi otherwise you will stay overnight in Phnom Penh wait for the morning or noon bus. Cambodian visa is available upon arrival.

c). Tinh Bien / Phnom Den, Takeo, Cambodia (Working Hours 8:00 am – 5:00 pm)
Tourist Visa upon arrival is unknown, but it is good for those who prefer to visit Kampot and Sihanouk Ville rather than Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. It takes 2-3 hours to get Kampot and Sihanouk Ville by mini-van or taxi.

3. Laos-Cambodia
There are everyday direct flights from Lao to Cambodia either to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Other alternative you could go to Cambodia by overland border as following:

a). Voeung Kam / Dom Kralor, Cambodia
Tourist Visa is available upon arrival; it is good for tourist coming from Laos to Visit Cambodia through Steung Treng to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. The road condition is comparatively good condition. From this border, there is another border on the river-crossing which the Visa might not be available on arrival. From the border, you could choose 3 different tastes of Cambodia, [1] City of Phnom Penh, [2] Heritage Angkor-Siem Reap and [3] Tribe-Hills (Mondolkiri and Rattanakiri).

The country code for Cambodia is 855. The telephone networks consists of satellite, landlines, cellular, GSM and radio systems which connect Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Battambang, Kompong Cham and other provinces internationally. International dialing can be done at main postal offices, private business centers or hotel or at public phone booths, which can be found at postal office, main streets, gas stations, major restaurants, hotels etc. If you want a lower rate and clear sound is not a factor, there are many Internet cafés offering International calling.

Postal Services:
The main postal service in Phnom Penh is located on the corner of street 102 and 13, which is east of Wat Phnom Penh. From there, you can send parcels, telegrams etc. It opens daily from 7:30AM to 5:00PM

Business Hours:
Government offices are open from 7:30AM to 5:00PM on weekday; the lunch break is from 12:00 to 2:00PM. Most businesses, restaurants open from 7:00AM to 8:00PM while most banks operate from 7:30AM to 3:30PM on weekday and some are half day on Saturday.

Note: For latest information and details, please check with your Travel Agent before you travel

Visa requirements

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has launched e-Visa which enables you to apply for a Cambodia travel visa online. Instead of applying through Cambodian Embassy, all you need is to complete the online application form and pay with your credit card. You will get your visa approved within 3 business days. Now you can obtain the Cambodian Visa by applying online now at Just log in and apply your Cambodian visa at your finger click.

Languages spokenKhmer
Currency usedKhmer Riels
Area (km2)181,035

Interesting palaces & Activities

While still hovering in the tourism shadow of Thailand, Cambodia is ready to burst onto the scene as a vacation destination of choice. Why choose this relatively small country over its glitzy neighbor to the northwest? Well, the following list is just 10 of the reasons that Cambodia should be considered for a special getaway!

1 Ancient Temples

Angkor Wat sunriseSunrise at Angkor Wat.
The Angkor Archaeological Park is not just for history buffs and students of architecture. This amazing complex, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, combines art, structure, history and culture and invites visitors of all ages and interests to come and explore for hours.

Located just to the north of the city of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat dates back to the start of the 12th century. Originally a Hindu temple, it was built to model the universe with the tallest tower representing the fabled Mount Meru. Angkor Wat is complete with bas-reliefs, sculptures and devatas, symbols of the deity in Hindu, as well as moats surrounding the structure. It is considered the largest religious monument in the world.

Not to be overlooked when visiting the park is Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Khmer regime. Within the capital boundaries lie the ruins of the Bayon, a temple consisting of numerous towers, each with four faces carved into the sides. Slightly to the east sits Ta Prohm. Featured in the famous “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” movie, starring Angelina Jolie, this is a more picturesque temple than the others as trees and foliage rise up between the ruins.

2Khmer People and Culture

Cambodian school kidsCambodian school kids on the way home.
Cambodian people are very kind and spiritual people. An overwhelming majority of the population are practicing Theravada Buddhists. They are very respectful of their traditions, and those visiting Cambodia should familiarize themselves with some of them. Proper attire should be worn and reverential behavior used when visiting any temple sites.

Despite extreme difficulties they faced during the late 1970s, the Khmer people emerged stronger as a whole. This adds to their welcoming spirit as they embrace those who visit their country. Smiles are everywhere and visitors are greeted with a friendly curiosity. Especially on the countryside where the pace of life is slower, Cambodian people never hesitate to make you feel at home.

3Untouched Islands and Beaches

Koh Rong Saloem Island, CambodiaKoh Rong Saloem Island, Cambodia. Photo by Oliver Townend.
Those in search of a truly idyllic setting need look no further than the islands of Cambodia. Hop a ferry and head to two of the best kept travel secrets. Off the coast of Sihanoukville lie the exquisite islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. These unspoiled paradises host lodging bungalows and guesthouses along with restaurants to make your stay complete. Snorkel along the Gulf of Thailand, or just enjoy relaxation like you’ve never known.

4Tonle Sap Lake and Floating Villages

Floating village on the edge of Tonle Sap LakeFloating village on the edge of Tonle Sap Lake.
The largest body of fresh water in Cambodia is the Tonle Sap Lake. Surrounded by five provinces, including Siem Reap, the lake’s measurements change based on the rainy and dry seasons. Merging with the Mekong River via the Tonle Sap River, the lake provides economic resources for nearby residents who fish the waters and farm surrounding land providing food for much of the country.

Do not miss a visit to one of the floating villages located at the edge of Tonle Sap Lake. This is an incredible experience and an up close look at the lives of some Cambodian residents. Houses, markets, schools and even animal pens are built on stilts rising out of the water, and the only means of transportation are small boats. These floating villages portray a lifestyle few experience. The better known villages are Kampong Phluk, Kampong Khleang and Chong Khneas.

5Bustling Markets

Phsar Leu market, Siem ReapPhsar Leu Thom Thmey is Siem Reap’s biggest market.
Get a true sense of Cambodian life and culture by spending time exploring the vast offerings and observing the ways buyers and sellers interact at one of the numerous local markets operating throughout Cambodia.

In the capital of Phnom Penh, the Central Market is an event. Known locally as Phsar Thmei, this market was built in 1935. Featuring a high domed center building with four wings, it houses everything from touristy trinkets to Cambodian delicacies.

Siem Reap’s main shopping venue is known as the Old Market or Phsar Chas. It offers fresh fruits and vegetables, clothing and souvenirs among other items. The Angkor Night Market lights up the downtown area. It consists of 200 huts filled with locally made one-of-a-kind crafts.


Irrawaddy Dolphin, Kratie, CambodiaIrrawaddy Dolphin, Kratie – foto: Stefan Brending via Wikimedia Commons.
Peaceful and serene describes the Cambodian town of Kratie. Home to the Mekong River’s extremely endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, it is also an excellent location for bird watchers. Underdeveloped in terms of tourism, it has catered to backpackers in the past and now offers low budget accommodations.

7Phnom Penh

National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom PenhNational Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.
The capital city of Cambodia is a fast-paced urban charmer. The hub of Cambodian life, Phnom Penh became the permanent capital in 1866. Enchanting with its French colonial architecture, the city grew considerably in the early 1870s. Known in the early 1900s as the Pearl of Asia, Phnom Penh’s history during the late 1970s was horrific. However, the city survived, flourished and is a main contributor to Cambodia’s current economic boom.

There are several places to see while visiting Phnom Penh. The Royal Palace consists of four compounds separated by walls. The Silver Pagoda is situated on the south side of the complex and contains several statues of Buddha, including a crystal one. The Throne Hall compound is currently used for coronations, weddings and religious observances. The Moonlight Pavilion is an open air venue hosting the classical Royal Dancers. The Khmarin Palace is the residence for the King and is not open to visitors.

Wat Phnom is a temple originally constructed in 1372. Centrally located, it is the tallest structure of its type in the city.

Phnom Penh was taken over by the Khmer Rouge, a Communist faction, in April,1975. They were responsible for the torture and massacre of over one million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. The bodies were dumped into shallow graves across the country later known as The Killing Fields. Just outside of Phnom Penh, a national memorial was built in 1989. The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center honors all of the victims. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is at the site of the high school turned torture chamber by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

8The Mekong River

Mekong River CruiseMekong River Cruise – Photo by G Adventures.
One of the longest rivers in Southeast Asia, the Mekong meets the Tonle Sap Lake and River at Cambodia’s capital city and is vital to the country. Fish and rice paddies in and around the river provide much of the food for Cambodians, particularly in rural areas. Experience the beauty and importance of this natural resource by taking one of the river cruises offered. Many of these trips run from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Min City in Vietnam.

9National Parks

View to the Gulf of Thailand from Phnom BokorView to the Gulf of Thailand from Phnom Bokor – Photo by Petr & Bara Ruzicka.
The beauty of Cambodia’s landscape can be appreciated by a visit to one of its national parks. Hikers will appreciate Kep National Park with its amazing scenic views.

Southern Cambodia is home to the Preah Monivong National Park. Here visitors will see Bokor Hill Station. Once a luxury resort, it was built in the early 1920s by French Colonialists in their style of architecture. The site has since been abandoned.

Virachey National Park is to the north. While much of the park has yet to be explored, the array of wildlife found there is incredible. Rare birds to exotic animals like tigers and elephants make their home here, but development is threatening to destroy this beautiful location.

Both Preah Monivong National Park and Virachey National Park are designated ASEAN Heritage Parks.

10Cambodian Cuisine

Amok fish, a traditional Cambodian dishAmok fish, a traditional Cambodian curry.
Rice is a staple of Cambodian cuisine, and there are many varieties prepared in different ways. Either jasmine rice, brown rice or white rice is served at every meal. There are hints of Chinese, French and Indian influences in many Cambodian meals as evidenced in the use of rice noodles, baguettes and curry. Cambodians use many herbs and spices in their foods to enhance flavors. A source of national pride is Prahok, a fermented fish paste, used as a salty flavoring for many meals. The more adventurous may want to try something more exotic such as fried tarantulas and snakes available at the many markets across the country.

Cambodia is a developing country rich in complex history and natural beauty. It has so much to offer!

Culture and history info

he good, the bad and the ugly is a simple way to sum up Cambodian history. Things were good in the early years, culminating in the vast Angkor empire, unrivalled in the region during four centuries of dominance. Then the bad set in, from the 13th century, as ascendant neighbours steadily chipped away at Cambodian territory. In the 20th century it turned downright ugly, as a brutal civil war culminated in the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge (1975–79), from which Cambodia is still recovering.
No one knows for certain how long people have lived in what is now Cambodia, as studies of its prehistory are undeveloped. A carbon-l4 dating from a cave in northwestern Cambodia suggests that people using stone tools lived in the cave as early as 4000 bc, and rice has been grown on Cambodian soil since well before the 1st century ad. The first Cambodians likely arrived long before either of these dates. They probably migrated from the north, although nothing is known about their language or their way of life.
By the beginning of the 1st century ad, Chinese traders began to report the existence of inland and coastal kingdoms in Cambodia. These kingdoms already owed much to Indian culture, which provided alphabets, art forms, architectural styles, religions (Hinduism and Buddhism), and a stratified class system. Local beliefs that stressed the importance of ancestral spirits coexisted with the Indian religions and remain powerful today.
Cambodia's modem-day culture has its roots in the 1st to 6th centuries in a state referred to as Funan, known as the oldest Indianized state in Southeast Asia. It is from this period that evolved Cambodia's language, part of the Mon-Khmer family, which contains elements of Sanskrit, its ancient religion of Hinduism and Buddhism. Historians have noted, for example, that Cambodians can be distinguished from their neighbors by their clothing - checkered scarves known as Kramas are worn instead of straw hats.
Funan gave way to the Angkor Empire with the rise to power of King Jayavarman II in 802. The following 600 years saw powerful Khmer kings dominate much of present day Southeast Asia, from the borders of Myanmar east to the South China Sea and north to Laos. It was during this period that Khmer kings built the most extensive concentration of religious temples in the world - the Angkor temple complex. The most successful of Angkor's kings, Jayavarman II, Indravarman I, Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, also devised a masterpiece of ancient engineering: a sophisticated irrigation system that includes barays (gigantic man-made lakes) and canals that ensured as many as three rice crops a year. Part of this system is still in use today.
The Khmer Kingdom (Funan)
Early Chinese writers referred to a kingdom in Cambodia that they called Funan. Modern-day archaeological findings provide evidence of a commercial society centered on the Mekong Delta that flourished from the 1st century to the 6th century. Among these findings are excavations of a port city from the 1st century, located in the region of Oc-Eo in what is now southern Vietnam. Served by a network of canals, the city was an important trade link between India and China. Ongoing excavations in southern Cambodia have revealed the existence of another important city near the present-day village of Angkor Borei.
A group of inland kingdoms, known collectively to the Chinese as Zhenla, flourished in the 6th and 7th centuries from southern Cambodia to southern Laos. The first stone inscriptions in the Khmer language and the first brick and stone Hindu temples in Cambodia date from the Zhenla period.
Angkor Era

Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom The giant faces carved on the Bayon temple at the Angkor Thum complex in northwestern Cambodia represent both the Buddha and King Jayavarman VII (ruled about 1130-1219). Although a Buddhist temple, Angkor Thum was modeled after the great Hindu temple complex of Angkor Wat.
In the early 9th century a Khmer (ethnic Cambodian) prince returned to Cambodia from abroad. He probably arrived from nearby Java or Sumatra, where he may have been held hostage by island kings who had asserted control over portions of the Southeast Asian mainland.
In a series of ceremonies at different sites, the prince declared himself ruler of a new independent kingdom, which unified several local principalities. His kingdom eventually came to be centered near present-day Siemreab in northwestern Cambodia. The prince, known to his successors as Jayavarman II, inaugurated a cult honoring the Hindu god Shiva as a devaraja (Sanskrit term meaning "god-king"). The cult, which legitimized the king's rule by linking him with Shiva, persisted at the Cambodian court for more than two hundred years.
Between the early 9th century and the early 15th century, 26 monarchs ruled successively over the Khmer kingdom (known as Angkor, the modern name for its capital city).
Jayavarman Head
King Jayavarman VII
The successors of Jayavarman II built the great temples for which Angkor is famous.
Historians have dated more than a thousand temple sites and over a thousand stone inscriptions (most of them on temple walls) to this era.
Notable among the Khmer builder-kings were Suyavarman II, who built the temple known as Angkor Wat in the mid-12th century, and Jayavarman VII, who built the Bayon temple at Angkor Thum and several other large Buddhist temples half a century later. Jayavarman VII, a fervent Buddhist, also built hospitals and rest houses along the roads that crisscrossed the kingdom. Most of the monarchs, however, seem to have been more concerned with displaying and increasing their power than with the welfare of their subjects.
Ancient City of Angkor This map shows the layout of the ancient city of Angkor, capital of the Cambodian Khmer kingdom from the 9th century to the 15th century. The city's huge stone temples were both civic centers and religious symbols of the Hindu cosmos. Historians believe that Angkor's network of canals and barays (reservoirs) were used for irrigation.
At its greatest extent, in the 12th century, the Khmer kingdom encompassed (in addition to present-day Cambodia) parts of present-day Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar (formerly Burma), and the Malay Peninsula. Thailand and Laos still contain Khmer ruins and inscriptions. The kings at Angkor received tribute from smaller kingdoms to the north, east, and west, and conducted trade with China. The capital city was the center of an impressive network of reservoirs and canals, which historians theorize supplied water for irrigation. Many historians believe that the abundant harvests made possible by irrigation supported a large population whose labor could be drawn on to construct the kings' temples and to fight their wars. The massive temples, extensive roads and waterworks, and confident inscriptions give an illusion of stability that is undermined by the fact that many Khmer kings gained the throne by conquering their predecessors. Inscriptions indicate that the kingdom frequently suffered from rebellions and foreign invasions.
Historians have not been able to fully explain the decline of the Khmer kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries. However, it was probably associated with the rise of powerful Thai kingdoms that had once paid tribute to Angkor, and to population losses following a series of wars with these kingdoms. Another factor may have been the introduction of Theravada Buddhism, which taught that anyone could achieve enlightenment through meritorious conduct and meditation. These egalitarian ideas undermined the hierarchical structure of Cambodian society and the power of prominent Hindu families. After a Thai invasion in 1431, what remained of the Cambodian elite shifted southeastward to the vicinity of Phnom Penh.
Cambodia Dark Age
This map of Southeast Asia in the mid-16th century shows the major centers of power in the region prior to the arrival of Europeans. During this period, these kingdoms were constantly at war. Eventually the Kingdom of Ayutthaya (modern Thailand) expanded to the north and east, absorbing much of Lan Na and Lan Xang (modern Laos). Dai Viet (modern Vietnam) expanded to the south, taking over the remaining territory of the Kingdom of Champa and the southern tip of the Kingdom of Lovek (modern Cambodia). Toungoo evolved into modern Myanmar.
The four centuries of Cambodian history following the abandonment of Angkor are poorly recorded, and therefore historians know little about them beyond the bare outlines. Cambodia retained its language and its cultural identity despite frequent invasions by the powerful Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya and incursions by Vietnamese forces. Indeed, for much of this period, Cambodia was a relatively prosperous trading kingdom with its capital at Lovek, near present-day Phnom Penh. European visitors wrote of the Buddhist piety of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Lovek. During this period, Cambodians composed the country's most important work of literature, the Reamker (based on the Indian myth of the Ramayana).
In the late 18th century, a civil war in Vietnam and disorder following a Burmese invasion of Ayutthaya spilled over into Cambodia and devastated the area. In the early 19th century, newly established dynasties in Vietnam and Thailand competed for control over the Cambodian court. The warfare that ensued, beginning in the l830s, came close to destroying Cambodia.
French Rule
Phnom Penh, as planned by the French, came to resemble a town in provincial France. By the second half of the 19th century, France had begun to expand its colonial penetration of Indochina (the peninsula between India and China). In 1863 France accepted the Cambodian king's invitation to impose a protectorate over his severely weakened kingdom, halting the country's dismemberment by Thailand and Vietnam. For the next 90 years, France ruled Cambodia. In theory, French administration was indirect, but in practice the word of French officials was final on all major subjects-including the selection of Cambodia's kings. The French left Cambodian institutions, including the monarchy, in place, and gradually developed a Cambodian civil service, organized along French lines. The French administration neglected education but built roads, port facilities, and other public works. Phnom Penh, as planned by the French, came to resemble a town in provincial France.
The French invested relatively little in Cambodia's economy compared to that of Vietnam, which was also under French control. However, they developed rubber plantations in eastern Cambodia, and the kingdom exported sizable amounts of rice under their rule. The French also restored the Angkor temple complex and deciphered Angkorean inscriptions, which gave Cambodians a clear idea of their medieval heritage and kindled their pride in Cambodia's past. Because France left the monarchy, Buddhism, and the rhythms of rural life undisturbed, anti-French feeling was slow to develop.
King Sihanouk, through skillful maneuvering, managed to gain Cambodia's independence peacefully in 1953. During World War II (1939-1945), Japanese forces entered French Indochina but left the compliant French administration in place.
King Sihanouk
King Norodom Sihanouk
On the verge of defeat in 1945, the Japanese removed their French collaborators and installed a nominally independent Cambodian government under the recently crowned young king, Norodom Sihanouk. France reimposed its protectorate in early 1946 but allowed the Cambodians to draft a constitution and to form political parties.
Soon afterward, fighting erupted throughout Indochina as nationalist groups, some with Communist ideologies, struggled to win independence from France. Most of the fighting took place in Vietnam, in a conflict known as the First Indochina War (1946-1954). In Cambodia, Communist guerrilla forces allied with Vietnamese Communists gained control of much of the country. However, King Sihanouk, through skillful maneuvering, managed to gain Cambodia's independence peacefully in 1953, a few months earlier than Vietnam. The Geneva Accords of 1954, which marked the end of the First Indochina War, acknowledged Sihanouk's government as the sole legitimate authority in Cambodia.
Modern State
Sihanouk's campaign for independence sharpened his political skills and increased his ambitions. In 1955 he abdicated the throne in favor of his father to pursue a full-time political career, free of the constitutional constraints of the monarchy. In a move aimed at dismantling Cambodia's fledgling political parties, Sihanouk inaugurated a national political movement known as the Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People's Socialist Community), whose members were not permitted to belong to any other political group. The Sangkum won all the seats in the national elections of 1955, benefiting from Sihanouk's popularity and from police brutality at many polling stations. Sihanouk served as prime minister of Cambodia until 1960, when his father died and he was named head of state. Sihanouk remained widely popular among the people but was brutal to his opponents.
In the late 1950s the Cold War (period of tension between the United States and its allies and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, and its allies) intensified in Asia. In this climate, foreign powers, including the United States, the USSR, and China, courted Sihanouk. Cambodia's importance to these countries stemmed from events in neighboring Vietnam, where tension had begun to mount between a Communist regime in the north and a pro-Western regime in the south. The USSR supported the Vietnamese Communists, while the United States opposed them, and China wanted to contain Vietnam for security reasons. Each of the foreign powers hoped that Cambodian support would bolster its position in the region. Sihanouk pursued a policy of neutrality that drew substantial economic aid from the competing countries.
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. As warfare intensified in Vietnam, domestic opposition to Sihanouk from both radical and conservative elements increased. The Cambodian Communist organization, known as the Workers Party of Kampuchea (later renamed the Communist Party of Kampuchea, or CPK), had gone underground after failing to win any concessions at the Geneva Accords, but now they took up arms once again. As the economy became unstable, Cambodia became difficult to govern single-handedly. In need of economic and military aid, Sihanouk renewed diplomatic relations with the United States. Shortly thereafter, in 1969, U.S. president Richard Nixon authorized a bombing campaign against Cambodia in an effort to destroy Vietnamese Communist sanctuaries there.
Khmer Republic
In March 1970 Cambodia's legislature, the National Assembly, deposed Sihanouk while he was abroad. The conservative forces behind the coup were pro-Western and anti-Vietnamese. General Lon Nol, the country's prime minister, assumed power and sent his poorly equipped army to fight the North Vietnamese Communist forces encamped in border areas. Lon Nol hoped that U.S. aid would allow him to defeat his enemies, but American support was always geared to events in Vietnam. In April U.S. and South Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, searching for North Vietnamese, who moved deeper into Cambodia. Over the next year, North Vietnamese troops destroyed the offensive capacity of Lon Nol's army.
In October 1970 Lon Nol inaugurated the Khmer Republic. Sihanouk, who had sought asylum in China, was condemned to death despite his absence. By that time, Chinese and North Vietnamese leaders had persuaded the prince to establish a government in exile, allied with North Vietnam and dominated by the CPK, whom Sihanouk referred to as the Khmer Rouge (French for "Red Khmers").
In 1975, despite massive infusions of U.S. aid, the Khmer Republic collapsed, and Khmer Rouge forces occupied Phnom Penh.
The United States continued bombing Cambodia until the Congress of the United States halted the campaign in 1973. By that time, Lon Nol's forces were fighting not only the Vietnamese but also the Khmer Rouge. The general lost control over most of the Cambodian countryside, which had been devastated by U.S. bombing. The fighting severely damaged the nation's infrastructure and caused high numbers of casualties. Hundreds of thousands of refugees flooded into the cities. In 1975, despite massive infusions of U.S. aid, the Khmer Republic collapsed, and Khmer Rouge forces occupied Phnom Penh. Three weeks later, North Vietnamese forces achieved victory in South Vietnam.
Democratic Kampuchea
Pol Pot 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.
Immediately after occupying Cambodia's towns, the Khmer Rouge ordered all city dwellers into the countryside to take up agricultural tasks. The move reflected both the Khmer Rouge's contempt for urban dwellers, whom they saw as enemies, and their utopian vision of Cambodia as a nation of busy, productive peasants. The leader of the regime, who remained concealed from the public, was Saloth Sar, who used the pseudonym Pol Pot. The government, which called itself Democratic Kampuchea (DK), claimed to be seeking total independence from foreign powers but accepted economic and military aid from its major allies, China and North Korea.
Khmer Rouge Carnage The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, killed close to 1.7 million people in the mid- to late 1970s. In this photo, human bones and skulls fill a museum in Cambodia that had been used as a prison and torture center during Pol Pot's reign, Sygma.
Without identifying themselves as Communists, the Khmer Rouge quickly introduced a series of far-reaching and often painful socialist programs. The people given the most power in the new government were the largely illiterate rural Cambodians who had fought alongside the Khmer Rouge in the civil war. DK leaders severely restricted freedom of speech, movement, and association, and forbade all religious practices. The regime controlled all communications along with access to food and information. Former city dwellers, now called "new people," were particularly badly treated. The Khmer Rouge killed intellectuals, merchants, bureaucrats, members of religious groups, and any people suspected of disagreeing with the party. Millions of other Cambodians were forcibly relocated, deprived of food, tortured, or sent into forced labor.
While in power, the Khmer Rouge murdered, worked to death, or killed by starvation close to 1.7 million Cambodians.
The Khmer Rouge also attacked neighboring countries in an attempt to reclaim territories lost by Cambodia many centuries before. After fighting broke out with Vietnam (then united under the Communists) in 1977, DK's ideology became openly racist. Ethnic minorities in Cambodia, including ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese, were hunted down and expelled or massacred. Purges of party members accused of treason became widespread. People in eastern Cambodia, suspected of cooperating with Vietnam, suffered severely, and hundreds of thousands of them were killed. While in power, the Khmer Rouge murdered, worked to death, or killed by starvation close to 1.7 million Cambodians-more than one-fifth of the country's population.
Recent Development
In October 1991 Cambodia's warring factions, the UN, and a number of interested foreign nations signed an agreement in Paris intended to end the conflict in Cambodia. The agreement provided for a temporary power-sharing arrangement between a United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and a Supreme National Council (SNC) made up of delegates from the various Cambodian factions. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the former king and prime minister of Cambodia, served as president of the SNC.
The Paris accords and the UN protectorate pushed Cambodia out of its isolation and introduced competitive politics, dormant since the early 1950s. UNTAC sponsored elections for a national assembly in May 1993, and for the first time in Cambodian history a majority of voters rejected an armed, incumbent regime. A royalist party, known by its French acronym FUNCINPEC, won the most seats in the election, followed by the CPP, led by Hun Sen. Reluctant to give up power, Hun Sen threatened to upset the election results. Under a compromise arrangement, a three-party coalition formed a government headed by two prime ministers; FUNCINPEC's Prince Norodom Ranariddh, one of Sihanouk's sons, became first prime minister, while Hun Sen became second prime minister.
In September 1993 the government ratified a new constitution restoring the monarchy and establishing the Kingdom of Cambodia. Sihanouk became king for the second time. After the 1993 elections, no foreign countries continued to recognize the DK as Cambodia's legal government. The DK lost its UN seat as well as most of its sources of international aid.
The unrealistic power-sharing relationship between Ranariddh and Hun Sen worked surprisingly well for the next three years, but relations between the parties were never smooth. The CPP's control over the army and the police gave the party effective control of the country, and it dominated the coalition government. In July 1997 Hun Sen staged a violent coup against FUNCINPEC and replaced Prince Ranariddh, who was overseas at the time, with Ung Huot, a more pliable FUNCINPEC figure. Hun Sen's action shocked foreign nations and delayed Cambodia's entry into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). By the end of 1997, Cambodia was the only nation in the region that was not a member.
Despite the coup, elections scheduled for July 1998 proceeded as planned. Hundreds of foreign observers who monitored the elections affirmed that voting was relatively free and fair; however, the CPP harassed opposition candidates and party workers before and after the elections, when dozens were imprisoned and several were killed. The election gave the CPP a plurality of votes, but results, especially in towns, where voting could not be dictated by local authorities, indicated that the party did not enjoy widespread popular support. Prince Ranariddh and another opposition candidate, Sam Rainsy, took refuge abroad and contested the outcome of the election. In November the CPP and FUNCINPEC reached an agreement whereby Hun Sen became sole prime minister and Ranariddh became president of the National Assembly. The parties formed a coalition government, dividing control over the various cabinet ministries. In early 1999 the constitution was amended to create a Senate, called for in the 1998 agreement. These signs that Cambodia's political situation was stabilizing encouraged ASEAN to admit Cambodia to its membership a short time later.
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.
Since the Paris Accords of 1991, Cambodia's economic growth has depended on millions of dollars of foreign aid. Foreign interest in Cambodia has decreased, however, and the country has received diminishing economic assistance. This development, along with the continued lack of openness in Cambodian politics, has made Cambodia's prospects for democratization dim, as well as its chances for sustained economic growth.

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