One of the world’s poorest countries, Cambodia is bordered by Thailand, Vietnam and Laos and by the Gulf of Thailand in the South. The Mekong, one of the world’s longest rivers, runs through the country.
Capital and largest city is Phnom Penh, a city where Cambodia’s colonial past is clearly visible in the old French quarters architecture.
Much of Cambodia has a rural character with rice fields scattered over the country. Cambodia is a Buddhist country with a largely conservative population. Most of its people are involved in small scale farming.
Tourism is one of the fastest growing sources of income and employment for the country, with the magnificent Khmer era temples of the Angkor Archaeological Park being the main attraction.
History of Cambodia
Cambodia is known the world over for its rich history. The Khmer empire that was founded at the start of the 9th century grew out to be one of the most powerful empires ever to exist in South East Asia. At the height of its power the empire extended out across much of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Many impressive monuments were build such as Angkor Wat and the Bayon, that are today a major tourist attraction and a source of pride for the country.
The power of the Khmer empire came to an end after an invasion by the Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1431. The state religion during the Khmer era was Hinduism; Shiva and Vishnu were worshipped until the 13th century, when Buddhism became prevalent.
Cambodia was colonized by France in 1863 and stayed under French control until 1953. French influence is still clearly visible in the colonial style buildings of Battambang and the French quarter of Phnom Penh. From 1975 until 1979 Cambodia was under control of the Khmer Rouge, the communist party led by Pol Pot. The regime tried to implement agricultural reforms, which led to widespread famine. More than one million people died of starvation, exhaustion or execution. This era in Cambodia’s history is known from the movie “The Killing Fields”.
To do & see in Cambodia
Cambodia is an increasingly popular tourist destination, the main destinations being Angkor, Phnom Penh and the beaches around Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand.
Angkor Archaeological Park & Siem Reap
Most visitors to Cambodia visit the Angkor Archaeological Park, an area of more than 400 square kilometers near the town of Siem Reap. This area was the scene of one of the world’s most developed civilizations of its time. A large number of impressive monuments as Angkor Wat and the Bayon remain in a well preserved state.
Angkor night market
The Angkor night market in Siem Reap is a good place to try your bargaining skills, pick up some souvenirs, try local food or enjoy a Cambodian massage.
Apsara dance performance
Several of the more upmarket hotels in Siem Reap organise dinner and Apsara dance shows. They are named after the Apsaras, female celestial beings depicted on many of the Angkor temples. In Khmer mythology they entertain the Gods and are usually seen dancing. During the Khmer era these dances were performed for the rulers of the Khmer empire.
Around the town of Sihanoukville are a number of sandy beaches. While some of them are very quiet, most beaches have facilities like beach chairs, bars and restaurants as well as accommodation options. For a gamble, try one of the Sihanoukville casinos.
Being the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh has many sites worth a visit, a few of them being the Royal Palace, the Independence Monument, the National Museum and the colonial houses of the old French quarter.
The city houses countless Buddhist temples like the Wat Phnom, a beautiful temple dating back to the 14th century and the Wat Botum, a 15th century temple. The central market Phsar Thmey is an enormous market in the center of town with countless stalls where almost everything seems to be for sale.
The Killing Fields Choeung Ek South of town is one of the sites where huge numbers of people were executed during the Khmer Rouge regime. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh was a prison where the prisoner cells can be viewed and where photos and other items of the Khmer Rouge era are on display.