The Kingdom of Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia with a population of almost 15 million people, with Phnom Penh being the capital city. Cambodia is the successor state of the once powerful Hindu and Buddhist Khmer Empire, which ruled most of the Indochinese Peninsula between the 11th and 14th centuries.
A citizen of Cambodia is usually identified as "Cambodian" or "Khmer", which strictly refers to ethnic Khmers. Most Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists of Khmer extraction, but the country also has a substantial number of predominantly Muslim Cham, as well as ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and small animist hill tribes.
The country shares a border with Thailand to its west and northwest, with Laos to its northeast, and with Vietnam to its east and southeast. In the south it faces the Gulf of Thailand. The geography of Cambodia is dominated by the Mekong river (colloquial Khmer: Tonle Thom or "the great river") and the Tonlé Sap ("the fresh water lake"), an important source of fish. The low geography of Cambodia's fertile areas means much of the country sits nearly below sea level, and consequently the Tonle Sap River reverses its water flow in the wet season, carrying water from the Mekong back into the Tonle Sap Lake and surrounding flood plain.
Cambodia's main industries are garment and tourism. In 2006, foreign visitors had surpassed the 1.7 million mark. In 2005, oil and natural gas deposits were found beneath Cambodia's territorial water, and once commercial extraction begins in 2009 or early 2010, the oil revenues could have a "profound" impact on the future of Cambodia's economy.
Cambodia is the traditional English transliteration, taken from the French Cambodge, while Kampuchea is the direct transliteration, more faithful to the Khmer pronunciation. The Khmer Kampuchea is derived from the ancient Khmer kingdom of Kambuja (Kambujadesa). Kambuja or Kamboja is the ancient Sanskrit name of the Kambojas, an early tribe of north India, named after their founder Kambu Svayambhuva, believed to be a variant of Cambyses. See Etymology of Kamboja.
In the Khmer Mul script the official name of the country is (regular script ), Preahreachanachâk Kampuchea, meaning "Kingdom of Cambodia". Etymologically, its components are: Preah- ("sacred"); -reach- ("king, royal, realm", from Sanskrit); -ana- (from Pāli āṇā, "authority, command, power", itself from Sanskrit ājñā, same meaning) -châk (from Sanskrit cakra, meaning "wheel", a symbol of power and rule).
The name used on formal occasions, such as political speeches and news programs, is (regular script ), Prâteh Kampuchea, literally "the Country of Cambodia". Prâteh is a formal word meaning "country".
The colloquial name most used by Khmer people, is , Srok Khmae, literally "the Khmer Land". Srok is a Mon-Khmer word roughly equal to prâteh, but less formal. Khmer is spelled with a final "r" in the Khmer alphabet, but the word-final "r" phoneme disappeared from most dialects of Khmer in the 19th century and is not pronounced in the contemporary speech of the standard dialect.
Since independence, the official name of Cambodia has changed several times, following the troubled history of the country. The following names have been used in English and French since 1954.
* Kingdom of Cambodia/Royaume du Cambodge under the rule of the monarchy from 1953 through 1970;
* Khmer Republic/République Khmère (a calque of French Republic) under the Lon Nol led government from 1970 to 1975;
* Democratic Kampuchea/Kampuchea démocratique under the rule of the communist Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979;
* People's Republic of Kampuchea/République populaire du Kampuchea under the rule of the Vietnamese-sponsored government from 1979 to 1989;
* State of Cambodia/État du Cambodge (a neutral name, while deciding whether to return to monarchy) under the rule of the United Nations transitional authority from 1989 to 1993;
* Kingdom of Cambodia/Royaume du Cambodge reused after the restoration of the monarchy in 1994.
The first advanced civilizations in present day Cambodia appeared in the 1st millennium AD. During the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries, the Indianised states of Funan and Chenla coalesced in what is now present-day Cambodia and southwestern Vietnam. These states, which are assumed by most scholars to have been Khmer, had close relations with China and India. Their collapse was followed by the rise of the Khmer Empire, a civilization which flourished in the area from the 9th century to the 13th century.
Though declining after this period, the Khmer Empire remained powerful in the region until the 15th century. The empire's center of power was Angkor, where a series of capitals was constructed during the empire's zenith. Angkor Wat, the most famous and best preserved religious temple at the site, is a symbolic reminder of Cambodia's past as a major regional power.
After a long series of wars with neighbouring kingdoms, Angkor was sacked by the Thai and abandoned in 1432. The court moved the capital to Lovek where the kingdom sought to regain its glory through maritime trade. The attempt was short-lived, however, as continued wars with the Thai and Vietnamese resulted in the loss of more territory and the conquering of Lovek in 1594. During the next three centuries, The Khmer kingdom alternated as a vassal state of the Thai and Vietnamese kings, with short-lived periods of relative independence between.
This article is part of
the History of Cambodia series
Early history of Cambodia
Migration of Kambojas
Funan (AD1 - AD630)
Chenla (AD630 - AD802)
Khmer Empire (AD802 - AD1432)
Rule over Isan
Dark ages of Cambodia (1432 - 1887)
The loss of the Mekong Delta
Colonial Cambodia (1887-1953)
Cambodian Civil War (1967-1975)
Coup of 1970
Khmer Rouge Regime (1975-1979)
People's Republic of Kampuchea
Modern Cambodia (1989-present)
2003 Phnom Penh riots
In 1863 King Norodom, who had been installed by Thailand, sought the protection of France. In 1867, the Thai king signed a treaty with France, renouncing suzerainty over Cambodia in exchange for the control of Battambang and Siem Reap provinces which officially became part of Thailand. The provinces were ceded back to Cambodia by a border treaty between France and Thailand in 1906.
Cambodia continued as a protectorate of France from 1863 to 1953, administered as part of the French colony of Indochina. After war-time occupation by the Japanese empire from 1941 to 1945, Cambodia gained independence from France on November 9, 1953. It became a constitutional monarchy under King Norodom Sihanouk.
In 1955, Sihanouk abdicated in favour of his father in order to be elected Prime Minister. Upon his father's death in 1960, Sihanouk again became head of state, taking the title of Prince. As the Vietnam War progressed, Sihanouk adopted an official policy of neutrality until ousted in 1970 by a military coup led by Prime Minister General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, while on a trip abroad. From Beijing, Sihanouk realigned himself with the communist Khmer Rouge rebels who had been slowly gaining territory in the remote mountain regions and urged his followers to help in overthowing the pro-United States government of Lon Nol, hastening the onset of civil war.
Operation Menu, a series of secret B-52 bombing raids by the United States on suspected Viet Cong bases and supply routes inside Cambodia, was acknowledged after Lon Nol assumed power; U.S. forces briefly invaded Cambodia in a further effort to disrupt the Viet Cong. The bombing continued and, as the Cambodian communists began gaining ground, eventually included strikes on suspected Khmer Rouge sites until halted in 1973. Estimates of the number of Cambodians killed during the bombing campaigns vary widely. The Khmer Rouge reached Phnom Penh and took power in 1975, changing the official name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea, led by Pol Pot.
Estimates vary as to how many people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime. Depending on whether or not one includes deaths from starvation and subsequent deaths in refugee camps, estimates range anywhere from 1.7 million to 3 million Cambodians. Many were in some way deemed to be "enemies of the state", whether they were linked to the previous regime, civil servants, people of education or of religion, critics of the Khmer Rouge or Marxism, or simply offered resistance to the brutal treatment of the cadres. Hundreds of thousands more fled across the border into neighbouring Thailand.
In November 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to stop Khmer Rouge incursions across the border and the genocide of Vietnamese in Cambodia. Violent occupation and warfare between the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge holdouts continued throughout the 1980s. Peace efforts began in Paris in 1989, culminating two years later in October 1991 in a comprehensive peace settlement. The United Nations was given a mandate to enforce a ceasefire, and deal with refugees and disarmament.
After the brutality of the 1970s and the 1980s, and the destruction of the cultural, economic, social and political life of Cambodia, it is only in recent years that reconstruction efforts have begun and some political stability has finally returned to Cambodia. The democracy established following the conflict was shaken in 1997 during a coup d'état, but has otherwise remained in place.
The politics of Cambodia formally take place, according to the nation's constitution of 1993, in the framework of a parliamentary, representative democratic monarchy. The Prime Minister of Cambodia is the head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system, while the king is the head of state. The Prime Minister is appointed by the King, on the advice and with the approval of the National Assembly; the Prime Minister and his or her ministerial appointees exercise executive power in government. Legislative power is vested in both the executive and the two chambers of parliament, the National Assembly of Cambodia and the Senate.
On October 14, 2004, King Norodom Sihamoni was selected by a special nine-member throne council, part of a selection process that was quickly put in place after the surprise abdication of King Norodom Sihanouk a week before. Sihamoni's selection was endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly Speaker Prince Norodom Ranariddh (the new king's brother), both members of the throne council. He was crowned in Phnom Penh on October 29. The monarchy is symbolic and does not exercise political power. Norodom Sihamoni was trained in Cambodian classical dance and is unmarried. Due to his long stay in the Czech Republic (then known as Czechoslovakia) Norodom Sihamoni is fluent in the Czech language.
The BBC reports that corruption is rampant in the Cambodian political arena with international aid from the U.S. and other countries being illegally transferred into private accounts. Corruption has also added to the wide income disparity within the population.
Cambodia is divided into 20 provinces (khett, singular and plural) and four municipalities (krong, singular and plural). There are further subdivisions into districts (srok), communions (khum), great districts (khett), and islands (koh).
1. Municipalities (Krong):
* Phnom Penh
* Sihanoukville (Kampong Som)
2. Provinces (Khett):
* Banteay Meanchey
* Kampong Cham
* Kampong Chhnang
* Kampong Speu
* Kampong Thom
* Koh Kong
* Oddar Meancheay
* Preah Vihear
* Prey Veng
* Siem Reap
* Stung Treng
* Svay Rieng
3. Islands (Koh):
* Koh Kong
* Koh Polaway
* Koh Rong
* Koh Rong Samlon
* Koh Sess
* Koh Tang
* Koh Thass
* Koh Tral (administered by Vietnam as Phu Quoc)
* Koh Traolach
* Koh Treas
Phnom Penh is the largest population center, with 2 million of Cambodia's 15 million people. Mondulkiri, the hill province in the northeast bordering Vietnam, is the largest province by area but ranks lowest in population density.
Cambodia is a member of the United Nations and its specialized agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. It is an Asian Development Bank (ADB) member, a member of ASEAN, and joined the WTO on 13 October 2004. In 2005 Cambodia attended the inaugural East Asia Summit.
Following a return to political normalcy, Cambodia has established diplomatic relations with numerous countries; the government reports twenty embassies in the country including many of its Asian neighbours and those of important players during the Paris peace negotiations, including the US, Australia, Canada, China, the European Union (EU), Japan, and Russia.
While the violent ruptures of the 1970s and 80s have passed, several border disputes between Cambodia and its neighbours persist. There are disagreements over some offshore islands and sections of the boundary with Vietnam, and undefined maritime boundaries and border areas with Thailand.
In January 2003, there were riots in Phnom Penh prompted by rumored comments about Angkor Wat by a Thai actress wrongly attributed by Reaksmei Angkor, a Cambodian newspaper, and later quoted by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The Thai government sent military aircraft to evacuate Thai nationals and closed its border with Cambodia while Thais demonstrated outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok. The border was re-opened on March 21, after the Cambodian government paid $6 million USD in compensation for the destruction of the Thai embassy and agreed to compensate individual Thai businesses for their losses.
Cambodia is mostly French speaking. Cambodia has an area of about 181,040 square kilometres (69,900 sq. mi), sharing an 800 kilometre (500 mi) border with Thailand in the north and west, a 541 kilometre (336 mi) border with Laos in the northeast, and a 1,228 kilometre (763 mi) border with Vietnam in the east and southeast. It has 443 kilometres (275 mi) of coastline along the Gulf of Thailand.
The most distinctive geographical feature is the lacustrine plain, formed by the inundations of the Tonle Sap (Great Lake), measuring about 2,590 square kilometres (1,000 sq. mi) during the dry season and expanding to about 24,605 square kilometres (9,500 sq. mi) during the rainy season. This densely populated plain, which is devoted to wet rice cultivation, is the heartland of Cambodia. Most (about 75%) of the country lies at elevations of less than 100 metres (330 ft) above sea level, the exceptions being the Cardamom Mountains (highest elevation 1,813 m / 5,948 ft) and their southeast extension the Dâmrei Mountains ("Elephant Mountains") (elevation range 500–1,000 m or 1,640–3,280 ft), as well the steep escarpment of the Dângrêk Mountains (average elevation 500 m / 1,640 ft) along the border with Thailand's Isan region. The highest elevation of Cambodia is Phnom Aoral, near Pursat in the centre of the country, at 1,813 metres (5,948 feet).
Temperatures range from 10°–38°C (50°–100°F) and Cambodia experiences tropical monsoons. Southwest monsoons blow inland bringing 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 recent progress, the Cambodian economy continues to suffer from the effects of decades of civil war, internal strife and rampant corruption. 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 US, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, China, Indonesia and Malaysia are its major export partners.
War and brutal totalitarianism in the 1970s created famine in Cambodia. Desperate farm families consumed their rice seeds and many traditional varieties became difficult to find. In the 1980s the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) reintroduced more than 750 traditional rice varieties to Cambodia from its rice seed bank in the Philippines (Jahn 2006). These varieties had been collected in the 1960s. In 1987, the Australian government funded IRRI to assist Cambodia to improve its rice production. By 2000, Cambodia was once again self-sufficient in rice (Puckridge 2004, Fredenburg and Hill 2006).
The recovery of Cambodia's economy slowed dramatically in 1997–98, 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 2005, GDP per capita was $2,200, which ranked 178th (out of 233) countries.
The population often lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from a lack of basic infrastructure. Fear of renewed political instability and corruption within the government discourage foreign investment and delay foreign aid, although there has been significant assistance from bilateral and multilateral donors. Donors pledged $504m to the country in 2004, while the Asian Development Bank alone has provided $850m in loans, grants, and technical assistance.
The tourism industry is the country's second-greatest source of hard currency after the textile industry. 50% of visitor arrivals are to Angkor, and most of the remainder to Phnom Penh. Other tourist hotspots include Sihanoukville in the southeast which has several popular beaches, and the nearby area around Kampot including the Bokor Hill Station. The BBC reports that Cambodia is also a major destination for sex tourism, and there is particular concern over child sex and forced prostitution.
Cambodia is ethnically homogeneous. 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, Khmer Loeu, and Indians.
The Khmer language is a member of the Mon-Khmer subfamily of the Austroasiatic language group. French, once the lingua franca of Indochina and still spoken by some, mostly older Cambodians as a second language, remains the language of instruction in various schools and universities that are often funded by the government of France. Cambodian French, a remnant of the country's colonial past, is a dialect found in Cambodia and is frequently used in government. However, in recent decades, many younger Cambodians and those in the business-class, have favoured learning English, which is gradually becoming more widely spoken.
The dominant religion Theravada Buddhism was suppressed by the Khmer Rouge but has since experienced a revival. Islam (5%) and Christianity (2%) are also practiced.
Civil war and its aftermath have had a marked effect on the Cambodian population. The median age is 20.6 years, with more than 50% of the population younger than 25. At 0.95 males/female, Cambodia has the most female-biased sex ratio in the Greater Mekong Subregion. In the Cambodian population over 65, the female to male ratio is 1.6:1. UNICEF has designated Cambodia the third most mined country in the world, attributing over 60,000 civilian deaths and thousands more maimed or injured since 1970 to the unexploded landmines left behind in rural areas. The majority of the victims are children herding animals or playing in the fields. Adults that survive landmines often require amputation of one or more limbs and have to resort to begging for survival. In 2006, the number of landmines casualties in Cambodia took a sharp decrease of more than 50% compared to 2005, with the number of landmines victims down from 800 in 2005 to less than 400 in 2006.
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. Angkor Wat (Angkor means "city" and Wat "temple") is the best preserved example of Khmer architecture from the Angkorian era and hundreds of other temples have been discovered in and around the region. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the infamous prison of the Khmer Rouge, and Choeung Ek, one of the main Killing Fields are other important historic sites.
Bonn Om Teuk (Festival of Boat Racing), the annual boat rowing contest, is the most attended Cambodian national festival. Held at the end of the rainy season when the Mekong river begins to sink back to its normal levels allowing the Tonle Sap River to reverse flow, approximately 10% of Cambodia's population attends this event each year to play games, give thanks to the moon, watch fireworks, and attend the boat race in a carnival-type atmosphere. Popular games include cockfighting, soccer, and kicking a sey, which is similar to a footbag. Notable recent artistic figures include the singers Sinn Sisamouth, who introduced new musical styles to the country, and later Meng Keo Pichenda.
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 kilograms of fish per year or 2 ounces 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 and similar to other Southeast Asia cuisines.
Football (soccer) is one of the more popular sports, although professional organized sports are not as prevalent in Cambodia as in western countries due to the economic conditions. The Cambodia national football team managed fourth in the 1972 Asian Cup but development has slowed since the civil war. Western sports such as volleyball, bodybuilding, field hockey, rugby, and baseball are gaining popularity while traditional boat racing maintains its appeal as a national sport. Martial arts is also practiced in Cambodia, the most popular being Pradal Serey, which is similar to Muay Thai and also considered a national sport. Other styles such as Karate, Kung Fu and Taekwondo are rapidly catching on.
The civil war severely damaged Cambodia's transport system, despite the provision of Soviet technical assistance and equipment. Cambodia has two rail lines, totalling about 612 kilometers (380 mi) of single, one meter gauge track. The lines run from the capital to Sihanoukville on the southern coast, and from Phnom Penh to Sisophon (although trains often run only as far as Battambang). Currently only one passenger train per week operates, between Phnom Penh and Battambang.
The nation's extensive inland waterways were important historically in international trade. The Mekong and the Tonle Sap River, their numerous tributaries, and the Tonle Sap provided avenues of considerable length, including 3,700 kilometers (2,300 mi) navigable all year by craft drawing 0.6 meters (2 ft) and another 282 kilometers (175 mi) navigable to craft drawing 1.8 meters (6 ft). Cambodia has two major ports, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, and five minor ones. Phnom Penh, located at the junction of the Basak, the Mekong, and the Tonle Sap rivers, is the only river port capable of receiving 8,000 ton ships during the wet season and 5,000 ton ships during the dry season.
The country has sixteen commercial airports: Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh is the largest; the others are at Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Ratanakiri, Battambang, Stung Treng, Koh Kong, Kampot, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Kratié, Pailin, Svay Rieng, Preah Vihear and Mondulkiri.
With increasing economic activity has come an increase in automobile and motorcycle use, though bicycles still predominate; as often in developing countries, an associated rise in traffic deaths and injuries is occurring. Cycle rickshaws ("pʰʊt-pʰʊts") are an additional option often used by visitors.