Cambodia is a country of Asia
with a surface area of 181,035 km² (density of 81.21 inhab./km²). The population of Cambodia is 14,701,717 inhabitants in the last census.The capital of Cambodia is the city of Phnom Penh which has 1,501,725 inhabitants. The king of the constitutional monarchy is Norodom Sihamoni.
"Nation, religion, king"
Cambodia or Kingdom of Cambodia is a country located in Southeast Asia sharing borders with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. It runs along the Gulf of Thailand for 443 kilometers.
Cambodia is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the International Organization of la Francophonie (OIF).
Cambodia at a glance
Capital city: Phnom Penh
Administrative divisions: 24 provinces
Population: more than 15 million inhabitants
Main language: khmer
Main religion: Theravada Buddhism
Current sovereign: Norodom Sihamoni
Current Prime Minister: Hun Sen
Currency: riel (1 riel = 10 kak = 100 sen)
Conversion into euro: 100 riel = 0, 02 euro
Tourism: Cambodia is a relatively safe country but one must remain vigilant because of snatching flights and protect against the mosquito bites.
A country between plains and plateaus
Cambodia is largely composed of vast plains and plateaus. Only the regions on the border of Laos (northeast) and Vietnam (east) as well as the southwest are mountainous. The highest peak in the country, the Phnum Aoral, peaks at 1,813 meters and is located in the chain of Cardamones which extends to Thailand.
The relief of Cambodia is therefore relatively flat especially at the level of the Mekong basin which crosses the country from north to south. During the monsoon period, this immense river has significant floods that can irrigate much of the country and even reverse the course of the Tonle Sap River, which then flows into the lake of the same name. The water source, tributary of the Mekong during the dry season and the outlet of this river during the rainy season.
The lake Tonlé, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and the river that is inseparable from it, is located to the west of the Mekong River and also participates in the irrigation of Cambodia. The lake plays a role of a regulator restraining the extent of the floods even though these are sometimes too important to be absorbed. Its area can be multiplied by six and its volume by 70 during the floods. The Tonle Sap is an essential ecosystem in Cambodia. Indeed, the withdrawal of water leaves nutrient deposits allowing the development of agriculture in the flooded areas. Moreover, its fish-bearing waters feed a large part of the population.
The country is over 60% covered by tropical-type forests, although the crop intensification leads to the significant deforestation, particularly in mangrove areas, which is of concern to Cambodians who are seeing their fishing zones reduced.
The climate of Cambodia is also tropical with a dry and warm season from November to April and a rainy season marked by the monsoon from May to October. The average annual temperature is 25 ° with extremes close to 40 ° in April and 10 ° in January.
An Oceanic Origin
The origin of Cambodian settlement is uncertain. It is, however, probable that tribes related to the tribes coming from Oceania (Melanesia or Australia) settled in the country around 40,000 before our era.
Much later, about 5,000 BC, tribes living in southern China left their region and settled in the delta areas of the Irrawaddy (Myanmar) and the Mekong. The Mons of Myanmar and the Khmers of Cambodia are the descendants of these peoples who are at the origin of the expansion of the Austro-Asian languages in Southeast Asia.
The Fou-Nan Kingdom
The main sources concerning the history of Cambodia are Chinese stories.
But before the founding of the Khmer Empire, a first kingdom emerged in the valley of the Mekong and Lake Tonle Sap by the 1st century of our era. According to legend, the Fou-Nan kingdom was founded by a Brahman originally from India, Kaundinya. The archaeological remains discovered in the region, including Sanskrit literature, are similar to those of Hindu culture, which would confirm that every legend rests on a basis of truth. This state will extend from southern Malaysia to the valley of the Irrawaddy. The society is particularly well structured, offering a veritable economic and cultural golden age in the country, notably thanks to the agriculture, the natural resources of the subsoil (gold and silver) and the trade by sea and river.
The kingdom will break up and quickly collapse by the 6th century for imprecise reasons, probably the internal conflicts of succession. It gives way to the Chenla people who take advantage of these tensions to confront their suzerains and found a new kingdom adhering to Shivaism derived from Hinduism with Shiva as the main divinity.
The Khmer Empire
This vast kingdom of Khmer origin will be divided in two, Chenla of Water in the south and Chenla of Earth in the north which will form in the 8th century the Javanese kingdom of Sailendra and the Khmer empire.
The Khmer empire was founded at the beginning of the 9th century by Jayavarman II and Angkor obtained the status of capital. It seems certain, however, that the site of Angkor was already well occupied before that time, probably during the Bronze Age. The discovery in 2004 of the necropolis of Koh Ta Meas in an ancient reservoir of Khmer water (baray) measuring 8 km out of 2 confirms this hypothesis. This baray was part of the hydraulic system to supply the city of Angkor with water and to irrigate the rice fields during the dry season.
During an exceptional drought, excavations revealed about thirty prehistoric burials with rich ceramic materials, probably offerings to the deceased, some copper jewelery and the various animal bones.
It is likely that the site was occupied continuously from prehistory to the Khmer period but that the buildings were flushed to leave room for the new buildings in the 9th century.
Koh Ta Meas is at present the oldest site occupied by men discovered in Cambodia.
The Khmers are great builders and the country will experience strong economic and cultural development. The Shahite temple Preah Kô of Angkor dating from 880 is the oldest testimony of their power. It precedes the temple-mountain of Bakong, first example of these temples constructed in the form of pyramid at 5 degrees surmounted by a terrace welcoming a tower. The set represents Mount Meru, a mythical mountain of India considered the center of the world and the abode of the gods.
The city of Angkor is truly shining and many temples and monuments are built over the centuries, the most extraordinary of which is certainly the Angkor Wat complex dedicated to Vishnu and built in the 12th century, a symbol of Khmer architecture and Cambodia. This complex surrounded by carved walls measures 1,500 meters by 1,300. The sanctuary itself occupies a central area and is surrounded by the moats. It is reached by a 200-meter paved path that leads the visitor to the foot of a terrace, in front of a monumental entrance opening on three successive galleries and finally on a large tower in the shape of a pyramid.
The Khmer Empire dominated much of the Indochinese peninsula (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia) until the 13th century. During this period, Buddhism gradually eclipsed the worship of Hindu divinities.
The Thai period
The Empire broke up in 1220 and the Khmer king Indravarman II had to cede the territories to the kingdom of Dai Viet (now Vietnam) while the Thais evicted the Khmers to found the independent kingdom of Sukhothai. The Khmers must also pay a tribe to the Mongols to avoid an invasion.
From 1327, no new construction was carried out in Angkor and the expanding Thais regularly attacked the city between 1352 and 1431, forcing the Khmers to transfer their capital to Chaktomuk (now Phnom Penh) and then to Lovek. It is at this time that Theravada Buddhism, a form of Buddhism teaching the "Four Noble Truths" leading to the liberation of each person, is established in Cambodia.
After the radiation of Angkor, the country has a long darker period. The struggles for the power and the corruption within the political class led the sovereigns to seek help from the neighboring powers, and thus Cambodia became a vassal of the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya. This kingdom founded in 1351 originally included the territories of present-day Thailand but quickly expanded, including Angkor and Malaysia to become the most important power in Southeast Asia. It was finally annihilated by his Burmese rivals in 1767.
The Vietnamese era
In the meantime, Cambodia had sought to free itself from the Thai yoke by approaching a new emerging power, Vietnam, which was granted permission to set up trading posts in the Prey Nokor region (Saigon / Ho Chi -Minh) who was then part of the Khmer Empire.
Cambodia became a vassal of Vietnam in 1660 and the State was divided into three "residences", each controlled by a general resident of Vietnamese origin. Every trace of the Khmer culture is destroyed and replaced in the smallest detail by the Vietnamese culture and beliefs.
Until 1863, the country was going to be an issue between two powers, the Kingdom of Siam (Thai) and the empire of Annam (Vietnam). During the reign of Norodom I, Cambodia began a rapprochement with France, which continued its colonial expansion by attacking Vietnam.
The French Protectorate
The annexation of Cochin China is followed by the establishment of a protectorate in Cambodia.
In 1887, French Indochina was officially created and encompassed Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and the Chinese province of Guandong. Phnom Penh became the capital of Cambodia in 1866.
The relations between France and Cambodia, however, are not in a good light, in particular because of the restrictions and measures imposed by French at the court of the King, such as the abolition of slavery and the reduction of the monarch's lifestyle .
Despite the construction of an important motorway, rail and river network in Cambodia, the country is struggling to recover. The people have to pay new taxes or accept the chore (three months of public works per year). This situation is provoking the anger, especially since the Vietnamese occupy high positions to the detriment of the local population.
Finally, at the beginning of the 20th century, the situation improved notably thanks to the export of maize and rubber.
Despite the political and the economic stability, Khmer nationalist movements were born in the 1930s, notably under the instigation of Son Ngoc Thanh who founded the first newspaper in the Khmer language on the eve of the Second World War.
The Empire of Japan invaded French Indochina and settled in Cambodia, which became a base for its aviation. At the same time, Thailand is taking advantage of the situation to also tackle French possessions in Southeast Asia. The two countries are combining and the territories of Cambodia are fragmented. In 1942, the Cambodian nationalists supported by Japan rebelled. This movement, known as the umbrella revolt, is repressed but remains in the annals as the first step to the independence of the country.
Feeling the end of the war and the defeat in the Pacific approaching, Japan will use its last assets to seize the whole of Indochina and to incite the different states composing it to claim their independence. Japan wants to create the "sphere of co-prosperity of the great East Asia" and to enlarge the Japanese colonial empire. Independent Cambodia is part of this sphere from 9 March 9th to August 15th 1945, the day of the capitulation of Japan.
Cambodia reverted to French rule in October of that same year, but King Norodom Sianouk got the greater internal autonomy and a parliamentary election by universal suffrage.
Thus the Cambodian Democratic Party with a tendency to independence emerged victorious in 1946. The same year, the Indochina War began in Vietnam when the communist nationalist movement Viêt Minh triggered hostilities against French.
This long and exhausting war ended shortly after French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The signing of the Geneva Agreements in 1954 had to settle the question of Indochina, but it could not prevent the Vietnam War which would tear apart the two parts of this country for twenty years.
Meanwhile, in 1949, Cambodia got the status of independent nation within the French Union. This situation does not satisfy the independentist Khmers issarak who want to organize the resistance and lead a guerrilla in Cambodia like the Viet Minh movement.
The Khmer issarak opposing King Norodom Sihanouk gradually control small Cambodian territories while being themselves controlled by the Vietnamese. The country lives dark hours and the Khmers occupy the area near the Vietnamese border.
The Khmer Rouge
Finally, the king succeeded in proclaiming the independence of Cambodia in 1953 forcing the Khmer issarak to recognize the legitimacy of his throne or to go into exile in Vietnam. However, the Khmers do not give up and a new political and military movement is emerging, that of the Khmer Rouge. The tension intensified and led to a civil war in 1967 between the government of the country supported by the United States and South Vietnam to the Khmer Rouge supported by North Vietnam.
This war will put Cambodia under fire and blood and destroy its economy. In 1970, the government of Sihanouk was overthrown and the Khmer Republic was proclaimed and directed by General Lon Nol, pro-American.
But in 1975 the extremist faction of the Khmer Rouge seized power after the capture of Phnom Penh, leaving the country in ruins, the plantations devastated by the fighting, and the international trade being reduced to nothing.
Former guerrilla leader Saloth Sār, better known as the Pol Pot war, is appointed Prime Minister. He set up a repressive dictatorship under the name of Democratic Kampuchea, attacked intellectuals, emptied cities by forcing the inhabitants to work in the fields, destroyed all traces of French occupation and abolished property rights, the freedom of religion and all forms of liberty in general. The famine settles and the population lives in terror.
It is estimated that 1.5 million Cambodians died during Pol Pot's years of power.
In 1979, the Vietnamese army crossed the border and overthrew Pol Pot, who had to take refuge in the jungle, where he organized a new guerrilla war. He is replaced by Khmer Rouge opposed to the dictator who founded the Khmer People's Revolutionary Party, the sole party at the head of the very young People's Republic of Kampuchea. Vietnam-backed leaders rebuild the country even though the situation is still far from being idyllic and the international community condemns Vietnam's interference. The country is undergoing a new period of war between the resistance fighters and the new government set up by the Vietnamese.
The comeback of the Norodom dynasty
They go out from the country in 1989 and the new State of Cambodia is recognized. Two years later, Norodom Sihanouk came back to his country and was elected the head of state in June 1993. He re-established the monarchy and became the king again in September, more than 20 years after the Lon Nol coup.
He will give way to his son, Norodom Sihamoni in 2004.
Cambodia is a multi-party parliamentary constitutional monarchy but the king has an essentially representative function. This function is not hereditary and it is the Royal Crown Council that is responsible for designating a new king in the event of death or abdication.
The executive is entrusted to the King (now Norodom Sihamoni) and the Prime Minister (currently Hun Sen), who is chosen from among the members of the majority party of the National Assembly. It is up to the Prime Minister to form the government.
The legislative power is entrusted to a parliament composed of the National Assembly and the Senate.
The judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Council of the Judiciary.
An economy that is trying to recover
Despite a considerable effort since the end of the dictatorship to get the country out of financial stagnation and a sharp rise, Cambodia has not yet recovered the situation and a large part of the population lives below the poverty line. This poverty is not linked to unemployment which reaches only 3% of the population but to the extremely low wages paid to workers. Moreover, the instability of the country discourages the foreign investors.
The primary sector (agriculture, forestry and mining, etc.) accounts for nearly 35% of GDP and employs nearly 60% of the country's labor force.
Some of the resources are also derived from exports of wood, fish, rubber (rubber), tobacco and maize, but the poor land management and the massive uncontrolled deforestation jeopardize the balance of the economy, the rural environment. Most of the crops are destined to feed the local population.
The secondary sector accounting for just over 20% of GDP is dominated by the textile industry, which covers 80% of the country's total exports. The textile factories, however, are suspected of using children and forcing the workers to work unpaid overtime hours under difficult conditions.
Finally, the tertiary sector is booming mainly due to the country's opening to tourism.
A Khmer culture
The population of Cambodia exceeds 15 million and the majority of Cambodia (85%) is of Khmer origin. The other nationalities represented are the Vietnamese, the Cham and the Chinese.
The victim of the wars and the dictatorship of Pol Pot, Cambodia has not yet regained a stable economy and more than a quarter of the population suffers from famine. In addition, the health care system and the access to safe drinking water are inadequate.
The official language of Cambodia is Khmer which is spoken by almost all the inhabitants. Although there are about 20 different languages in Cambodia, the vast majority are from the Austro-Asiatic languages and more specifically from the Mon-Khmer branch. The cham and the jarai are exceptional since they are Malayo-Polynesian languages.
After being banned from the school curriculum, French as well as English, are taught again in Cambodia
Theravada Buddhism is the religion of more than 95% of the population. Cambodians belonging to the Cham ethnic group are predominantly Muslim.
Cambodian cuisine offers a mix of Chinese, Thai, Indian and Vietnamese flavors. It uses many condiments and aromatic herbs (lemongrass, coriander,) as well as spices like curry.
The freshwater fish, accompanied by vegetables and rice, is the most frequently used daily meal in Cambodia. This dish is usually preceded by a soup and followed by fruit or a dessert based on rice and coconut. The meat is rarer.
As drinks, the water can only be drunk if it is presented in an encapsulated bottle (water is rarely drinkable) and ice cubes or fruit juices must be avoided on the street. The beer, the rice wine and the palm wine are the favorite drinks of Cambodians.
At present, Cambodia is a destination that meets safety standards. However, the tourists must remain vigilant because of snatching flights and scams targeting foreigners.
It is therefore necessary to avoid wearing external signs of wealth or manipulating sums of money in public. It is also recommended to avoid the overnight trips.
It is important to wear decent outfits while visiting monuments and religious buildings. The Cambodians do not touch each other to greet each other and appreciate the politeness and reserve in their attitudes and words.
The Cambodian judiciary heavily punishes any drug use, the sexual relations or the indecent acts against minors under 15 years of age, as well as trafficking in "cultural property".
Malaria, dengue and Zika are transmissible by mosquito bites. The precautions should be taken such as the use of repellents and the wearing of clothing covering the body.
The foods should be eaten cooked (avoid raw vegetables, shellfish or unpeeled fruits and washed) because of the possibility of cholera.
It is also necessary to avoid contact with the animals even domestic in the cities as in the countryside because of the numerous cases of rabies and avian flu.
The vaccination against the diphtheria-tetanus-poliomyelitis, the typhoid fever, the viral hepatitis A and B, the Japanese encephalitis and the rabies is recommended.
Cambodia is a destination accessible to all budgets but the accommodation is often basic. With the tourism developing, there are more comfortable hotels in the cities and near the most beautiful sites of the country. The vast majority of establishments offer accommodation in dormitories or even the hammocks stretched in the gardens.
Cambodia is full of treasures and, of course, Angkor is the country's must-see site. The capital Phnom Penh is also a place that surprises by the contrast of its lively popular districts and its temples where the calm and the serenity reign.
The nature enthusiasts will prefer to discover the ecosystem of Lake Tonlé Sap.
In spite of its opening on the sea, Cambodia has only one real relatively luxurious seaside resort, Kampong Som or Sihanoukville. However, there are many paradisiacal beaches where travelers can enjoy the serenity.