Also know as the Kingdom of Kampuchea, it has had a troubled history, but it is better known for the mysterious ancient city of Angkor Wat.
Cambodia is relatively undeveloped compared to its neighbour Thailand but this means you are more likely to find yourself in unspoiled place. Children catch big black spiders with very hairy feet to sell. Well cooked they are reported to be very tasteful, though I can't confirm that. I left Cambodia captured by its unspoiled ways, a destination that hasn't yet been exploited and can't be missed in south east Asia.
Cambodia is still one of the few countries that maintains a monarchy. Phnom Penh is the kingdom's capital and largest city and is the center for industry, political headquarters, tourism services, commercial, economic power and culture for the whole country. A citizen of Cambodia is usually identified as "Cambodian" or "Khmer".
Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor, now sports luxury hotels, chic nightspots, ATMs, and an airport fielding flights from all over the region, while Sihanoukville is getting good press as an up-and-coming beach destination. However travel beyond the most popular tourist destinations is still an adventure.
Cambodia is the traditional English name, taken from the French Cambodge, while Kâmpuchea, formerly the name of the country in English. The Khmer Kampuchea is derived from the ancient Khmer kingdom of Kambuja, an early tribe of north India. Iron Age settlements were found beneath Angkorian temples a few kilometers north-west of Angkor. Burials, much richer, testify improvement of food availability and trade and the existence of a social structure and labor organization.
Lost in the Cambodian jungle for over four centuries and put back on the map by a French explorer in 1860, Angkor Wat is one of nearly one hundred temples, homes of Hindu gods.
The Kingdom of Cambodia, formerly known as Kampuchea, is a country in South East Asia, famous as 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.
Since the fall of Angkor in 1431, the once mighty Khmer Empire has been plundered by all its neighbours. Its people have been taxed and resources exploited by French colonialists. After a false dawn of independence in 1953, Cambodia promptly plunged back into the horrors of civil war in 1970 to suffer the Khmer Rouge's incredibly brutal reign of terror, and only after UN-sponsored elections in 1993 did the country begin to totter back onto its feet.
During the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries, the Indianised states of Funan and Chenla merged in what is now present-day Cambodia and southwestern Vietnam. For more than 2,000 years, Cambodia absorbed influences from India and China passing them on to other Southeast Asian civilisations that are now Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. The Khmer Empire flourished in the area from the 9th to the 13th century. Theravada Buddhism was introduced to the area through monks from Sri Lanka around the 13th century which grew and eventually became the most popular religion. The Khmer Empire declined yet remained powerful in the region until the 15th century. The empire's centre of power was Angkor, where a series of capitals was constructed during the empire's height. Angkor could have supported a population of up to one million people, the world's largest pre-industrial civilization, and Angkor Wat, the most famous and best-preserved religious temple at the site, are reminders 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 because of ecological failure and infrastructure breakdown. The court moved the Capital to Lovek where the kingdom sought to regain its glory through maritime trade, but it was short-lived, as continued wars with the Thai and Vietnamese resulted in the loss of more territory and Lovek was conquered in 1594. During the next three centuries, the Khmer kingdom alternated as a dependent state of the Thai and Vietnamese kings, with short-lived periods of relative independence between.
In 1863, King Norodom, who had been installed by Thailand, sought the protection of France from the Thai and Vietnamese, after tensions grew between them. In 1867, the Thai king signed a treaty with France, renouncing sovereignty 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 colony of French Indochina, though occupied by the Japanese empire from 1941 to 1945. Under the reign of King Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia gained independence from France on November 9, 1953 and became a constitutional monarchy. Cambodia lost official control over the Mekong Delta as it was awarded to Vietnam as it had been controlled by the Vietnamese since 1698 with settlement in the area decades before.
As the Vietnam War progressed, Cambodia adopted an official policy of neutrality in the Cold War. However, Cambodians began to take sides, Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak was ousted in 1970 by a military coup with the back-up support of the United States. Settling in the next alternative country, Beijing, China, Sihanouk was forced to realign himself with the Chinese communist. Soon the Khmer Rouge rebels would use him for gaining territory in the regions. The King urged his followers to help in overthrowing the pro-United States government of Lon Nol, hastening the onset of civil war. Between 1969 and 1973, Vietnam and U.S. forces bombed and briefly invaded Cambodia in an effort to disrupt the Viet Cong and Khmer Rouge. Some two million Cambodians were made refugees by the war and fled to Phnom Penh, the bombing drove peasants to join the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer Rouge reached Phnom Penh and took power in 1975. The regime, led by Pol Pot, changed the official name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea, and was heavily influenced and backed by China. They evacuated the cities and sent the entire population on forced marches to rural work projects. They attempted to rebuild the country's agriculture on the model of the 11th century, discarded Western medicine, and destroyed temples, libraries, and anything considered Western. Over a million Cambodians, out of a total population of 8 million, died from executions, overwork, starvation and disease. This era gave rise to the term Killing Fields, and the prison Tuol Sleng became notorious for its history of mass killing. Hundreds of thousands fled across the border into neighbouring Thailand. In November 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to stop Khmer Rouge incursions across the border and the genocide. 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.
Cambodia suffers from a legacy of millions of land mines left during the war years. To tourists, land mines present a minimal to nonexistent threat, as most areas near touristed areas have been thoroughly de-mined. The threat is to locals in extremely rural areas who rely on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods. Exercise caution, ask for local advice and heed warning signs, red paint and red rope, which may indicate mined areas. Do not venture beyond well established roads and paths.