The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The Kingdom of Cambodia (Khmer short form: Kampuchea) is a constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia with a population of over 13 million people. Most Cambodians are Therevada Buddhists of Khmer extraction. A citizen of Cambodia is usually identified as Cambodian, or more often, Khmer.

The country shares a border with Thailand to its west, with Laos to its north, with Vietnam to its east, and with the Gulf of Thailand to its south. The geography of Cambodia is dominated by the Mekong river (Khmer: Tonle Thom) and the Tonle Sap, an important source of fish. The capital of Cambodia is Phnom Penh. The country has three main political parties, of which the Cambodian People's Party is the ruling party. From 2005 on, a coalition that took one year to negociate between the Cambodian People's Party and the royalists' FUNCINPEC is in charge.

From the 9th century to the 15th century, Cambodia was the center of the mighty Khmer Empire, which was during this time based at Angkor. Angkor Wat, the empire's main religious temple, remains a symbol of Cambodia during its time as a world power, and is also the country's top tourist attraction to this day. Cambodia was a protectorate of France from 1863 until the country recieved independence in 1953. During this period, Cambodia was under a brief but mostly brutal Japanese occupation during World War II from 1941 to 1945. During the 1950s and 1960s the country was under the rule of King Norodom Sihanouk, where the country maintained a precarious neutrality in the wake of active agression against South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the country was plagued with a brutal civil war, a hated military monarchist regime, as well as an even worse genocidal, agro-communist regime led by the Khmer Rouge. During the Khmer Rouge period, autogenocide was commited against millions of people who were percieved intellectuals, detractors of Marxism, and some just innocent civilians. Millions fled across to neighbouring Thailand.

Later the country fell prey to a Vietnamese invasion in 1979. After United Nations intervention, however, Cambodia has gained stability and has begun to rebuild the country's infrastructure that was lost during the brutality that reigned in the 1970s and 1980s.



The name that Cambodia is originally derived from is that of the ancient Khmer kingdom of Kambujadesa, or the more popularly known Kambuja. Kambuja is the ancient Sanskrit name of an early north Indian tribe which was named after the founder of that tribe, Kambu Svayambhuva . The French name for Cambodia was Cambodge, which was derived from Kambuja. Since independence was achieved in 1953, the official name of Cambodia has changed whenever a government changes. The following names have been used since 1953.

  • Kingdom of Cambodia under the rule of the monarchy from 1953 through 1970;
  • Khmer Republic under the rule of the fascist military rule of Lon Nol from 1970 to 1975;
  • Democratic Kampchea under the rule of the communist Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979;
  • People's Republic of Kampuchea under the rule of the Vietnamese sponsored government from 1979 to 1989;
  • State of Cambodia under the rule of the United Nations transitional authority from 1989 to 1993;
  • Kingdom of Cambodia used after the restoration of the monarchy in 1993

Today, in the Khmer language, Kampuchea is the most popular name. Other names less frequently used in Khmer are Srok Khmae, which translates to State of Cambodia, and also the more patriotic Prateh Khmae which is Cambodian Nation. The national language is referred to as Khmer rather than Cambodian.


Main article: History of Cambodia

Ancient States: Funan and Chenla

The first advanced civilizations in present day Cambodia appeared in the 1st millenium AD. During the 300s, 400s, and 500s AD, the Indianized states of Funan and Chenla took hold in what is now present-day Cambodia and southwestern Vietnam. These states had close relations with China and India. After these states collapsed, the Khmer civilization began to flourish in this area from the 9th century to the 13th century.

Angkor and the Khmer Empire

Main article: Early history of Cambodia

The Angkorian period was in terms of cultural accomplishments and political power, the golden age of Cambodia. The kingdom was founded by Jayavarman II with its capital at Angkor, and hte Khmer Empire lasted from the early 9th century to the 15th century. The Khmers had adp[ted religious and political ideas and institutions from India and began to establish a centralized kingdom which dominated Southeast Asia for much of this period.

The rule of Jayavarman VII (r. 1181 - ca. 1218) saw the rapid expansion of the Khmer Empire. Unlike his ancestors, who had concentrated upon the cult of the Hindu god-king ,Jayavarman VII was a patron of Mahayana Buddhism.

Jayavarman VII began building activity that included the popular Angkor Thom complex and also the Bayon, a temple whose stone towers bear faces which have been identified as Avalokitesvara, which are either the king himself or the guardians of the cardinal points (Kerlogue, p. 109). He also built over 200 rest houses and hospitals throughout the empire and maintained a system of roads between his capital and provincial towns throughout the empire which would make it simpler for magistrates to collect taxes or for building projects. According to historian George Coedes , "No other Cambodian king can claim to have moved so much stone." Often, quality suffered for the sake of size and rapid construction. An example of this was the beautiful but poorly constructed Bayon.

Foreign Occupation

Main article: Colonial Cambodia

After the Siamese seized Angkor in 1431, Cambodia began to endure years of foreign domination by neighboring Siam to the west and by Vietnam to the east. This period is known as the "dark ages of Cambodia" . This period ended when Cambodia was made a French protectorate in 1863 and became part of French Indochina. Cambodia's chief colonial official was the Resident Superieur (Resident General) while lesser residents, or regional governors were posted in all of the provincial centers. In 1897, the incumbent Resident General complained to his superiors in Paris that the current king of Cambodia, King Norodom, was no longer capable of ruling, and thus recieved permission to assume the king's roles of issuing decrees, collecting taxes, and appointing royal officials, including the next king. Norodom and his successors thus assumed the role of figureheads and heads of the Buddhist religion. Even in the colonial bureaucracy, French nationals held the highest positions, while even in the lowest rungs of the bureaucracy the colonial government preferred to hire Vietnamese.

During World War II Cambodia underwent a brutal Japanese occupation. After it ended in 1945, King Norodom Sihanouk demanded independence from France. With the military situation getting worse throughout Indochina, the French agreed to grant independence to the three states of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in 1953. King Sihanouk, a revered hero in the eyes of his people, returned to Phnom Penh in triumph, and independence was celebrated on November 9, 1953. The last French officials left Cambodia in 1954 after control of residual matters affecting sovereignty, such as financial and budgetary affairs, passed to the new Cambodian state.

Civil War and Genocide

Main article: Democratic Kampuchea

During the Second Indochina War, the Nixon administration of the United States began to bomb the border of South Vietnam and Cambodia, targeting secret Vietcong camps and supply routes. The Vietcong sought refuge in nearby villages, and the United States began to bomb these villages as well. The neutralist government of Prince Sihanouk could do nothing, and when Sihanouk began to send supplies to North Vietnam, a civil war began.

In 1970, while Prince Sihanouk was away in Beijing, General Lon Nol seized power in a military coup d'état and declared the Khmer Republic. Immediately a civil war began between this military regime and the xenophobic and communist Khmer Rouge, which had gathered much strength because of support by the communist North Vietnamese and the Vietcong.

Led by Pol Pot, who later became the Prime Minister of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge captured the capital Phnom Penh in 1975 and renamed the country to Democratic Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge ideology included:

The Khmer Rouge justified its actions by claiming that Cambodia was on the brink of major famine due to the American bombing campaigns, and that this required the evacuation of the cities to the countryside so that people could become self-sufficient. It had the effect of converting the entire country into a re-education/labor camp. During the rule of the Khmer Rouge, about 1.7 million people were killed, or one-fifth of the country's population of the time. The Killing Fields and the S-21 prison at Tuol Sleng shocked the entire world as the government commited brutal autogenocide. In addition to death from work starvation and exhaustion, the regime killed anyone suspected with connections with either the defeated Khmer Republic government or the previous Sihanouk government, as well as intellectuals (Pol Pot defined anyone who wore glasses as automatically an intellectual), professionals, and also ethnic Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams, Laotians , and Thai. If this wasn't enough, Cambodia broke into Vietnamese, Lao, and Thai territory and massacred entire villagers of border provinces. Even the royal family was brutalized. Prince Sihanouk was put under house arrest and many of the Sisowath branch of the family were massacred. The Tuol Seng museum is a good authority on this period.

In 1978, a newly-unified Vietnam invaded Cambodia after repeated Khmer Rouge raids into Vietnamese territory and drove the Khmer Rouge to the western border with Thailand. A civil war between the Vietnamese-sponsored government of Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge continued until United Nations sponsored elections in 1993 restored stability. Prince Sihanouk became King again, and a coalition government between the conservative-royalist Fucinpec party and the pro-Vietnamese Cambodian People's Party was formed in 1998. That year also saw the surrender of the remaining Khmer Rouge troops and the death of Pol Pot. Nonetheless, none of the Khmer Rouge leaders have been tried for their war crimes. Cambodia now attempts to rebuild itself after years of horror.


Main article: Politics of Cambodia

Cambodia underwent turbulent events from the 1970s until the early 1990s, when elections, administered by the United Nations, were held. Ever since then, Cambodia has enjoyed grater stability and peace. One effects of this was the smooth transition when King Sihanouk abdicated in favor of his son Norodom Sihamoni on October 14, 2004.

Cambodia is now a constitutional monarchy where executive power is held by the prime minister. The legislature comprises a 61-member appointed Senate and a 123-member lower house, the National Assembly, elected under proportional representation by popular vote for 5 year terms. The judiciary is very weak, since only a handful of lawyers and judges were left alive, the rest being killed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Hun Sen of the extreme-left, pro-Vietnam Cambodian People's Party, or CPP, ousted his former co-prime minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, son of Prince Sihanouk and brother of current King Sihamoni, in a short but bloody civil war between the two coalition partners in 1997. The CPP won the elections in 1998, and formed a coalition with FUNCINPEC, Ranariddh's royalist party, but with Hun Sen as sole prime minister. In the 2003 National Assembly elections, the CPP won 73 seats with 47% of the vote, the opposition-liberal Sam Rainsy Party won 24 seats (22%), and FUNCINPEC won 26 seats (21%). Eleven women were among those elected. Following a year long deadlock during which FUNCINPEC and the Sam Rainsy Party united to oppose the CPP, and thus prevented it from forming a government, FUNCINPEC switched sides and joined with the CPP, allowing it to control the two thirds of the seats in the National Assembly needed to form a government.

See also: List of political parties in Cambodia


Main article: Provinces of Cambodia

Cambodia is divided into 20 provinces (khett, singular and plural) and 4 municipalities *(krong, singular and plural). It is also divided by District (srok), Communion (khum), Great districts (khett), and also Islands (kaoh).

  1. Municipalities (Krong):
  2. Province (Khett):
  3. Islands (Kaoh):
    • Kaoh Sess
    • Kaoh Polaway
    • Kaoh Rong
    • Kaoh Thass
    • Kaoh Treas
    • Kaoh Traolach


Main article: Geography of Cambodia

Cambodia has an area of about 181,040 square kilometers, sharing an 800-kilometer border with Thailand on the north and west, a 541-kilometer border with Laos on the northeast, and a 1,228-kilometer border with Vietnam on the east and southeast. It has 443 kilometers 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 kilometers during the dry season and expanding to about 24,605 square kilometers during the rainy season. This densely populated plain, which is devoted to wet rice cultivation, is the heartland of Cambodia. Most (about 75 percent) of the country lies at elevations of less than 100 meters above sea level, the exceptions being the Cardamon Mountains (highest elevation 1,771 meters), their north-south extension to the east, the Elephant Range (elevation range 500-1,000 meters), and the steep escarpment of the Dangrek Mountains (average elevation 500 meters) along the border with Thailand's Isan region.

Temperatures range from 10°C to 38°C and Cambodia experiences tropical monsoons. Southwest monsoons blowing inland bring 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.


Main article: Economy of Cambodia

Despite the recent progress, the Cambodian economy continues to suffer from the effects of decades of civil war and internal strife. 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 United States, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia are its major export partners.

The recovery of Cambodia's economy slowed dramatically in 1997-1998 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 2004 GDP per Capita was $1900 USD, which ranked it 175th (out of 232) countries [1].

The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure. Fear of renewed political instability and corruption within the government discourage foreign investment and delay foreign aid. The government is addressing these issues with assistance from bilateral and multilateral donors.


Main article: Demographics of Cambodia

Cambodia is ethnically homogeneous, as 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 and Khmer Loeu .

The Khmer language is a member of the Mon-Khmer subfamily of the Austroasiatic language group. French is spoken by many Cambodians as a second-language and is often the language of instruction in various schools and universities. It is also frequently used in government. However, in recent decades, many younger Cambodians, as well as members of the business-classes, have favored learning English and it is gradually becoming the more widely-known.

Theravada Buddhism, suppressed by Khmer Rouge but now revived, is the main religion, but Christianity is spreading in the country.


Main article: Culture of Cambodia

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. Notable recent artistic figures include the singers Sinn Sisamouth, who introduced new musical styles to the country, and later Meng Keo Pichenda.

Bonn Om Teuk (Water Festival), the annual boat rowing contest, is the biggest Cambodian holiday. The festival is held at the end of the rainy season when the Mekong river begins to sink back to its normal levels. Approximately 10% of Cambodia's population attends this event each year. Popular games include kicking a sey, which is similar to a hacky sack, cockfighting and soccer.

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 average Cambodian consumes 50kg of fish per year. 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, but has been described not as spicy as Thai cuisine and similiar to other southeast asia cuisines.

Customary Cambodian teachings include: that if a person does not wake up before sunrise he is lazy; you have to tell your parents or elders where you are going and what time you are coming back home; close doors gently, otherwise you have a bad temper; sit with your legs straight down and not crossed (crossing you legs shows that you are an impolite person); and always let other people talk more than you.


Main article: Transportation in Cambodia

The civil war severely damaged the transportation system, despite the provision of Soviet technical assistance and equipment. Cambodia has two rail lines, totaling about 612 kilometers of single, one-meter-gauge track. The lines run from the capital to Preah Seihanu on the southern coast, and from Phnom Penh to Sisophon (although trains often run only as far as Battambang).

The nation's extensive inland waterways were important historically in domestic trade. The Mekong and the Tonle Sap River, their numerous tributaries, and the Tonle Sap provided avenues of considerable length, including 3,700 kilometers navigable all year by craft drawing 0.6 meters and another 282 kilometers navigable to craft drawing 1.8 meters. Cambodia has two major ports, Phnom Penh and Kampong Som, 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 possesses six commercial airports: Pochentong International Airport near Phnom Penh is the largest, while the others are at Siemriep , Battambang, Mondul Kiri, Ratanak Kiri, and Stung Treng.

The locals normally use automobiles, motorbikes and buses. Velotaxis are an additional option often used by visitors.

Foreign relations

Main article: Foreign relations of Cambodia

Cambodia has diplomatic relations with most countries and is a member of most major international organizations, including the United Nations and its specialized agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Cambodia is an Asian Development Bank (ADB) member, a member of ASEAN, and joined the WTO on 13 October 2004.

The country has several border disputes with its neighbours, including 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 comments about Angkor Wat wrongly attributed by a Cambodian newspaper to a Thai actress: 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.


The tourism industry is the country's second-greatest source of hard currency after the textile industry [2]. More than 60% of visitor arrivals are to Angkor, and most of the remainder to Phnom Penh [3]. Other tourist hotspots include Kompong Som (Cambodia's only port), which has a popular beach.

The Angkor Wat temple complex is the best preserved example of Khmer architecture. Angkor means "city" and Wat "temple". Out of bounds to tourists during the civil war, it gained particular worldwide attention after featuring in the movie Tomb Raider. The Bayon, also at Angkor, is located at the center of Angkor Thom. It has 54 towers, each bearing four smiling faces.

Many tourists also visit the Tuol Sleng Museum, the infamous prison of the Khmer Rouge, and Choeung Ek, one of the main Killing Fields; both display photographs, skulls and bones of victims of the autogenocide. Cambodia is also a major destination for sex tourism, and there is particular concern over child sex and forced prostitution [4].

Related topics

Main article: List of Cambodia-related topics


External links




  1. A figure of three million deaths between 1975 and 1979 was given by the Vietnamese-sponsored Phnom Penh regime, the PRK. Father Ponchaud suggested 2.3 million; the Yale Cambodian autogenocide Project estimates 1.7 million; Amnesty International estimated 1.4 million ; and the United States Department of State, 1.2 million. Khieu Samphan and Pol Pot, who could be expected to give underestimations, cited figures of 1 million and 800,000, respectively.

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