CAMBODIA > FACTS ABOUT THE COUNTRY
Cambodia was a French colony from 1884 until 1953,
and King Norodom Sihanouk dominated national politics
for 15 years before being overthrown by the army.
In 1969 the United States bombed suspected communist
base camps in Cambodia, killing thousands of civilians
and dragging the country into the US-Vietnam conflict.
American and South Vietnamese troops invaded the
country in 1970, they were unsuccessful in eradicating
Vietnamese communist forces but their action pushed
Cambodia's left wing guerillas, the Khmer Rouge,
further into the country's interior. The entire
country was soon overwhelmed by savage fighting,
with Phnom Penh falling to the Khmer Rouge in
April 1975. Over the next four years the Khmer
Rouge, under Pol Pot's leadership, systematically
killed an estimated two million Cambodians. The
target was the educated people and the brutal
aim was to turn Cambodia into a Maoist, peasant-dominated
agrarian cooperative. Currency was abolished,
postal services were halted, the population became
a work force of slave laborers and the country
was almost entirely cut off from the outside world.
In mid-1993, UN-administered elections led to
a new constitution and the reinstatement of Norodom
Sihanouk as king. The Khmer Rouge was finally
outlawed by the Cambodian government in 1994.
Khmers have called their country Kampuchea since
the l6th century. The name is derived from the
word kambu-ja, first used to refer to the people
of Cambodia in the 10th century and meaning those
born of Kambu, a figure of Indian mythology.
Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia, in a tropical
zone between 10 and 14 degree of latitude north
the equator. It has an area of about 181,035 square
kilometers, and is divided into 21 provinces.
It is bordered to the north by Thailand and Laos,
to the east and the south by Vietnam, to the west
by the gulf of Cambodia, and to the South and
Southwest by the Gulf of Thailand. Cambodia is
a wide basin surrounded by highlands, much of
it is relatively flat with huge areas of land
dedicated to rice production, the mountainous
areas include the Dangrek, Cardomen and Elephant
mountain ranges. The country is rich in resources,
forests, rubber, gems, fish and has a big tourism
Cambodia has a tropical climate, plenty of sunshine
and a high average temperature. There are two
distinct seasons, varying greatly over the year.
The rainy, monsoon season lasts from May to October.
Monsoon rains fall mostly in the afternoon, and
account for 70 to 80% of annual rainfall. The
dry season from November to April is split into
the cold season from November to January and the
hot season from February to April. In spite of
these differences the seasonal variations in temperature
are small, ranging between 21 and 35 degrees Celsius,
often reaching 40ºC in April, the hottest
month. The relative humidity is higher at night
and usually in excess of 90 percent, during the
day the average humidity is 80 percent.
The country is dominated by the mighty Mekong
River, which cuts through the country from north
to south; the fish-filled Tonlé Sap (Great
Lake); the Elephant and Cardamom mountains in
the southwest; the Dangkrek Mountains along the
Thai border; and the Eastern Highlands in the
northeast. Most Cambodians live on the fertile
central plains of the Mekong-Tonlé basin.
The biggest threat to Cambodia's natural environment
is the logging of the country’s forest,
reducing the coverage from 75% in the mid-1960s
to just 49% in mid-1993. The number of national
parks is slowly growing, but with illegal logging,
no tree in Cambodia is safe. The parks include
Bokor, on the south coast; Ream, near Sihanoukville;
Kirirom, outside Phnom Penh; and Virachay, bordering
Laos and Vietnam.
A number of endangered species are thought to
be hidden in some of Cambodia’s more remote
habitats, including elephants, tigers, leopards,
rhinos, gibbons, bats and crocodiles. The most
commonly found wildlife includes butterflies,
snakes, and birds such as cormorants, cranes and
Cambodia’s system of government is a Constitutional
Agriculture: 51%, Industry: 15%, Services: 34%.
Labor force: 2.5 million to 3 million. Major products/industries:
Timber, rubber, shipping, rice milling, textiles,
cement, gem mining, and fishing. Natural resources:
Timber, gemstones, some iron ore, manganese, phosphates,
and hydropower potential. Major trading partners:
Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, USA, Hong Kong,
POPULATION AND PEOPLE
Population: 11,626,520 (1999), Khmer 90%, Vietnamese
5%, and Chinese, Chams (Khmer Island), Hill tribes,
Chinese constituted remaining 5%. Population growth
rate: 2.49% (1999 est.), Birth rate: 41.05 births/1,000
population (1999 est.), Death rate: 16.2 deaths/1,000
population (1999 est.), Life expectancy 48.24
years (m: 46.8 y, f: 49.75 y).
The artists of Cambodia have become world famous
for their beautiful carvings and religious sculptures,
many of which sell for enormous prices on the
world market. Other crafts include woven silk
products, basketry, gold and silverware, and all
kinds of jewelry made from precious stones including
the famous Pailin rubies. Also to be found are
traditional musical instruments, paintings and
ornate stone rubbings taken from the temples.
SOCIETY AND CONDUCT
Cambodian people are gentle, modest and polite
and visitors should also be patient and polite
at all times. It is important to realize that
Cambodia is an extremely poor country with minimal
equipment and training. Expect bureaucracy, delays,
and mistakes. To show anger is unacceptable. Traditionally,
when Cambodians greet each other, especially women,
they press their hands together and bow slightly.
It is polite to sit with your feet to one side
and it is extremely rude to point the soles of
your feet or finger towards anyone or towards
a statue of Buddha. If you want to gesture to
someone, use your whole hand with the palm pointing
down. Never signal to someone using your index
finger and your palm pointing upwards. Do not
pat children on the head. When visiting the Angkor
ruins, visitors should remember that these are
both historical monuments and religious buildings
that are extremely sacred to Cambodians and should
be respected accordingly by visitors. When visiting
a temple, wear a shirt that covers your arms and
shoulders and do not wear shorts. Always take
off your hat when you enter temple grounds. Take
off your shoes when you enter the temple sanctuary.
The majority of the people of Cambodia are followers
of Thervada and Hinayana school of Buddhism, this
was introduced into the country between the 13th
and 14th centuries and was the state religion
until 1975, but abolished during the Pol Pot regime.
Theravada Buddhism is also practiced in Laos,
Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. Much of it is
in evidence at Angkor Wat where Buddhist statues
sit on top of Hindu Plinths.
The Cambodian language, Khmer, is spoken all over
the country except in some tribal areas where
local indigenous languages are used. The script
is a modern variant of the old Khmer script, which
in turn originated 1700 years ago from the Brahmin
script of India. The literacy of the people is
35%. In larger towns and cities English is spoken
by an increasing number of educated people and
those within the tourist industry. French is spoken
by some of the older members of society and Chinese
by many of the business people.