Capital: Phnom Penh
Population: 14.494.293
Size: 181.040 sq km (4520 sq km of water)
Literacy: 73.6 %
Climate: tropical, monsoon season (dry in winter, rainy in summer)
Life expectancy: 62.1 years
Coastline: 443 km

Most Cambodians consider themselves to be Khmers, descendants of the Angkor Empire that extended over much of Southeast Asia and reached its zenith between the 10th and 13th centuries. Attacks by the Thai and Cham (from present-day Vietnam) weakened the empire, ushering in a long period of decline. The king placed the country under French protection in 1863 and it became part of French Indochina in 1887. Following Japanese occupation in World War II, Cambodia gained full independence from France in 1953. In April 1975, after a five-year struggle, Communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh and evacuated all cities and towns. At least 1.5 million Cambodians died from execution, forced hardships, or starvation during the Khmer Rouge regime under POL POT. A December 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside, began a 10-year Vietnamese occupation, and touched off almost 13 years of civil war. The 1991 Paris Peace Accords mandated democratic elections and a ceasefire, which was not fully respected by the Khmer Rouge. UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy under a coalition government. Factional fighting in 1997 ended the first coalition government, but a second round of national elections in 1998 led to the formation of another coalition government and renewed political stability. The remaining elements of the Khmer Rouge surrendered in early 1999. Some of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial by a UN-sponsored tribunal for crimes against humanity. Elections in July 2003 were relatively peaceful, but it took one year of negotiations between contending political parties before a coalition government was formed. In October 2004, King Norodom SIHANOUK abdicated the throne and his son, Prince Norodom SIHAMONI, was selected to succeed him. Local elections were held in Cambodia in April 2007, and there was little in the way of pre-election violence that preceded prior elections. National elections in July 2008 were relatively peaceful. (Source: CIA World Factbook)

A few quick facts:

Index of Economic Freedom: 100 out of 157 Worldwide Press Freedom Index: 126 out of 173
Corruption Perceptions Index: 162 out of 179
Human Development Index: 131 out of 177
Global Competitiveness Report: 110 out of 131

The dominant religion, a form of Theravada Buddhism (95%), was suppressed by the Khmer Rouge but has since experienced a revival. Islam (3%) and Christianity (2%) are also practiced.The median age is 20.6 years, with more than 50% of the population younger than 25. 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 land mines 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 landmine casualties in Cambodia took a sharp decrease of more than 50% compared to 2005, with the number of landmine victims down from 800 in 2005 to less than 400 in 2006.

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. Much of this area has been designated as a biosphere reserve.

My memories of Cambodia

Time of travel: November-December 2008

In November I was on my way to Asia for the second time. Cambodia was not my only destination on this trip. My plan was to go to Thailand first than meet with a group in Cambodia. I have spent 11 days in Thailand around PhiPhi, Phuket and Similian Islands. My main goal in Thailand was diving. I went on a liveaboard diving trip to Similian Islands for a few days and it was amazing. More stories from Thailand you will find on the page of Thailand under my Travel Photography page. My plan was to fly from Phuket to Bangkok and than to Phnom Penh, but due to demonstrations in Bangkok in December 2008 I was stranded in Phuket. I had to fly to Kuala Lumpur from Phuket and than to Siem Reap (Cambodia). I have spent a full day in Kuala Lumpur so I have seen all the interesting land marks of this city. Finally I arrived to Cambodia. First few days I was in the area of Siem Reap where is also Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and other well known temples. I have cycled the back-country through local villages and have also visited a village that is flooded half a year (houses are on stills). This was probably one of the best experiences in Cambodia, while I had the opportunity to visit locals and enter their home with their way of life. From Siem Reap I was on my way to Batambang with a boat across the lake Tonle Sap. In the area of Batambang I have seen some local chicken fights, some more temples and so called killing caves (where the Red Khmers were executing their prisoners). After Batambang it was time to go to Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia. The biggest attraction in Phnom Penh is probably the Royal Palace. After exploring Phnom Penh it was time to go South. In the South of Cambodia there are some really nice beaches, Islands and all of those are not crowded with tourists like in Thailand. I have visited a few islands with Coconut palms and really good sea food (and it is also very cheap). I must say that Cambodia was a really nice experience and I was surprised over the friendliness of the Khmers. Though they are extremely poor they are very friendly to foreigners. Also the landscape and country itself is something special, something I haven´t seen before. Cambodia yet again confirmed that Asia is a great place to travel and I am sure to come back again.

Related posts with Cambodia on my blog

Cambodia through my eyes