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About Cambodia


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 About Cambodia


  

General Information

Geography
Cambodia is a small, unique kingdom with a land area of 181.035 square. kilometres, making it about the same size as the State of Washington or as England and Wales. The Mekong River is the lifeline of Cambodia and it cuts a path for about 500 kilometres dividing the country into the north and the south.

The Tonlé Sap Lake is the largest fresh water lake in SouthEast Asia. During the monsoon season between June and October the Tonlé Sap River reverses its flow and runs in the opposite direction, filling the Tonlé Sap Lake. The Tonlé Sap River is the only river in the world that flows in both directions.

The central plains account for two-thirds of the country and are mainly agricultural areas that become flooded in the monsoon season. Most of the population lives on the fertile flood plains, which are very important for the country’s agricultural production, especially of rice. The plains are sparsely forested, whereas all other parts of the landscape are composed of densely forested hills.

Climate
Two monsoons set the rhythm of rural life in Cambodia. The cool, dry, northeastern monsoon blows from about November to March and brings little rain. From May to early October, the south-western monsoon picks up moist air from over the Indian Ocean, bringing strong winds, high humidity, and heavy rains throughout the country. The weather is transitional between the seasons, but even during the wet season it rarely rains in the morning. Most of the rain comes in afternoon downpours. Visitors should be warned that roads in the northeastern regions in particular, can become flooded during the rains. Travel in these areas should be avoided during the peak of the wet seasons.
 

Agriculture
The monsoon with its cycles of dry and wet seasons builds the rhythm of the Cambodian people and agriculture. The wet season (May – October) transforms the plains into fertile arable land. The pattern of expansion and contraction of the Tonlé Sap Lake is the backbone of Cambodian production of fast growing deep-water rice. The annual flooding covers the surrounding countryside with a nutrient rich layer.

The Cambodian fishing industry also relies on the Tonlé Sap. In the dry season there is large-scale commercial fishing and with the annual replenishment of the waters of the Great Lake with the nutrient-rich waters of the Mekong, fish yields are some of the highest in the world.

 

History
According to legend, during the first century AD, Kaundinya, an Indian Brahmin priest following a dream came to Cambodia's Great Lake to find his fortune. He met and married a local princess, Soma, daughter of the Naga king, and founded the first kingdom called the Phnom, introducing Hindu customs, legal traditions and the Sanskrit language. Modern historians refer to it as Funan, the first Khmer kingdom and the oldest Indianized state in the Southeast Asian region, which became a dominant power in the region for more than 600 years. Jayavarman II, a Khmer king, united all the Khmer people under his leadership in approximately 800 AD. Establishing his capital in the north-western part of Cambodia, north of the Tonlé Sap Lake, Jayavarman II was crowned as King of Kampuchea and adopted the Hindu religion. With a succession of capitals located in and around the Siem Reap province, the Khmer kings exhibited an enormous talent for marshalling the genius of their people. Although Cambodia had a rich and powerful past under the Hindu state of Funan and the Kingdom of Angkor, by the mid-19th century the country was on the verge of dissolution. After repeated requests for French assistance a protectorate was established in 1863. By 1884, Cambodia was a virtual colony.

France continued to control the country even after the start of World War II through its Vichy government. Full independence came on 9 November 1953, but the situation remained unsettled until a 1954 conference was held in Geneva to settle the French-Indochina war. The Cambodian delegation agreed to the neutrality of the three Indochina states but insisted on a provision in the ceasefire agreement that left the Cambodian government free to call for outside military assistance should the Viet Minh or others threaten its territory.

In February 1969 a new chapter in Cambodian history was opened as the Vietnam war spilled into Cambodia. On 30 April 1970 American and South Vietnamese government troops invaded southeast Cambodia.
 

 

As Vietnamese troops retreated deeper into Cambodia the Khmer Rouge grew in strength. As the Khmer Rouge grew, they became increasingly independent of their Vietnamese allies. While the Vietnamese and the Americans signed the Paris Peace agreement in 1973, the Khmer Rouge continued to make gains on the battlefields of Cambodia. Soon the territory held by the weak Republic was reduced to little more than a handful of enclaves around the major cities.

On the same day that Lon Nol fled the country the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh. Pol Pot's goal was to transform Cambodia in a completely self-sufficient agrarian communist state. The revolution justified everything; human life was expendable. Until 1979 the Khmer Rouge terrorized the country and more than a million people were killed during their reign. The Khmer Rouge have therefore been accused of genocide - holding an unchallenged record in percentage of the population killed by a revolutionary movement. On Christmas Day 1978, an invasion force of 90,000 Vietnamese and 18,000 dissident Cambodians poured across the border into Cambodia. The defense of Pol Pot's regime was confronted by a much better-equipped, brilliantly led invasion force. Within a few days the Vietnamese had captured Phnom Penh. The battered remnants of the Khmer Rouge retreated into the mountains and jungles along the Thai border.

A different kind of war began: the Khmer Rouge stepped up guerrilla attacks against the Vietnamese. As the months passed the Vietnamese consolidated their hold on Cambodia and soon a new Cambodian government was formed under Vietnamese supervision. In June 1988 the Vietnamese announced plans to begin a gradual troop withdrawal. In early 1990 the negotiating process continued. A formal ceasefire was finally adopted in May 1991. On 23 October 1991 a peace agreement was at least signed and formally accepted by all sides.

After the free elections of 1993 Cambodia has a parliamentary system and in 1993 King Norodom Sihanouk resumed the throne. Since then, Cambodia has joined ASEAN, entering the new millennium as an internationally recognized constitutional monarchy.

Cultural Information

Religion
Cambodian religions are strongly influenced by early Indian and Chinese cultures. As early as the beginning of the Christian era, most Funan people were followers of Brahmanism (a forerunner of Hinduism), which merged with the existing animistic beliefs into a new religion - Hinduism and local deities existing side by side.

Today almost 90 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhists and the faith has had a formative influence on everyday life. Theravada Buddhism entered the country in the 13th century and began to spread through the whole country under King Jayavarman VII. It was reintroduced as the national religion in 1989.
 

At some point during their lives many Cambodian males spend time in a Buddhist monastery, and almost every village has a Buddhist temple - or wat - around which village life centres. Buddhist rituals follow the lunar calendar and there are several significant religious holidays and festivals that are widely observed. Cambodian Buddhism appears an easygoing faith and tolerates the ancestor and territorial spirit worship that is widely practiced.

 

People
Cambodia has a total of approximately 12 million people, 1.7 million of whom live in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Cambodians comprise a variety of people who are commonly called Khmer. They constitute about 90 percent of the population. The population also includes a diversity of other ethnic backgrounds: Chinese, Viet-namese, Chams, and hilltribes, called Khmer Loeu.

The Khmer are believed to have lived in the region from about the 2nd century AD. They constitute a fusion of Mongol and Melanesian elements and have been mainly influenced over the centuries by the powerful Indian and Javanese kingdoms. The Khmer-Loeu - or upland Khmer - are one of the main tribal groups and live in the forested mountain zones, mainly in the north-east.

Traditionally the Khmer-Loeu were semi-nomadic and practiced slash and burn agriculture. In recent years increasing numbers have turned to settled agriculture and adopted many of the customs of the lowland Khmer.
 

 

Arts and Architecture
The majority of Khmer art and architecture dates from the Angkor period. All the surviving monuments are built of stone or brick, and all are religious buildings. During the Angkor period architecture and its decoration were governed by a series of mystical and religious beliefs. Common motifs in Khmer sculpture are apsaras (celestial nymphs), which have become a symbol of the Khmer culture.

The apsaras are carved with splendidly ornate jewellery, clothed in the latest Angkor fashion, and represent the ultimate ideal of feminine beauty at that time. Other motifs are nagas (sacred aquatic snakes), which play an important part in Hindu mythology and are possibly more characteristic of South-East Asia than any other motif. Most of these motifs have been taken from Indian art and have been modified into what is now known as traditional Khmer art. Temples were designed to represent the cosmic Mount Meru, the home of the gods of Indian cosmology, surrounded by oceans.

Angkor literally means ‘city’ or ‘capital’, Wat means ‘temple’. Angkor Wat is the largest and most famous of the architectural masterpieces of Cambodia and probably the largest religious building on earth. Conceived by Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat took an estimated 30 years to build and is generally believed to have been a funeral temple for the king.

It has been continuously occupied by monks and is well preserved. Intricate bas-reliefs surround Angkor Wat on four sides, each telling a different story. The most celebrated of these is ‘The Churning of the Ocean of Milk’, which is located on the east wing. Again, the central sanctuary of the temple complex represents Mt. Meru, the five towers symbolize Meru's five peaks, and the enclosing wall represents the mountains at the edge of the world, and the surrounding moat, the ocean beyond. The symmetrical towers of Angkor Wat are stylized on the Cambodian flag and have become a symbol of Khmer culture.

Manners
The usual Asian rules of conduct apply. It is unseemly to show too much emotion. Losing your temper over problems and delays gets you nowhere; it is better to stay calm at all times.

You should always take your shoes off when entering a temple or when visiting private houses, and you should wear appropriate clothing. For men and women it is advisable to cover your shoulders and wear knee-long skirts or trousers. Wearing bathing suits or trunks should be limited to the beach or hotel pool.
 
The head is regarded as a particularly holy part of the body. You should never touch anybody's head intentionally, and offer an excuse if you do so by chance. Accordingly, the feet are literally the lowest part of the body - do not point your feet at anybody.

Sensitivity to politically related subjects in conversation is advisable. As always, it is polite to ask permission before taking photographs of Cambodians, particularly monks.

Although there is not a strong tradition of tipping in Cambodia, tips will be accepted and are very appreciated by tour guides, porters and wait staff at hotels and restaurants.
 

Dance and Theatre
There is a strong tradition of dance in Cambodia, which has its origins in the sacred dances of the apsaras, the mythological seductresses of ancient Cambodia. Dance also became a religious tradition, designed to bring the king and his people divine blessings.

 

During the Angkor period classical ballet dancers were central to the royal court. The dances are very symbolic, and are subject to a precise order, a strict form, and a prescribed language of movements and gestures. Folk dancing in Cambodia is less structured, with dancers responding to the rhythm of drums. The dancers act out tales from Cambodian folk stories; folk dancing can often be seen at local festivals.

Folk plays and shadow plays (nang sbaek thom) are also a popular form of entertainment in the countryside. They are based on stories from the Ramayana, embroidered with local legends and the characters are cut out of leather and often painted.

The traditional orchestra consists of three xylophones; khom thom (a horseshoe-shaped arrangement with 16 flat gongs); violins; wind instruments including flutes, flageolets and a Khmer version of bagpipes; and drums of different shapes and sizes. There are three types of drum: the hand drum, the cha ayam drum and the yike drum. The drummer has the most important role in folk music as he sets the rhythm. There is no system of written notation so the tunes are transmitted orally from generation to generation.

Travel Recommendations

Although Cambodia’s premier highlight are the spectacular temples of Angkor, there is far more to the country. In Phnom Penh, the colonial capital, there are numerous pagodas and interesting museums to visit; on the coast are beautiful unspoilt beaches and inland there is impressive natural scenery.
 

 

Phnom Penh
Cambodia’s capital sits at the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers. Considered the loveliest of the French-built cities of Indochina, it was founded as a small monastery in 1372 by a rich Khmer woman called Penh, after she found four Buddha statues in a tree trunk on the banks of the Mekong. Distinguished French colonial homes, tree-lined boulevards and charming cafes dot the waterfront.

Evidence of Cambodia’s darker, more recent past is memorialized in deeply moving sites such as the Toul Sleng Museum and the famous Killing Fields, which tell the story of the genocide under the Khmer Rouge. Possibly the best way to see the city is by cyclo tour to Wat Phnom, along Sisowath Quay and to other centrally located sites such as the Royal Palace.

Banlung
Rattanakiri province, which borders Laos and Vietnam, is renowned for the rich diversity of its biological features and its indigenous cultures. In the remote northeast of Cambodia, Rattanakiri is still one of the undiscovered regions in Indochina. Banlung is the provincial capital and a good base for exploring the sights.

Siem Reap
Only a few kilometres north of Siem Reap lies one of the world’s most impressive temple complexes, Angkor. What has become known as Angkor is in fact a large area near Siem Reap covering several square kilometres and containing many temples. The temple of Angkor Wat is only one of numerous temples within this area. Angkor literally means ‘city’ or ‘capital’ and ‘wat’ means ‘temple’.

 

Founded in 802 AD it was allegedly residence for more than a million people in the heyday of the Khmer Empire in the 12th and 13th centuries. Angkor Wat is the largest and most famous of these architectural wonders. It is estimated that the temples took 30 years to construct using 17,000 to 20,000 workers. The temple was first dedicated to Vishnu and after a long period of abandonment from 1432 it was later dedicated to Buddhism during the reign of King Ang Chan in the 15th century. Its beauty and state of preservation are unrivalled and its artistic distinctiveness is as fine as the Taj Mahal in India.

Tonle Sap
The Tonle Sap Lake's unique ecology makes it one of Cambodia must-see destinations from an environmental point of view. Through the Tonle Sap River, it is connected to the Mekong at Phnom Penh. During the rainy season (May – October), the rising levels of the Mekong force the flow of the Tonle Sap River to reverse back into the lake, causing it to swell from approximately 3000 sq. km to over 7500 sq. km; during the dry season, the lake shrinks again to a tenth of its former size. In addition, the fishing villages clustered along its shores and in the middle of the lake house some of the most interesting subcultures to be found in Cambodia.

Sihanoukville
Located on the Gulf of Thailand, 232 km southwest of Phnom Penh, Kompong Som, also known as Sihanoukville, is Cambodia’s most popular seaside resort and the major coastal Cambodian port. The sandy beaches, laid-back atmosphere, range of recreational activities, and excellent seafood are all major tourist draws. In addition, it is a good base for visiting Ream National Park, encompassing 21,000 hectares of coastal area, including sandy beaches, mangrove forests, the Prek Tek Sap estuary, offshore coral reefs and two islands.

Other

Eating & Drinking
Khmer food is usually spicy and has a high proportion of fish. Fish combined with rice forms the basis of the Cambodian diet. Local specialties include curries, soups, and many varieties of dish prepared with beef, pork, poultry, and seafood, which is abundant in the rivers and Gulf of Thailand. Chinese, Thai, and Indian dishes are also common in Cambodia as well as a variety of Western cuisines, which can be found in the capital and areas frequented by tourists.

The French gastronomic influence is still evident - fresh French bread can be purchased daily in Phnom Penh and other major cities where bakeries are found. It is sold all day in the markets and even on street corners. It is called num pang in the Khmer language.

Shopping
Cambodia is widely recognized for its beautiful religious carvings, often featuring the Indian Ramayana and Mahabharata motifs, and its bas-reliefs. Collector-quality replicas are available in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Cambodia has excellent silverware of both classical Khmer and Chinese design, which can be found and purchased, in local markets and in hotel shops.

Beautiful textiles made from silk and cotton, woven in traditional designs and tie-dyed, are also available. A traditional and popular item, mostly made from cotton, is the krama, a colored, checker scarf.

© Official Tourist Office Cambodia in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and U.S.A.

 


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This page was last modified on 03/03/2012 at 04:54. 


 




 




 


 





 




 




 


 

 


 
 

 




 

 

© Cambodian Women for Peace and Development (CWPD) - Cambodia