Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia and shares borders with Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. It’s home to over 15 million people, most of which, follow Theravada Buddhism. There are minority groups which include Vietnamese, Chinese, Muslim Chams, and small tribal groups. Cambodia is unique in their beliefs, mixing Hindu, Buddhist and Animist ideas to create a culture like no other place on earth.
The country has a long and rich history. More recently, Cambodia has had a dark and tragic history with genocide and civil war killing millions of people. The east of the country also had to endure heavy bombing from the Americans during the Vietnam war. Nowadays, Cambodia is at peace and has been developing very quickly. However, there are often accusations of corruption which continue to blight progress.
The Kingdom of Cambodia covers an area of 181,035 sq km and it located in the tropics. There is a 443km coastline in the south. There are also many mountains, islands, lakes, and plains. Many of the flat plains will flood in the wet season creating fertile paddy fields where local farmers grow rice.
The Tonle Sap lake joins to Phnom Penh along the Tonle Sap River. The Mekong River comes down through Steung Treng, Kratie, and into Phnom Penh. The two rivers merge before continuing on into Vietnam and out to the sea. Each year the Tonle Sap becomes inundated with water and will flood the surrounding plains and provide enough water for the huge Tonle Sap River.
Cambodia is located in the tropics and as such has two distinct seasons; the rainy season and the dry season. The dry season starts towards the end of November and through to March and April. This season is usually much cooler and the temperature can drop to as low as 16 or 17 degrees Celsius. The average temperature is between 20 and 25 degrees. There is very little rain during the dry season and it can be very dusty.
The wet season is very hot, and the temperature can reach into the 40s. With all the rain, the humidity is very high too. It can be unbearable in the towns and cities, but it often feels much cooler in the countryside with lots of trees around and in the south, there is always the coastal breeze to help keep temperatures down.
As the name suggests, it will rain a lot in the rainy season. In the peak rainy season around August and September, it’s likely to rain most days. However, most storms are very heavy but fairly short. It can, at times, rain throughout the evening and night, but it’s more likely to just have a heavy afternoon tropical shower.
Towns and cities can and do often flood. The drainage system, if any, is inadequate to take such a large amount of water away in such a short time. Usually, however, floods only last a few hours after a storm and will subside. During times of very heavy rain, flooding can last a few days.
Cambodia has a population of around 15.7 million people. The population is very young, with 50% of the people under 22 years old. There is also a great number of females than males which make up the population. A reason for both these statistics might be down to war. Many people were killed during decades of war.
In the provinces, families have an average of 4.5 children, but this number decreases in Phnom Penh where it’s only 2.0.
The largest group living in Cambodia are Khmer, which make up around 95% of the population. Other ethnicities include the Chams. These Muslim groups live in various places throughout the country. There are also ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese living in the country.
The official religion of Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism and there are more than 4,000 pagodas in the small country. However, concepts of other religions such as Hinduism and animism have remained popular with many Cambodians having beliefs in parts of all three religions.
Cambodians are very spiritual people and believe in ghosts and spirits. They think that by appeasing these spirits whey will have good luck and good fortune. However, these beliefs are mixed with other religions. For example, a popular Cambodian spirit called Yeay Mao can actually be traced back to the Hindu goddess Kali.
Chams are practicing Muslims and you will see mosques around the country. There are also a few Christian churches around who often cater for the missionaries working in the area.
Officially, Cambodia is a multiparty democracy with free and fair elections. However, there are many news reports and testimonies that this isn’t the case. These reports claim that elections are neither free or fair. They also accuse the current government of protecting their position by putting down the opposition.
The current Prime Minister in Hun Sen, he has been in power one way or another since 1985. It’s reported that the government is one of the most corrupt in the world and use fear and oppression to keep the opponents at bay. However, the country has also consistently been one of the fastest growing economies in the area.
Cambodia is a poor country with many people living under the level of both absolute and relative poverty. However, things are improving, and Cambodia changed from a least developed country into a lower-middle income country in 2016. The main areas of trade in Cambodia are the textiles, tourism, and agriculture.
Customs and Traditions
When visiting Cambodia there are some customers which you should follow. First, you should never use your feet to point at someone. This is considered insulting. Moreover, when entering a person’s home, you should remove your shoes and leave them at the front door.
It’s always polite to greet people using the local greeting called the sompeah. Here you should place the palm of your hands together and slightly bow your head. This is the traditional greeting for most Buddhist countries.
Food and Drink
Cambodia’s diet heavily revolves around rice. Rice is eaten in one form or another with virtually every meal. Most Cambodians each a rich diet of meat, fish, and fresh fruit and vegetables. The diet consists of a lot of fried food, soups, and fresh vegetables.
Prahok is also a local favorite. Many westerners find the strong smell and taste of prahok a little off-putting, but the locals swear by it!
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