Cambodia History & Culture
Cambodia has a long, proud, and at times tragic history. Evidence of people farming in the area date back to around 2,300BC with stone tools being recorded in 1,500BC.
Major civilizations started to come in around 150AD along the Mekong River. These people known as the Funan, started to trade with China and the settlements grew larger and turned into Kingdoms.
Around the 7th Century the Khmer empire had started and it took control of what is today Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. Cambodia was a rich and prosperous place and the Khmer build many temples and huge cities supported with reservoirs and canals.
By the time of the 16th century, Cambodia’s power was in decline and neighboring Thailand and Vietnam increased in power. The Thais invaded Cambodia many times over the next few centuries until the French arrived.
The King turned to the French to protect Cambodia and it eventually became a colony for France. During World War 2, Cambodia was briefly occupied by the Japanese, but the French returned after the war.
Cambodia was given independence in 1953 and King Sihanouk became the Chief of State in what was now called the Khmer Republic.
However, during the 60s and 70s, the United States dropped millions of bombs on Cambodia which helped to increase the popularity of the local communist movement, the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer Rouge eventually took Phnom Penh in 1975 and immediately ordered everybody out of the cities for fear that the Americans were coming to bomb them. However, this was a lie to start the plan of putting the city people to work in the fields.
After causing the deaths of an estimated 2 – 3 million people, the Khmer Rouge were eventually overthrown in 1979. However, they continued to wage war on Cambodia well in to the 1990s during a long and bloody civil war.
Today, Cambodia is still a poor country, but the economy has grown rapidly in recent years. It has become a popular destination for tourists and is visited by millions of people each year.
Religion has been a big source of culture in Cambodia. The local Khmer has adopted a unique blend of beliefs in animism and Buddhism. Although, Hinduism was once the biggest religion in Cambodia and many temples built during the Angkor period were Hindu temples. Nowadays, Cambodia is a Mahayana Buddhist country. There are also many Cham Muslims living in the country too.
The family plays a strong part in Cambodian society and the family is very important. There are many rituals for newborns, childhood, and marriage.
Traditional wedding ceremonies can be a loud and colorful affair. There’s often a lot of drinking, dancing, and very loud music. Often foreigners are invited to weddings and they are often welcomed to enjoy in the festivities.
There are some customs you should observe during your stay. When greeting Cambodian’s is respectful to sompeah which is to place the palms of your hands together and slightly bow your head. There are five “levels” of the sompeah depending on the social status of the person you are greeting.
You should also refrain from touching people on the head as it’s considered to contain the soul. It’s also very disrespectful to use your feet to point at somebody. You should avoid public displays of affection when in Cambodia.
Cambodia is a traditional country and guests are reminded to dress accordingly. When visiting historic or religious sites, people are expected to cover their shoulders and knees before they enter. You may be asked to leave or refused entry if you don’t have the appropriate clothing.
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