The Kingdom of Cambodia is a beautiful but harsh country, a place of extremes. The Lonely Planet describes it as “a conundrum” and “intoxicating”. People wear the widest smiles and welcome you with open arms while posters warn about landmines and children sleep in the streets.
- Population: 15 million (UN, 2010)
- Capital city: Phnom Penh
- Area: 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq miles)
- Major language: Khmer
- Major religion: Buddhism
- Life expectancy: 61 years (men), 65 years (women) (UN)
- Gross national income per capita: US $650 (World Bank, 2009)
During the Angkor period the Khmer empire ruled much of what is now Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The remains of this empire can be seen in the impressive temples of Angkor.
The Lonely Planet says: “The traveller’s first glimpse of Angkor Wat, the ultimate expression of Khmer genius, is simply staggering and is matched by only a few select spots on earth, such as Machu Picchu or Petra.”
Cambodia has suffered three decades of war and in the 1970s civil war culminated in the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died during the next three years, many from exhaustion or starvation. Others were tortured and executed.
Cambodia is still recovering from these years of conflict. Up to six million live landmines are still dotted around the countryside and near the border with Thailand. Only recently is justice being sought with the tribunal of the surviving leaders of the genocide years.
The south coast of Cambodia is fringed by tropical islands, inland lies a vast mountainous wilderness. The Mekong River meanders through traditional communities at the centre of the country and is home to some of the last remaining freshwater dolphins.
Economic and political situation
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and relies heavily on aid. Income remains desperately low for many of its people. Around 70% of Cambodia’s workforce is employed in subsistence farming. Exports of clothing and tourism are important sources of income. Cambodia sees two million tourists in its ever growing tourism industry with 103,000 British nationals visiting Cambodia in 2010.