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This section covers many valuable resources on Cambodia such as the travel guides or tips to travelers. Some of the topics contain links to the other related sites of similar subjects. In certain topic, we include lists of useful contacting address for your information.

Cambodia
Fact File:
Country Name:  The Kingdom of Cambodia
Country Name in Khmer language: Kampuchea
Motto: Nation - Religion – King
Capital City: Phnom Penh
Language: Khmer (Cambodian). Some English, French.
Government: Multy-party democracy under a constitutional monarchy
Important/Major Cities: Siem Reap (Gateway to the temples of Angkor). Sihanoukville (port and beach town). Battambang, Kampong Cham.
Major Rivers/Lakes: Tonle Sap River, Mekong River, Bassac River, Tonle Sap Lake
Ethnic Groups: Khmer (90-95%), ethnic-Chinese, Cham, ethnic-Vietnamese, several ethnic-minorities in the northeast.
Boring Countries: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam
International Airports: Phnom Penh (PHN), Siem Reap (SEP)
Religion: Theravada Buddhism (95%), Islam, Christianity, Animism.
Population of Cambodia: 14.2 million (est.)
Land area of Cambodia: 181.035 km2
Land area of Siem Reap: 10.299 km2
Currency: Riel (US$1=4200R). US dollars are as commonly used as riel
Voltage: 220v/50Hz
Time: GMT +7 hours
Country Calling Code: 855
Internet LTD: kh
Business Hours: 7:30-11:30 / 2:00-5:00 Closed Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
 

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Travel Guides » An Overview of Cambodia
Cambodia is in the southwestern part of the Indochinese peninsula of Southeast Asia. Also known as Kampuchea, Cambodia is what remains of the Khmer Empire that ruled over large parts of Southeast Asia from the ninth century to the fifteen century. The fabulous Khmer ruins of Angkor are masterpieces of world art and architecture. After almost three decades of war and destruction, Cambodians today are rebuilding their land, lives and culture. Although poverty is still a problem in Cambodia, economic growth spells hope for the future.
 
The flag of Cambodia
The two blue bands at the top and bottom of the Cambodian flag represent royalty, while the red band in the center represents the nation. White symbolizes Buddhism, Cambodia’s main religion. The fourteen-century temple complex, Angkor Wat, sits in the center of the flag. Angkor Wat is the most important symbol of Khmer culture and civilization. The building represents the structure of the universe according to the Hindu religion of the ancient Khmer kings. The current flag has been used since September 1993, following the first election in two decades.
 
Geography
Cambodia is located on the Southeast Asian mainland and covers 70,238 square miles (181,916 square kilometers). It is flanked by Thailand in the northwest, Laos in the north, and Vietnam in the east. The southwestern coast faces the gulf of Thailand. The capital of Cambodia is Phnom Penh.
 
Mountains and Plains
Most of Cambodia consists of a basin-shaped lowland area, enclosed by mountain chains to the norht, east, and west. The Cardamom range in the southwest contains Cambodia’s highest peaks, Phnom Aoral, which stands at 5,948 feet (1,813 meters). The Elephant Mountains are found in the region between the Tonle Sap and the Gulf of Thailand. The Dangrek range marks a natural border with Thailand. Dense tropical forests cover most of the mountains. Their rapid deforestation is of international concern.
The central plains are the most densely populated areas of Cambodia. The plains are a mixture of cultivated land, paddy fields, and grasslands dotted with sugar palm trees.
 
The Mekong
The Mekong River and its major tributary in Cambodia, the Tonle Sap (Great Lake), bring life to the heart of Cambodia. The Mekong, which is approximately 2,700 miles (4,350 km) in length, is one of the mightiest rivers in the world. It begins in the tibet Plateau in China and flows through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It forms the Mekong Delta in Vietnam before flowing into the South China Sea.
In the heart of the central plains lies the Tonle Sap acts as a natural flood reservoir for the Makong. During the rainy season from mid-May to early October, the Mekong River reverses its direction of the flow and fills the Tonle Sap via the Tonle Sap River. The Tonle Sap expands to double its size and floods the surrounding countryside. During the dry season, water in the Tonle Sap flows back into the Mekong, leaving behind fertile soil. This annual flooding of the Mekong leaves rich alluvial deposits in the central plains.
 
The flooding of the Tonle Sap
The reversal of water flow in the Mekong River has traditionally been an occasion for mass celebrations attended by the king. The annual Water Festival is a huge event in Cambodia, with dragon boat races and parades. The Tonle Sap itself is a central part of Khmer life and culture.
 
Seasons
The climate of Cambodia is typically hot and humid year round. Monsoons bring dramatic changes in rainfall, creating two seasons: a wet season and a dry season. Between 75 and 80 percent of the total annual rainfall is brought by the southwest monsoon between May and October. The arrival of the northeast monsoon in November ushers in the harsh dry season. The average temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7 degrees Celsius), but it is cooler in the highlands. Temperatures can also drop a few degrees in the lowlands during the dry season.
 
Floods and Droughts
Cambodia sometimes suffers devastating floods of droughts when the monsoons are not regular. Rainfall is not evenly distributed across the country, and the mountains areas, particularly the Cardamom Mountains, receive the most rain. Irrigation helps distribute and control water resources to increasing the range and amount of crops grown.
 
Plants and Animals
Cambodia’s extensive forests contain abundant plant and animal species. Animals in Cambodia forests include tigers, clouded leopard, elephants, monkeys, civets, bears, and many varieties of reptiles and birds. The Tonle Sap and the Mekong River support a huge variety of freshwater fish, amphibians, and waterfowl. Many animal species are being threatened by increasing population presuure, deforestation, hunting, and land mines.
 
Cambodia’s forests contain commercially usable timber, as well as trees that are prized for their aromatic oils and resins. Since 1970, increased deforestation has to a considerable reduction in forest cover.
 
Disappearing Forests
The forests of Cambodia are being logged at an alarming rate and with careless disregard for its people and its ecosystem. Logging is often carries out illegally. The resulting deforestation threatens the habitats of many species and causes soil erosion.
 
The Kouprey 
The kouprey, a large wild ox, is an elusive animal living in the remote forests of Cambodia. It is regarded as an icon of the ancient Khmer civilization. The kouprey is an endangered species. Scientists have mounted dangerous and costly expeditions to hostile border areas to gather specimens, photographs, or information on the animal, with little success.
 
History
Early History: Funan and Chenla
Little is known of the early history of Cambodia, but it is believed to have been inhabited since about 4000B.C. in the first century A.D., the Khmer, whose origins are still being debated, began to have contact with Chinese and Indian groups. Various elements of Indian culture were to have a lasting influence on the Khmer.
 
Funan was the first Cambodian empire and the first great empire in Southeast Asia. Funan was heavily influenced by Indian political ideas and ruled until the seventh century, when it was absorbed by the kingdom of Chenla, which covered what is now northern Cambodia and southern Laos. During this period, the Khmer lived in rival city-states ruled by kings and princes.
 
The Rise and Fall of Angkor
In 790, the Khmer ruler Jayavarman II came to power. His reign signaled the beginning of the golden age of the Khmer. His dynasty, based around the city of Angkor, lasted from the ninth century to the fifteenth century. The rulers of the Angkor kingdom saw themselves as devarajas (de-vah-rah-jahs), or god-kings.
 
The kings of Angkor strove to outdo one another by expanding their territory and building splendid monuments and public works. One of the greatest monarchs was Surjavarman II, who built the temple complex of Angkor Wat. At its greatest extent, the Angkor Empire controlled much of present-day mainland Southeast Asia.
 
After the death of its last great ruler, Jayavarman VII, Angkor begun to fall apart. The final blow came in 1431, when Siam (Thailand) conquered the last capital, Angkor Thom. Cambodia’s royal capitals were alternately subject to Siamese or Vietnamese invasion or interference for almost five centuries.
 
Angkor Wat
The kings of Angkor left a great artistic legacy that has endured as the central symbol for Cambodians. Fine Khmer temples and ruins are found as far away as northern Thailand. The Siamese sacked Angkor Wat in 1430, and for centuries afterward, the ruins were almost hidden by dense jungle. Although Cambodians know of the great city of Angkor, it was inaccessible to most until French archaeologists revived interest in the complex.
 
The French and World War II
In 1864, Norodom became king. In 1884, the French persuaded King Norodom to accept protectorate status for Cambodia, saving the country from being divided between its two neighbors. Cambodia became part of French Indochina, along with Laos and Vietnam, and gained stability. The French did little to develop Cambodia as part of Indochina; however, they did build roads and establish rubber plantations in the country.
 
Japanese forces briefly occupied Cambodia during World War II (1939-1945). After the war, the French reclaimed Indochina, and in 1945, France granted Cambodia autonomy.
 
Independence
Norodom Sihanouk was made king as the age of eighteen in 1941. He declared Cambodia’s independence on November 9, 1953. In 1955, Sihanouk gave up his throne to form a political party. In elections held that same year, Sihanouk’s party won every seat in the National Assembly, and he became prime minister.
 
Civil War in Cambodia and Vietnam
In 1970, general Lon Nol overthrew Sihanouk, sparking the five-year Cambodia civil war. Sihanouk created a government in exile in China and allied himself with Cambodian communist forces led by Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot.
 
In the early 1970s, the Vietnam civil war between South Vietnam and communist North Vietnam spilled into Cambodia when the United States, which supported South Vietnamese, began a massive bombing campaign to destroy North Vietnamese border stations in Cambodia. The bombing campaign wrought vast destruction in Cambodia, and approximately half a million Cambodians were killed.
 
The United States’bombing campaign also resulted in increasing support for Pol Pot’s forces. In 1975, Lon Nol’s government collapsed, and the Communist Party of Kampuchea took control of Phnom Penh and the country. Sihanouk returned to became Cambodia’s head of state but resigned one year later.
 
The Khmer Rouge
From 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge (kuh-Mair-rooj) controlled Cambodia, the country experienced the darkest years in its history. Led by Pol Pot as prime minister, the Khmer Rouge – the armed wing of the Communist Party of Kampuchea – turned Cambodia into a labor camp. Theirs was a regime of terror, genocide, and attempted cultural annihilation from which the country is still recovering. An estimated 1.5 million Cambodians died overwork. The educated and professional classes were practically wiped out.
 
In 1978, Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and pushed the Khmer Rouge toward the Thai border. The Khmer Rouge, however, continued to attack Cambodia and planted thousands of land mines that continue to kill and maim Cambodia today.
 
After 1979, Cambodians struggle to restore their country, but miserable conditions forced thousands to leave the country. Most ended up in refugee camps along the Thai border.
 
The Killing Fields
The Khmer Rouge and its deadly ideas began with a group of Khmer university students in Paris in the 1950s. Looking for radical solutions to poverty in Cambodia, these students adopted an extreme form of communism, in which all Cambodians were forced to work in the fields to achieve the Khmer Rouge’s vision of agricultural self-sufficiency. The Khmer Rouge’s rule from 1975 to 1979 was marked by extreme brutality and genocide.
 
The First Elections 
The Vietnamese withdrew from Cambodia in 1989, and a temporary coalition government – the Supreme National Council (SNC) – was formed, with Sihanouk as its president. In May 1993, the United Nations organized the first national election in Cambodia in almost twenty years. A new coalition government was formed, with Sihanouk’s son Prince Norodom Ranariddh as first prime minister and Hun Sen as second prime minister. Sihanouk was re-crowned in September 1993.
 
Land mines
Today, Cambodia is beginning to put its chaotic past behind it, and the government is slowly rebuilding the country and its economy. Thirty years of war, however, has left a legacy in the millions of land mines that still lie buried. Every year, land mines main or kill thousands of people, many of the children. Land mines also threaten the survival if the Cambodian people, because they render as much as one-third of the farm land unusable. Today, de-mining organizations, such as the Cambodian Mine Action center (CMAC), have the massive task of ridding Cambodian land of hazardous land mines.
 
Cambodian Election of 1998
The power sharing between Ranariddh and Hun Sen, however, was a tense one, and in July 1997, a two-day war broke out between soldiers from the two factions. Hun Sen ousted Ranariddh from office and took control. The international community was outraged, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) delayed Cambodia’s entry into the association.
 
After the 1998 election, Hun Sen became the sole premier of Cambodia. Ranariddh was appointed president of the National Assembly, part of the government’s legislative branch. In 1999, Cambodia became a full member of ASEAN, a further sign of the country’s unification. The surrender of Khmer Rouge leaders in 1998 raised hope that the factions in Cambodia would work together toward peace. Hun Sen’s party retained power in the 2003 election.
 
Jayavarman VII (c.1120/25 – c. 1215/19)
Under the reign of Jayavarman VII, the Angkor Empire was at its greatest extent. In 1177, Jayavarman VII defeated Cham forces in Angkor. In 1181, he was crowned king and set about rebuilding the capital. He adopted Mahajana Buddhism as his religion, but practiced religious tolerance. During his reign, extensive public projects were completed throughout the kingdom. Art and architecture also flourished during his reign, including the building of some of the most remarkable temples in Cambodia.
 
Pol Pot (1928 – 1998) 
Born Saloth Sar to a peasant family in 1928, Pol Pot changed his name in 1963 when he became secretary general of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. Pol Pot became a communist in 1949 while studying in Paris. Between 1975 and 1979, he ruled as a dictator, overseeing the four darkest years in Cambodia’s history. He wanted to restore Cambodia to its ancient glory but almost succeeded in wiping out its culture. Pol Pot remained the head of the Khmer Rouge while it was operating along the border areas. Few knew what Pol Pot looked like until 1997, when he was tried by the Khmer Rouge for ordering the murder of his colleague Son Sen and his family. The cause of Pol Pot’s death in 1998 remains a mystery.
 
King Norodom Sihanouk (1922 - )
Crowned king in 1941 at the age of eighteen, King Norodom Sihanouk has played an important role in modern Cambodian history. In 1955, he abdicated his thrown to lead Cambodia as its first prime minister. In 1970, his army chief of sraff, Lon Nol, overthrew his government in a coup. During the Khmer Rouge years, Sihanouk was mostly under house arrest in Phnom Penh, and between 1979 and 1990, he was in exile in China. In 1991, when he returned to Cambodia after twelve years, Sihanouk was welcomed as the symbol of Cambodian unity. In 1993, he was re-crowned king, taking the throne he had given up forty years earlier.
 
Government and the Economy
The System of Government
The Kingdom of Cambodia was established on September 24, 1993, with the assistance of the United States Nations. The current constitution was adopted on September 21; 1993.The Cambodian government is a multiparty, liberal democracy under a constitutional monarch. The chief of state is King Norodom Sihanouk and the head of government is prime minister Hun Sen.
 
The King is ruler for life. His successor has to be of royal blood and is chosen by the Royal Council of the throne. The Royal Council consists of the president and the first and second vice presidents of the National Assembly, the prime minister, and the chiefs of the Buddhist religious orders. 
 
The king appoints the prime minister and his Cabinet members. The Cambodian government is made up of twenty-five ministries and two state secretariats. The country is divided into twenty provincial units and three municipalities.
 
Political Parties
The two main political parties in Cambodia are the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Chea Sim and National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia (known by its French acronym FUNCINPEC) led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Other important political parties include the Sam Rainsy Party (formerly the Khmer National Party), the Buddhist Liberal Party, the Populist Party, and the Khmer Citizen Party.
 
The Branches of Government
The government consists of legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The legislative branch is made up of the National Assembly, which has 123 members elected by popular vote for five-year terms, and the Senate, which has 61 members appointed through agreement by the key political parties. The National Assembly is chaired by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, while the Senate is chaired by Chea Sim.
 
Executive power is in the hands of the prime minister and his Cabinet, the Council of Ministers. The judicial branch is independent of the legislative and the executive branches of government. Key judicial decisions are made by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, which was formed in 1997. It is chaired by the king.
 
The Economy 
Cambodia’s economy is based on agriculture, chiefly rice growing. Cambodia’s main exports are timber, garments, rubber, soybeans, and sesame. Rice, fruit, and vegetables are sold across the borders to Vietnam and northeastern Thailand. Another growing source of income is tourism. Cambodia imports items such as construction materials, petroleum products, machinery, and motor vehicles. The country’s main trading parners are Singapore, the United States, Thailand, Hong Kong, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam. Cambodia also continues to receive substantial economic aid from many countries.
 
Cambodians are among the poorest people in the world. In 1997, the estimated average per capita income was about $700. More than 80 percent of Cambodians are farmers, growing rice and other crops, such as sugarcane and bananas, for their own consumption. A small percentage work in small-scale industries such as rice milling, fishing, wood products, rubber, cement factories, gem mining, and textiles.
 
Rice Growing
The agricultural sector employs more than 80 percent of Cambodians. Rice is the most important agricultural product. Rice cultivation was the foundation on which the ancient Khmer kings built the remarkable Khmer civilization and it has been the center of Cambodia culture for centuries.
 
Weavers of Art
Traditional silk weaving is once again becoming an important part of the economy. In villages outside Phnom Penh, women between the age of sixteen and forty are trained to dye silk and weave. After their training, they may either join a silk weaving business or receive credit and equipment to open their own businesses.
 
Cyclos, Boats, and Oxcarts
Years of war have destroyed or damaged the roads and railways in Cambodia. Cambodia’s waterways are important means of transportation in the country. In Cambodia, it is still common to see heavily overloaded buses and trains or crops and people being transported in oxcarts.
 
Economic Reforms
The government is now pursuing economic reform through a partnership with the private sector. It is trying to integrate the Cambodian economy into regional and world economies by investing education, transportation, energy, and rural development. The Cambodian government is also trying to attract additional foreign aid and investment.
 
Although much has been achieved in the past few years, the challenge facing Cambodia’s economy is huge. Everything needs to be repaired or improved, from cities, industries, and roads to schools and the political system. On the other hand, there is much potential wealth in its resources, such as hydropower, sustainable logging, and tourism. The country’s biggest problems are extensive unrecorded logging activities and illegal gem sales.
 
People and Lifestyle
With about 14.1 million people, Cambodia has the second smallest population in Southeast Asia. The majority of Cambodians live in villages in the lowland areas around the Tonle Sap and the Mekong River. Most Cambodians are Khmer, while the rest are mainly Vietnamese, Cham, Chinese, or tribal Khmer.
 
Ethnic heritage is just one of many factors that determine a person’s social position in Cambodian society; age, special gifts, education, and wealth are also important. Shwing respect to one’s elders or social superiors is part of daily life. Cambodia’s amall middle class includes business people and middle-ranking government officials. Many Chinese, Vietnamese, and other minoroties belong to the middle class. The small upper class group consists of aristocrats, high-ranking government officials, and military and religious leaders.
 
Phnom Penh
For centuries, Phnom Penh had the most diverse and sophisticated population in Cambodia. The old ways of life ceased in 1975. Today, most of the people living in Phnom Penh come from villages, and business in the capital is booming again.
 
Ethnic Groups
About 90 percent of Cambodians are Khmer, making the population the most homogeneous is Southeast Asia. The ancestors of the Khmer are believed to have come to the Mekong Delta from what is now Thailand. The modern Khmer is a blend of many cultural and ethnic groups. Traditionally, most Khmer are farmers and live in the countryside. Today, many are moving to Phnom Penh and other cities.
 
The Chinese have been in Cambodia in large numbers for only two centuries, but they have been part of Cambodian history since the time of Angkor. Many Chinese married Khmer and adopted Khmer customs. Before 1975, they were the largest minority and controlled the economy. Many Chinese who escaped during the war years immigrated to other countries. Most Chinese live in Phnom Penh and other towns, many are traders and bankers.
 
Many Vietnamese settled in Cambodia during the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. Centuries of mistrust and often hostile relations, as well as the different beliefs and practices of the two cultures, still stand between the Khmer and Vietnamese. Many Vietnamese works in business and other skilled jobs, but those who live in the Tonle Sap area fish for a living.
 
The Cham are descendants of refugees from the Kingdom of Champa, which once ruled a large part of Vietnam. They have had friendly relations with the Khmer. The Cham are Muslim. Many Cham make their livings by farming, fishing, breeding cattle, or trading. Some specialize in metalworking or weaving.
 
It’s a Child’s Life
Cambodian families are close-knit. Cambodian children are given a lot of affection and freedom until about the age of three or four, when they are expected to bathe and feed themselves. At the age of five, they start looking after their younger siblings. By the time children are seven or eight, they have learned to be obedient and respectful toward their elders and monks. At the age of ten, girls are accepted to help their mothers with simple household tasks, while boys have to look after the family’s livestock.
 
Between the ages of eleven and nineteen, a boy may become a temple servant before going on to become a novice monk. Teenagers usually play with members of the same gender, except during festivals, when girls and boys take part in group games.
 
Respecting Traditions
Age is an important marker in Cambodian society. Old age brings high status. The young must show respect for their elders, even when the age difference is slight. An elderly couple may invite their youngest child’s family to move in and run their household. In return, older Cambodians often help care for their grandchildren and devote more time to service at the temple.   
 
Gender Roles
Although the husband is the head of a Khmer household, the wife has a lot of authority, especially in managing the family budget. Men and women have different, but not necessarily unequal, roles in Cambodia. Some tasks are performed by either men or women, but others are performed together, such as preparing rice fields for planting and buying and selling land.
 
Cambodian weddings
Traditionally, parents and matchmakers chose young people’s life mates. Today, young people in the cities often choose their own marriage partners. Traditional Cambodian weddings are last three days. Modern wedding ceremonies are shorter.  
 
Wedding ceremonies begin in the morning at the bride’s home. Buddhist priests offer a short sermon and recite prayers of blessing. Ceremonial rituals include cutting hair, tying cotton threads soaked in holy water around the bridal couples to bless the newlyweds. After the wedding, a banquet is held.
 
Education
Girls are still a minority in Cambodian schools. A Cambodian child begins school at the age of six or seven. Primary education lasts for six years, followed by six years of secondary education. All public education is free. A typical primary school serves two or three villages, and there are only about three high schools in each district.
 
The Cambodian education system is still recovering from the effects of the civil war and the Pol Pot era, when children had to labor in the fields and schools and libraries were destroyed. Few educated Cambodians survived and many emigrated. Before the wars, education was not universally provided, and boys learned to read and write Khmer at the temple schools. Today, there is a shortage of teachers and schools, as well as a shortage of books and basic materials.
 
A typical Cambodian classroom is a bare room with rows of long woolen desks and benches. Children sit next to each other, and four or five children may have to share one textbook. Pens, pencils, paper, and other items are also scarce. A large number of students do not finish primary school. Many children drop out to help their parents earn a living. Even fewer of those who finish primary school go on to high school.
 
Children at Work
Cambodian children often have to drop out of school to work and support the family. Much work as street vendors, factory workers, and tour guides. International and local organizations are working to get children out of the work force and back to school. 
 
Higher Education
Recently, several higher education institutions have been established or restarted. High school graduates can study a wide range of courses. Some of the programs taught at these institutions are funded with foreign assistance. The Royal University of Phnom Penh was founded in 1960 and has eleven disciplines; six are in the field of social sciences, and five are in the field of natural sciences. Other institutes offer everything from business to technical courses and medicine. Not all courses are conducted at schools. Most adult Cambodians have had little education, and some courses are held at workplaces. 
 
A well-Rounded Education
The importance Cambodia is giving to learning can be seen in efforts to educate Cambodia children and adults throughout the country. Rescuing, reviving, and passing in traditional Khmer culture is also an important part of a Cambodian education. The revival of temple schools means that some children will again study the ancient Pali script and Buddhist scriptures. Children of craftspeople of artists learn skills directly from their parents, while others are selected to study at the school of Fine Arts. Outside school, Cambodian children are taught to be obedient and to play useful roles in their families.
 
Religion
The majority of Cambodians are Theraveda Buddhists. Minority groups are free to practice their own religions. There are around 60,000 Roman Catholics in Cambodia and a smaller number of Protestants. The Cham are Muslim. Most Cambodian Chinese are Confucianists or Taoists. Along with thier faiths, most Cambodians also believe in a supernatural world of spirits.
 
Buddhism
Buddhists see the universe and all life as part of a cycle of eternal change. They follow the teachings of Buddha, an Indian prince born in the sixth century B.C. Buddhists believe that a person is continually reborn, in human or nonhuman form, depending on his or her actions in a previous life. They are released from this cycle only when they reach nirvana, which may be attained by achieving good karma through earning merit and following the Buddhist path of correct living.
 
Earning merit is an important part of Buddhist life. Buddhists in Cambodia earn merit by giving money, goods, and labor to the temples, or by proving one of the two daily meals of the monks.
 
Children often look after the fruit trees and vegetable gardens inside their local Wat, or temple. Boys can earn merit by becoming temple servants or novice monks for a short time. Most young men remain monks for less than a year.
 
Buddhism in Cambodia
During, the Khmer Rouge years, many monks was executed and many temples were destroyed. Today, Buddhism is once again the dominant religion in Cambodia.
 
Buddhist monks are highly disciplined and must follow 227 rules in addition to the ten basic precepts of being a good Buddhist. Monks cannot take part in entertainment. They lead simple lives dedicated to Buddhism and temple.  
 
Islam
The cham converted to Islam around the fifteenth century due to Malay influence. Islam is a complete way of life that encompasses religion and culture. The Muslim God is Allah. The Cham are Sunni Muslims, one of the two main branches of Islam, and they can be divided into two groups. The traditionalists consider Allah to be all-powerful, but they recognize other non-Islamic gods and believe that magic and sorcery can be used to avoid or heal sickness and misfortune. The orthodox Cham follow a stricter Islamic way of life. They speak the Malay language, adopt Malay customs, and go on pilgrimages to Mecca, Islam’s holy city in Saudi Arabia. 
 
Language and Literature
The majority of Cambodian speaks Khmer, the official language. However, an estimated 35 percent of Cambodians over the age of fifteen cannot read or write Khmer. French was once the second language used by educated Cambodian and, it is still spoken by older Cambodians. English is replacing French as the second language, especially in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
 
The Khmer language
The Khmer language was first written during the period of Indian influence. Khmer is written in a script derived from a southern Indian alphabet. The earliest surviving example of the Khmer script is in a temple inscription made in A.D. 61. Khmer was influenced by the Indian classical languages, Pali and Sanskrit. Like all languages, Khmer has changed through Cambodian history, and today it contains Thai, Chinese and French words.
 
Khmer has no tones or tenses. It has twenty-three vowel sounds and thirty-three consonants, many of them in combinations that cannot be easily transcribed into English. The script is written from left to right, often with no separations between words. Many Khmer words change, chameleon-like, depending on their context and there are as many as one hundred words for rice!
 
Khmer literature
Much of traditional Khmer literature is based on the Reamker, an adaptation of the Indian Hindu epic, the Ramayana. The stories of the Reamker can be found throughout Cambodian art and culture.
 
Many Cambodian cannot read or write, so Khmer stories are related through folk tales. Many Cambodian folk tales have moral messages and are often retold through art forms, especially Shadow Theater. Proverbs are also very popular among the Khmer. These illustrate folk wisdom and the sayings of the Buddha.
 
The low literacy rate and the death or exodus of most of Cambodia’s intelligentsia have stunted the development of modern Khmer literature. Since 1980, however, Cambodian authors have published several hundred literary works. Many of these works are written in English and French. Almost all recent Khmer novels and autobiographies are about family tragedy during the Khmer Rough era, refugee camp life, or resettlement in a foreign country.
 
Arts
Art, religion, and life come together in Cambodia every day. Art is not just something that is placed in a gallery. It can be seen in the brilliant colors of hand-woven silks, in the carvings that decorate wooden houses, and in the Cambodians’ love of dance, drama, and music. Cambodian traditions of sculpture, mural painting, architecture, and weaving have been passed on from generation to generation. Much of Khmer art has a Buddhist or Hindu religious theme. The temple complex of Angkor Wat, with its exquisite architecture, statues, and carvings, is one of the world’s leading artistic treasures.
 
Recovering the Past
During the Pol Pot years, much irreplaceable knowledge was lost. The Khmer Rouge executed famous artists, dancer, and master musicians, destroyed musical instruments, and burned down libraries. They also destroyed audio tapes, movies, and all other records of Cambodian music and culture because they were reminders of previous regimes. In the past ten years, Khmers living in Cambodia and abroad, along with foreign individuals and institutions, have made efforts to record and recover Khmer music and other art forms.
 
Classical Cambodian Art
In traditional Cambodian art, the artist remains anonymous and the work usually has a religious or sacred meaning. For example, little is known of the sculptors and artists of Angkor. Statues of the Buddha or other figures are carved in traditional postures, each of which conveys a particular religious idea.
 
Some common motifs of classical Khmer art include Apsaras (ap-sah-rahs), or heavenly dancers; nagas (nah-gahs), or mythical snakes; garudas, or animal that are half bird and half human; and Singhas (sing-hahs), or guardian lions. These motifs and other still appear on Khmer handicrafts today, including silver objects, textiles, wood and stone carvings, woven baskets, silk garments, and leather goods.
 
Traditional Crafts
In the old royal port of Kompong Hluong, silversmiths use imported silver to make intricate bowls in the shape of fruit, elephants, and other animals. They also make fine plates, trays, cutlery, and candlesticks.
 
West of Siem Reap, women weave baskets from jungle vines. Girls and women cycle into the forests to cut and gather the vines, then they prepare and weave them. The girls sell the finished baskets outside their villages.
 
Cambodia wood carvings show their belief in the spirits of trees, flowers, and other inanimate objects. When a house is built, a miniature house is also made. This miniature house is where offerings of food, flowers, and incense are placed to keep the spirits happy.
 
Heavenly Dancers
Cambodians believe they can speak to their god through dance. The mythical seductresses of Angkor were dancers called apsaras. The apsaras are central figures in Cambodian art and are almost as famous a Khmer symbol as Angkor Wat. These women represented the Khmer ideal of feminine beauty. Apsaras are believed to live in heaven, where they entertain Khmer heroes and holy men.   
 
Traditional Music
The Khmer love for music goes back to the kingdom of Angkor. The Apsaras carved on the walls of Angkor hold musical instruments, similar to those that exist today.
 
Music plays an extremely important role in the religious beliefs of the Khmer. Musical arrangements are not written down, but passed on from musician to musician. Six types of ensembles are popular in Cambodia, and certain ensembles are presented at important occasions, including weddings, funerals, and spirit worship sessions. The famous Pin Peat (pin pe-aht) ensemble accompanies court and masked dances. The pin peat ensemble consists of quadruple reed oboes, a xylophone, gongs, a small barrel drum, a large barrel drum, and small cymbals.
 
Recently, there has been a revival of Khmer popular music. Khmer bands made up of young Cambodian experiment with new instruments and new sounds and show the influences of Western, Thai, and Chinese pop music.
 
The Sobbana Foundation
Member of Cambodia’s royal family are important patrons of the arts. The Sobbana Foundation, headed by Princess Norodom Mari Ranariddh, is a shelter for war orphans. The foundation operates three training centers in Phnom Penh. The foundation has trained more than four thousand women in weaving and sewing, and it has revived the Khmer art of basket making, wood carving, woodworking, and stone sculpting.
 
Leisure and Festivals
A Simple Life
Most Cambodian do not or cannot afford to go on vacations. Their cycles of work and rest are seasonal and depend on the tasks to be done at home and in the fields. Most Cambodians have only known peace for a short time, but they are fun-loving people and use any opportunity to gather, chat, play with their children, cook, and have special meals together. They also save money to celebrate their festivals with gusto.
 
Childhood Fun
Girls and boys in Cambodia play games that children everywhere do, such as jumping rope or participating in running contests. Although some city children may enjoy video games and other toys, most Cambodian children play with whatever they can find around them, using their imaginations to the fullest. Children in fishing villages enjoy playing and swimming in the rivers and lakes near their homes.
 
Moving Picture
Televisions are becoming common in urban households, but relatively few people in rural areas have them. Families and neighbors usually gather around one television set to watch local and regional soap operas and other programs.
 
Cambodians also love to watch movies. In the 1960s, Sihanouk himself produced and starred in many films.
 
Shadow Puppet Theater
Almost a combination of a movie and a play, the shadow puppet theater tells the stories of the Reamker. Although popular with Cambodians, Shadow Puppet Theater was prohibited during the Khmer Rouge era and is rarely seen today. In the past, a single performance often attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators and lasted several nights. At these performances, children and adults mingle and chat with friends and relatives.
 
The art of shadow puppet making is passed down from generation to generation. Common characters include gods, demons, spirits, and other mythological figures. In one performance of the Reamker, up to one hundred and fifty puppets are used! The narrator is accompanied by an orchestra and is the real star of the show. He----the narrator is always a man----acts out all the parts and sings all the songs. Great narrators are revered. No women are allowed to take part in the performances.
 
Sports
Cambodians enjoy all kinds of games and sports, but venues and facilities for sports are mostly informal. For example, a volleyball game can take place with only two people, a ball, and a string tied between two trees in an open space.
 
After decades of war, organized sports are experiencing a revival. Many organized sports activities are still confined to Phnom Penh and the larger towns. The Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh is the main center for organized spectator sports, such soccer and basketball. Occasionally, teams of wheelchair bound basketball players and other athletes who have lost limbs during the war compete. Most Cambodians cannot afford to participate in organized sports because they have to work to support the family, but they enjoy watching the matches.
 
Soccer
Soccer, known as football in Cambodia, is a popular sport. A semi-professional team plays between January and June. The Cambodian Football Federation was founded in 1953, but its activities were hampered by the years of political upheaval. The national team has been making a comeback in recent years and has participated in international matches, such as the Southeast Asian Games and the World Cup Qualifiers. In 1998, Cambodia played against China and Lebanon in the Asian Games in Thailand. The Cambodian national team has not won many games in recent years, but Cambodian take pride in their team and watches many games.
 
Motocross
Motocross or motorbike racing has gained a wide following in the past two years, with regular competitions held in Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium. Motocross races are also held in provincial centers. There are several training grounds where young racers hone their skills, watched by family, friends, and sports fans.
 
Dragon Boat Racing
The most colorful sporting event is the annual dragon boat race during the Water Festival. Teams of rowers compete in long dragon boats. Male and female teams compete to the cheers of spectators along the riverbank. The rowers, clad in their team uniforms, row rhythmically with long paddles.
 
Kickboxing and Other Sports
Kickboxing is popular in Cambodia. Most Cambodians believe the sport originated in their country. In kickboxing, the boxer uses his feet, rather than just his fists, to attack and defend.
 
Other sports played throughout the country include badminton, which is often played along roads or in any vacant space; cycling, shooting, and tennis. Some forms of Chinese or Japanese martial arts, such as Tae Kwon Do, are also practiced.
 
Along with the increasing popularity of the southwestern beaches, sea sports are on the rise. Scuba diving sites are being developed around Sihanoukville.
 
Major Holiday and Festivals
Cambodians look forward to their holidays and festivals. The first festival of the year is the Chinese and Vietnamese New Year. It is celebrated in January or February. Many shops are closed, and processions held in the towns. National Day is celebrated on January 7 to commemorate the fall of the Khmer Rough and the anniversary of the last sermon of Buddha.
 
The two largest festivals are held in April: the Khmer New Year and Pisakh Bochea. Although the Khmer New Year is a religious festival, it is also a time for having fun, and everyone dressed up in their newest or best clothes. Pisakh Bochea is the most important Buddhist Festival. It celebrates the Buddha’s birth, his enlightenment, and his attainment of eternal bliss.
 
People gather at temples to participate in religious processions, receive blessings, and make offerings of flowers and food.
 
Another main festival is the beginning of Buddhist Lent, or Chol Vassa, in July, coinciding with the beginning of the rainy season. Many young men begin their period of monkshood on this day. The end of Buddhist Lent is in September and is celebrated with boat races in some places.
 
There are other, smaller festivals celebrated by non-Buddhist Cambodians. One of these is the celebration of the birthday of the founder of Islam in Odong. The Charm of Odong decorates tress with ornaments to represent their ancestral beliefs. The Muslim Cham also celebrates other Islamic festival, such as the end of the fasting month and the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
 
For three days, starting on October 31, Cambodians celebrate King Sihanouk’s birthday. Public offices and museums are closed on the first day of the celebrations. Independence Day falls on November 9. This national holiday commemorates Cambodian independence from French rule. On this day, floats and parades make their way through the streets of Phnom Penh.
 
Food
Since the kingdom of Angkor, Khmer cuisine has been based on the sophisticated cultivation of rice. Thai, coastal Malay, and southern Vietnamese flavors are all present in Cambodia cuisine, but the most important influence on Cambodia cuisine has been Chinese food. The French colonial presence has left a taste for French food in the towns, with French food such as baguettes, pates, and cafe au lait readily available.
 
In the towns, snacking at all hours of the day and night is possible because of the large number of hawkers. In Phnom Penh, all types of cuisine are available in a range of restaurants, with French and Chinese food the favorite choices.
 
Market and stalls in Cambodia
A wide variety of food is sold in markets and stalls across Cambodia. The largest market building in the country is the Central Market in Phnom Penh. Besides food, many different kinds of goods are sold there, including antiques, jewelry and clothing.
 
A Typical Cambodian Meal
Well-off rural Khmer have several meals a day. The first meal consists of a piece of fruit or cake. The first full meal is eaten at about nine in ten in the morning. Farmers eat a large meal at noon and have supper with their families on returning home at around 5:00 p.m. Poor rural Khmer have only two meals a day.
 
Each meal consists of rice, accompanied by soup. Rice may be less thoroughly milled than it is in many other rice-eating countries, and consequently, contains more vitamins and roughage. The most common accompaniments with rice are vegetable, fish, and fish-based products, such as tuk trey (tak trey), or fish sauce, prahok (prah-hok), or fish paste, and shrimp paste. Meat and poultry are considered more expensive luxuries, and they are used sparingly or for special occasions. Hot peppers, lemongrass, mint, and ginger add flavor to many Khmer dishes, and sugar is added to many foods. Several kinds of noodles are also eaten. The basic diet is supplemented by vegetables and fruit, which grow abundantly throughout the country. Sweets and deserts are usually made from palm sugar and coconut milk, and are prepared on special occasions.
 
There are no courses at a Cambodian meal. All the dishes are laid out together with the rice, and people help themselves to the dishes, adding a little bit of everything to there bowls of rice. The majority of people still eat what they grow, raise, or catch. Cambodians get together for communal feasts during festive occasions.