Officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is 181,035 square kilometres (69,898 square miles) in area, bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east, and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest.
Cambodia has a population of over 15 million. The official religion is Theravada Buddhism, practiced by approximately 95 percent of the population. The country’s minority groups include Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams, and 30 hill tribes. The capital and largest city is Phnom Penh, the political, economic, and cultural centre of Cambodia. The kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with Norodom Sihamoni, a monarch chosen by the Royal Throne Council, as head of state. The head of government is Hun Sen, who is currently Prime minister and the longest serving non-royal leader in South East Asia and has ruled Cambodia for over 30 years.
Like the Thais, who have their wai, the Cambodia’s traditionally greet each other with the ‘sompiah’, which involves pressing the hands together in prayer and bowing. In general the higher the hands and the lower the bow the more respect is shown. In recent decades this custom has been partially replaced by the western practice of shaking hands.
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia, the country’s economic statistics are low by international standards, with average salaries less than US$300 a year and about 40% of the population classified as poor. According to official statistics, around 96% of the people who live in Cambodia are ethic Khmers (ethic Cambodians), making the country the most homogeneous in South-East Asia. In reality, there are much higher numbers of Vietnamese and Chinese than such statistics account for.
Transportation and Communication
The international community is funding a massive project to redevelop the roads linking Thailand to Vietnam via Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and also Hwy 7 north to Laos, including a major bridge over the Mekong River at Kompong Cham. Once this is completed, the map of overland travel in Indo-China will be completely redraw, but this work probably won’t be completed for several years. International calls are expensive in Cambodia. To call Cambodia from outside the country, the country code is 855. Internet access is now available in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Costs are expensive by international standards and if you are using a mobile phone from remote areas the connection is poor.
The biggest threat to the environment in Cambodia is logging. In the mid-1960s Cambodia was reckoned to have around 75% rainforest coverage. Surveys carried out in mid-1993 concluded this had been reduced to 49%, around half of which was primary forest. Cambodia has a pollution problem, but it is not of the same nature as the carbon monoxide crises in neighbouring capitals such as Bangkok and Jakarta: Phnom Penh is the only city that suffers from air pollution.The climate of Cambodia is governed by two monsoons, which set the rhythm of rural life. Maximum daily temperature range from more than 40*C in April, the hottest month, to the high 20*C during January, the coolest month. Daily minimum temperatures are usually no more than 10*C below the maximums. Annual rainfall varies considerably from area to area. Whereas the seaward slopes of the south-west highlands receive more than 5,000mm of rain per annum, the central lowlands average only about 1,400mm. Between 70% and 80* of the annual rainfall is brought by the south-western monsoon.
For a long time rubber was Cambodia’s primary export, but the plantations in the north and east of the country produce very little compared with colonial days. rubber has been eclipsed in recent years by timber exports, which in 1994 accounted for US$194 millions, nearly half the country’s export earnings. Cambodia’s second biggest export earning is the transhipment of cigarettes and consumer goods. These came from Singapore, Malaysia and China. Cambodia has low import tariffs, and imports can thus be lucratively shipped on to more restrictive regional markets such as Vietnam. The challenge for Cambodia is to create an environment in which sustainable economic development can take place. At present, the signs indicate that the government is all too willing to encourage foreign investment in projects than generate short-term wealth for a few, but offer few long-term benefits for the many. Cambodia has relied heavily on Angkor Wat when promoting itself as a tourist destination, and not without good reason: it really is one of the most impressive signs on earth.
Cambodia’s currency is the riel, from around 200 riel to the US dollar in mid-1989 the riel plummeted in value, settling at around 2,600 riel to the US dollar for a few years before the regional economic crisis weakened it further, dragging it down to the current level of about 3,800 riel. Cambodia’s second currency, some would say its first, is the US dollar, which is accepted everywhere and by everyone, though your change may arrive in riel. In the west of the country, Thai baht is also a common use. The sinking fortunes of the riel meant that, until recently, it was hardly worth the paper it was printed on. The government has responded by creating new higher value denominations, although notes of 20,000 riel and upwards are still a fairly rare sight.