What Should I Know About Cambodia?

N. Madison
N. Madison

The Kingdom of Cambodia is a Southeast Asian country. Formerly called Kampuchea, its borders touch Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the Gulf of Thailand. The country’s land territory spans about 69,898 square miles (181,035 square kilometers). Its capital city is Phnom Penh. As of 2007, Cambodia had a population of more than 13 million people.

Many Cambodian homes still are built on stilts.
Many Cambodian homes still are built on stilts.

There is little recorded history available for prehistoric Cambodia. However, archaeologists have found evidence that illustrates Cambodian life before 1000 BC. For example, archaeologists have discovered that during this time, Cambodians consumed a diet that consisted of rice and fish. Their dwellings were typically built on stilts, much like they are today.

More is known about Cambodia’s modern history, including details of its virtual colonization (it became a protectorate of France) in 1884. With the beginning of French virtual colonization, Cambodians entered a period of peace that was in sharp contrast to the rivalries and wars the country had experienced in previous years. However, this peace did not last forever. In 1941, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, then 19 years old, took the Cambodian throne, as a result of French desires. The years following his installation turned from relative peace to strife and struggle.

Cambodia gained its independence from the French in 1953, but its troubles were not over. In 1969, the country was carpet-bombed by the United States at suspected communist camps. Numerous civilians were killed in the bombings, and Cambodia entered the United States/Vietnam conflict as an unwilling participant. In 1970, Sihanouk was overthrown and replaced by General Lon Nol. While the newly installed Nol made attempts to become closer to the United States, the ousted Sihanouk joined forces with the Khmer Rouge communists, a ruling Cambodian party.

The Khmer Rouge communists grew in numbers, forming an army of thousands and fighting with invading American and South Vietnamese troops. The Americans and South Vietnamese were able to force the Khmer Rouge toward the center of the country. However, the Khmer Rouge forces were successful in killing about 2 million Cambodians. Finally, in 1978, a Vietnamese invasion forced Khmer Rouge out of the country, yet the group continued to wage guerrilla war against the Vietnamese into the 80s.

In 1993, The UN administered elections that led to the reinstatement of Norodom Sihanouk. The Khmer Rouge continued its attempts to stir up trouble until it was outlawed in 1994. In 1998, Hun Sen was installed as Cambodia’s prime minister, and it is said that he was a stabilizing force. Today, Cambodia is considered a constitutional monarchy combined with a multi-party democracy. The country has both a king and a prime minister.

Most of Cambodia’s citizens are Ethnic Khmers, Cambodians whose ancestors date back to the 9th century. They account for about 96 percent of the population. About two percent of its citizens are Chinese while one percent is Vietnamese. Another one percent consists of Cham and Malay Muslims. The official language is Khmer, but English and French are spoken as well.

N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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When was Kampuchea (Cambodia) established? Who lives there? Why is it important? What is this country known for?

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