At a Glance: Cambodia

Officially known as: The Kingdom of Cambodia. Formerly the Khmer Empire, Democratic Kampuchea, and The People’s Republic of Kampuchea.

Population: Over 15 million people, which makes it the 69th most populous country in the world.

History: Over the last 50 years, the Cambodian government has dealt with an extraordinary amount of change. In 1953 Cambodia won independence from France and established the Kingdom of Cambodia. In 1970, the monarchy was overthrown in a military coup, and a civil war began between the new Khmer Republic and the ousted guerrilla forces in the north. In 1975, those guerilla forces – the Khmer Rouge – defeated the government of the Khmer Republic and began their reign of terror, torturing and murdering members of the intellectual middle class. Pol Pot was named Prime Minister. In 1979 the Vietnamese liberated the Cambodian people from the Khmer Rouge and established The People’s Republic of Kampuchea, which was not recognized by the international community – instead, the murderous, ousted Khmer Rouge officials were allowed to represent their countrymen in the UN until 1993.

Current government: Cambodia is now officially a constitutional monarchy. The Prime Minister Hun Sen (of the Cambodian People’s Party, which dominates almost all elections) is a former Khmer Rouge official who has been in power since 1985. This makes him the longest standing non-royal leader in SE Asia…ever. Human rights coalitions consider the Cambodian government to be (and we are paraphrasing) “vaguely communist, with an authoritarian power ruling over a superficial democracy.” The fact that Hun Sen is former Khmer Rouge, which was responsible for mass genocide from 1975-1979, is where things get a bit choppy in terms of what Cambodian government is really like. There are international war crime tribunals currently taking place to prosecute its leaders, yet Hun Sen did not defect from the Khmer rouge until well into their reign. A bit fishy, no?

Median household income: The Cambodian currency reil does so poorly internationally that the currency accepted everywhere is USD, even from Cambodian ATMs. On average, yearly income for a Cambodian is $950. Even this staggeringly low number is estimated to drop in the coming years as 57% of the labor force is engaged in agriculture, which relies heavily on monsoons and irrigation from the Mekong river. In recent years sporadic rain has made these businesses less profitable due to prolonged droughts.

Weather: The climate in Cambodia is considered tropical with a dry season and a wet season dominated by monsoons. Temperatures range 71-104 degrees Fahrenheit year round.

Our favorite places:

-Pre Rup temple at sunrise: A good friend who lives in Cambodia let us in on the secret that this temple is empty at sunrise and has great views (most tourists visit Angkor Wat at this time); when we went we had the entire complex to ourselves.

-Space Bar and Hair Salon: We went here for a night out on the town with some friends. Space Bar is a hair salon by day and gay bar by night. We put on our dancing shoes and felt right at home.

-BaoBaB: an awesome hole in the wall Japanese restaurant with the best damn salmon belly we’ve ever had!

Fun facts:

  • Cambodians are known as “The Smiling People” because of their notoriously happy demeanors…kind of ironic when you consider the horrors they have lived through as a nation.
  • Many older Cambodians were forced into consummating arranged marriages under the Khmer Rouge regime. Definitely not a “fun fact,” but an interesting human rights issue that Cambodia is still dealing with today, and another subtle way in which the Khmer Rouge brutalized their countrymen.
  • Cambodia is one of only two countries that has a building on their flag (the other is Afghanistan).
  • There are a lot of differing opinions on “The Wonders of the World”, but Angkor Wat is usually considered the eighth.