Cambodia is a small country with a big history. Now a modest player on the world stage, this was once the seat of one of Asia’s most magnificent early civilizations, the mighty Khmer empire of Angkor, whose legendary temples continue to provide a touchstone of national identity – as well as attracting millions of visitors every year. Away from the temples, much of the country remains refreshingly untouristed and, in many places, largely unexplored.
Cambodia is about one and a half times the size of England – roughly the same area as the US state of Oklahoma.
Cambodia’s population is just over 15 million, of which ninety percent is Khmer. The remainder consists of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese (together around 6 percent), the Cham (2.5 percent) and the chunchiet (1 percent).
Theravada Buddhism is practised by 96 percent of the population, alongside some animism and ancestor worship; the Cham are Muslim.
Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, with an elected government comprising two houses of parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate.
Average annual income is just $944 per capita, making Cambodia the third poorest country in Asia (after Nepal and Bangladesh – and compared to a per capital income of $5480 in neighbouring Thailand). Average life expectancy, though improving, is just 63 years.
Cambodia has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation, the fifth highest globally, according to recent figures. Primary rainforest cover fell from over 70 percent in 1970 to just 3.1 percent in 2007.
Cambodia has changed its name more frequently than almost any other country in the world. Within the past half-century it’s been known variously as the Khmer Republic (1970–75), Democratic Kampuchea (under the Khmer Rouge, 1976–79) and the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979–89). It’s now officially called the Kingdom of Cambodia.
The Cambodian flag is embellished with an image of Angkor Wat – the only national flag in the world with a picture of a building on it.
There are no direct flights to Cambodia from Europe, North America, Australasia or South Africa, so if you plan to fly into the country you’ll need to get a connecting flight from elsewhere in Southeast or East Asia.
Cambodia remains consistently hot year-round – seasons are defined principally by rainfall rather than temperature. The dry season runs from November to May, subdivided into the so-called cool season (Nov–Feb), the peak tourist period, and the slightly warmer and more humid hot season (March–May). The rainy season (roughly June–Oct) is when the country receives most of its annual rainfall, although occasional downpours can occur at pretty much any time of year.
Cambodia is one of the cheapest Asian countries to visit, and although prices are starting to creep up, the country still offers outstanding value.