Cambodia has had a particularly poor run of luck during the past half-millennium. The once-mighty Khmer Empire has been pillaged by all of its neighbors since the collapse of Angkor in 1431. It was colonized by the French in the nineteenth century and was heavily carpet bombed by the United States during the 1970s. Following a false dawn of independence in 1953, Cambodia descended into the horrors of civil war in 1970, suffering the Khmer Rouge’s incredibly brutal reign of terror followed by occupation by Vietnamese forces, and it was only after UN-sponsored elections in 1993 that the country began to struggle back to its feet.
Much of the population still lives on less than US$1 a day, and access to even basic services is limited. Political intrigue is as complicated and opaque as it has always been, but security has vastly improved, and an increasing number of visitors are rediscovering Cambodia’s temples and beaches. Siem Reap, the entrance to Angkor, now has luxurious hotels, trendy nightclubs, ATMs, and an airport with flights from all over the area, while Sihanoukville is gaining popularity as a new beach destination. Traveling outside of the most famous tourist sites, on the other hand, is still an experience.
After the textile sector, tourism is the country’s second-largest source of hard cash. Between January and December 2007, tourist visits totaled 2.0 million, an 18.5 percent increase over the same period in 2006. The majority of tourists (51%) came in Siem Reap, with the rest (49%) arriving in Phnom Penh and other locations.
Other famous tourist sites in Cambodia include Sihanoukville in the south west, which has many popular beaches, and Battambang in the north west, which has a quiet riverbank town. Both are popular stops for backpackers, who make up a significant percentage of tourists to Cambodia. Visitors are also drawn to the region around Kampot and Kep, especially the Bokor Hill Station. Tourism has grown rapidly each year from the relatively stable time after the 1993 UNTAC elections; there were 118,183 foreign visitors in 1993, and 2,161,577 international tourists in 2009.
According to the study, the majority of the visitors were Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Americans, South Koreans, and French, and the sector generated about 1.4 billion US dollars in 2007, accounting for almost ten percent of the kingdom’s gross national product. According to industry experts cited in the Chinese-language publication Jianhua Daily, Cambodia would have three million international tourist visits in 2010 and five million in 2015. Tourism has long been regarded as one of Cambodia’s three pillar businesses. For international visitors, the major attractions are the Angkor Wat historical site in Siem Reap province, the beaches in Sihanoukville, and the capital city of Phnom Penh.
The tourist souvenir business in Cambodia employs a large number of people around the major tourist attractions. Obviously, the amount of souvenirs produced is insufficient to meet the growing number of visitors, and the bulk of goods offered to tourists in marketplaces are imported from China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Cambodia has an area of 181,035 square kilometers (69,898 square miles) and is located completely inside the tropics, between latitudes 10° and 15° N and longitudes 102° and 108° E. It is bounded to the north and west by Thailand, to the northeast by Laos, and to the east and southeast by Vietnam. It has a coastline of 443 kilometers (275 miles) along the Gulf of Thailand.
Cambodia’s environment is defined by a low-lying central plain bordered by uplands and low mountains, as well as the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) and upper parts of the Mekong River delta. Transitional plains extend outward from this core area, sparsely vegetated and reaching to heights of approximately 650 feet (200 metres) above sea level.
To the north, the Cambodian plain is bounded by a sandstone escarpment that creates a southward-facing cliff that stretches more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) from west to east and rises abruptly above the plain to heights ranging from 600 to 1,800 feet (180–550 metres). The Dângrêk Mountains’ southern border is marked by this cliff.
The Mekong River flows south through the country’s eastern areas. The transitional plains eventually blend with the eastern highlands, an area of wooded mountains and high plateaus that extends into Laos and Vietnam east of the Mekong. Another highland region in southern Cambodia is formed by two separate upland blocks, the Krâvanh Mountains and the Dâmrei Mountains, which cover most of the land area between the Tonle Sap and the Gulf of Thailand.
Phnom Aural, Cambodia’s tallest mountain, rises to a height of 5,949 feet in this isolated and mostly deserted region (1,813 metres). The southern coastal area, which borders the Gulf of Thailand, is a short lowland strip that is densely forested and scarcely inhabited, and is separated from the central plain by the southwestern hills.
The Tonle Sap (Great Lake) inundations are the most notable geographical feature, measuring about 2,590 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) during the dry season and increasing to over 24,605 square kilometers (9,500 square miles) during the rainy season. Cambodia’s heartland is this heavily populated region dedicated to wet rice production. A large portion of this region has been declared as a biosphere reserve.
Cambodia’s climate, like that of the rest of Southeast Asia, is characterized by monsoons, which are referred to as tropical wet and dry due to the pronounced seasonal variations.
Cambodia features tropical monsoons with temperatures ranging from 21 to 35 °C (69.8 to 95.0 °F). From May through October, southwest monsoons sweep inland, bringing moisture-laden winds from the Gulf of Thailand and the Indian Ocean. The dry season, which lasts from November to April, is heralded by the northeast monsoon. The wettest months in the nation are September and October, with the driest months being January and February.
Cambodia boasts a diverse range of flora and animals. There are 212 mammals, 536 birds, 240 reptiles, 850 freshwater fish species (Tonle SapLake region), and 435 marine fish species. Much of this biodiversity is concentrated around Tonle Sap Lake and its environs.
Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve is a reserve that surrounds Tonle Sap Lake. It includes the lake as well as the following provinces: Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Battambang, Pursat, Kampong Chhnang, Banteay Meanchey, Pailin, Oddar Meanchey, and Preah Vihear. It was successfully proposed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997. Other important habitats include the dry forest of Mondolkiri and Ratanakiri provinces, as well as the Cardamom Mountains ecosystem, which includes Bokor National Park, Botum-Sakor National Park, and the wildlife sanctuaries of Phnom Aural and Phnom Samkos.
The Cardamom Mountains rain forests, Central Indochina dry forest, Southeast Indochina dry evergreen forest, Southern Annamite Range rain forest, Tonle Sap freshwater swamp forest, and Tonle Sap-Mekong peat swamp forest are all recognized by the World Wildlife Fund as distinct terrestrial ecoregions in Cambodia.
Cambodia’s population was projected to be 15,205,539 people in 2013. Cambodia has a birth rate of 25.4 per 1,000 people. Its population is growing at a pace of 1.7 percent each year.
50 percent of Cambodia’s population is under the age of 22. Cambodia has the highest female-biased sex ratio in the Greater Mekong Subregion, with a 1.04 female to male ratio. The female to male ratio among Cambodians over the age of 65 is 1.6:1.
In 2010, Cambodia’s total fertility rate was 3.0 children per woman. In 2000, the fertility rate was 4.0 children. Women in cities have 2.2 children on average, whereas women in rural regions have 3.3 children per woman. Fertility is greatest in the provinces of Mondol Kiri and Rattanak Kiri, where women have an average of 4.5 children, and lowest in Phnom Penh, where women have an average of 2.0 children.
Ninety percent of Cambodians are of Khmer ancestry and speak Khmer, the country’s official language. Cambodia has a largely homogenous population. Its minority groups include Vietnamese (5% of the population) and Chinese (1 percent ).
The Khmers are Cambodia’s biggest ethnic group, accounting for about 90 percent of the overall population and being indigenous to the lowland Mekong subregion in which they live. The Khmers have traditionally resided in a continuous diagonal arc along the lower Mekong River, from where modern-day Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia meet in the northwest all the way to the Mekong River’s mouth in southern Vietnam.
With an estimated 400,000 – 700,000 people residing in provinces centered in the southeast of the nation close to the Mekong Delta, the Vietnamese are Cambodia’s biggest (or second largest) ethnic minority. Despite the fact that the Vietnamese language is a Mon–Khmer language, there are minimal cultural links between the two peoples since the early Khmers were affected by the Indian cultural sphere, while the Vietnamese are influenced by the Chinese cultural sphere. Ethnic conflicts between Khmer and Vietnamese may be traced back to Cambodia’s Dark Ages (from the 16th to the 19th century), when a fledgling Vietnam and Thailand tried to vassalise a weaker post-Angkor Cambodia and essentially control all of Indochina.
Chinese Cambodians make up around 1% of the population. The majority of Chinese are derived from 19th–20th century immigrants who came to seek trade and business opportunities under the French rule. The majority are city residents who work mainly in business.
Montagnards or Khmer Loeu, a name that means “Highland Khmer,” are the indigenous ethnic tribes of the mountains. They are descended from neolithic migrations of Mon–Khmer speakers via southern China and Austronesian speakers from southeastern Asia. Because they were secluded in the highlands, the different Khmer Loeu tribes were not Indianized like their Khmer relatives, and as a result, they remain culturally distinct from contemporary Khmers and often from one other, retaining many pre-Indian-contact traditions and beliefs.
The Cham are derived from the Austronesian people of Champa, an ancient kingdom on the coast of central and southern Vietnam that was a competitor to the Khmer Empire. The Cham in Cambodia number less than a million people and typically live in distinct communities in the country’s southeast. In Cambodia, almost all Cham are Muslims.
Cambodia’s official religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is practiced by more than 95 percent of the population and has an estimated 4,392 monastery temples across the nation. Cambodian Buddhism is heavily influenced by Hinduism, Tantrism, and indigenous animism. Reincarnation is a key idea in Cambodian Buddhism, and religious activities are centered on gaining bonn (Pali punna, merit) and erasing kamm (Pali kamma, karma), which, for Khmers, refers to the negative consequences of previous deeds.
The tight connection between spirits and the society, the effectiveness of apotropaic and luck-attracting acts and charms, and the potential of influencing one’s life via contact with spiritual beings such as “baromey” spirits are all key ideas derived from animism. Beyond the mystical rituals of Tantricism and a slew of Hindu gods now absorbed into the spirit realm, Hinduism has left little trace (for example, the important neak ta spirit called Yeay Mao is the modern avatar of the Hindu goddess Kali).
The majority of Chinese and Vietnamese in Cambodia practice Mahayana Buddhism. Other religious traditions, such as the worship of folk heroes and ancestors, Confucianism, and Taoism, coexist alongside Chinese Buddhism.
Islam is practiced by approximately 2% of the population and comes in three forms, two of which are practiced by the Cham people and a third by descendants of Malays who have lived in the nation for centuries. According to reports, 80 percent of Cambodia’s Muslim population is Cham.
Cambodia’s PPP per capita income in 2011 was $2,470, while nominal per capita income was $1,040. Cambodia’s per capita income is rising fast, although it remains low in comparison to other nations in the area. Agriculture and its associated sub-sectors support the majority of rural families. Cambodia’s main exports include rice, fish, wood, clothing, and rubber. More than 750 indigenous rice types were restored to Cambodia by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) from its rice seed bank in the Philippines. These varieties were gathered in the 1960s.
According to the Economist and the IMF, yearly average GDP growth from 2001 to 2010 was 7.7 percent, placing it in the world’s top ten nations with the greatest annual average GDP growth. With arrivals rising from 219,000 in 1997 to over 2 million in 2007, tourism was Cambodia’s fastest growing sector. In 2004, inflation was 1.7 percent, while exports were $1.6 billion US dollars.
“Where Have All The Poor Gone?” is the Cambodia country evaluation. The World Bank finds in its “Cambodia Poverty Assessment 2013” that “during the seven years from 2004 to 2011, Cambodian economic development was phenomenal, ranking among the greatest in the world.” Furthermore, household consumption rose by almost 40%. And this increase was pro-poor, not just decreasing inequality but also increasing poor people’s spending proportionately quicker and farther than non-poor people’s. As a consequence, the poverty rate fell from 52.2 percent to 20.5 percent, exceeding all expectations. However, the bulk of these individuals have just narrowly avoided poverty: they remain very vulnerable—even to little shocks—that may rapidly return them to poverty.”
“Two decades of economic development have helped Cambodia become a worldwide pioneer in poverty reduction.” The success story means that the Southeast Asian country that survived a brutal civil war is now classed by the World Bank Group as a lower-middle income economy (WBG).
Cambodia’s largest source of foreign direct investment is China. On the first seven months of 2011, China intended to invest $8 billion in 360 projects. It is also the biggest source of foreign assistance, contributing about $600 million in 2007 and $260 million in 2008.” Poverty fell from 53% in 2004 to 20.5 percent in 2011, exceeding all expectations and significantly exceeding the country’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) poverty goal. From 2004 to 2008, Cambodia placed fourth among 69 nations with relevant statistics in terms of the quickest poverty reduction in the world. More information about Cambodia’s poverty-reduction accomplishments may be found here. Poverty dropped to 10% in 2013, and further reductions in poverty are anticipated for both urban and rural families in 2015–2016. Human development, especially in health and education, is a significant problem and development goal for Cambodia.”
Oil and natural gas reserves discovered under Cambodia’s territorial seas in 2005 have enormous potential but have mostly gone unexplored, owing in part to territorial conflicts with Thailand.
The National Bank of Cambodia is the kingdom’s central bank, and it regulates the nation’s banking industry and is partly responsible for encouraging foreign direct investment in the country. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of licensed banks and micro-credit institutions grew from 31 to over 70, highlighting the development of the Cambodian banking and finance industry.
Credit Bureau Cambodia was formed in 2012, with direct regulatory supervision provided by the National Bank of Cambodia. The Credit Bureau improves openness and stability in the Cambodian banking sector by requiring all banks and microfinance businesses to disclose correct facts and statistics related to loan performance in the nation.
One of the most pressing issues confronting Cambodia is the fact that the elderly population is often illiterate, especially in the rural, which suffers from a lack of basic infrastructure. Fears of recurrent political instability and government corruption deter international investment and postpone foreign assistance, despite substantial contributions from bilateral and multilateral donors. In 2004, donors committed $504 million to the nation, with the Asian Development Bank alone providing $850 million in loans, grants, and technical support. Bribes are often requested of Cambodian businesses while acquiring licenses and permissions, such as building permits.
In the 2015 International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index, Cambodia was rated among the worst places in the world for organized labor, falling into the category of countries with “no assurance of rights.”
Cambodia’s National Assembly passed a Trade Union Law in April 2016. “The legislation was introduced at a time when employees were conducting continuous demonstrations in workplaces and on the streets, seeking pay increases and better working conditions.” Concerns concerning Cambodia’s new legislation are shared not just by labor and human rights organizations, but also by foreign organizations in general. According to the International Labor Organization Country Office for Thailand, Cambodia, and Lao PDR, the legislation contains “many significant issues and deficiencies.” Employers and independent unions are still as split as they have always been. “How can a business with 25 unions survive?” said Van Sou Ieng, head of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), adding that expecting an employer to settle a disagreement with 25 separate union leaders was nonsensical. According to Van Sou Ieng, a legislation was required to rein in the country’s unions. According to GMAC, there were 3,166 unions representing the more than 500,000 employees working in the country’s 557 garment and textile exporting industries, as well as 58 footwear manufacturers, last year. Despite the fact that garment manufacturing is already Cambodia’s biggest sector, accounting for 26.2 percent of the country’s GDP, Van Sou Ieng said that “without the trade union legislation, international investors would not come to conduct business.”
“Just via trade union legislation can we, as employers, be able to survive…. Not only Cambodia, but every nation has trade union law.” Those who criticize [the legislation] should get into business; then they would understand.”