Cambodia

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Cambodia , officially the Kingdom of Cambodia (sometimes transliterated as Kampuchea to more closely represent the Khmer pronunciation) is a Southeast Asian nation bordered by Vietnam to the east, Laos to the north, Thailand to the northwest, and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest.

Population: 15,205,539 people
Area: 181,035 km2
Highest point: 1,810 m
Coastline: 443 km
Life expectancy: 63.41 years
GDP per capita: $2,400
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About Cambodia

History

It is important to remember that Cambodian history did not begin with the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot's incredibly harsh regime has garnered most attention, but the Cambodians have enjoyed a long and often triumphant history. Anybody who witnesses the magnificent temples at Angkor can attest to the fact that the Khmer Empire was once wealthy, militarized, and a major force in the region. Its zenith came under Jayavarman VII (1181-c.1218), where the Empire made significant territorial gains from the Vietnamese and Cham. The Khmer Empire stretched to encompass parts of modern day Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Laos, and Vietnam.

The period following the fall of the Khmer Empire has been described as Cambodia's Dark Ages. Climatic factors precipitated this fall, where the Ankorian civilization harnessed Cambodia's water for agriculture through elaborate systems of canals and dams. The Khmer Empire never recovered from the sacking by its neighbours, based in Ayutthaya (in modern day Thailand), and Cambodia spent much of the next 400 years until French colonization squeezed and threatened by the rivalries of the expanding Siamese and Vietnamese Empires to the west and east. Indeed, on the eve of French colonization it was claimed that Cambodia was likely to cease to exist as an independent kingdom entirely, with the historian John Tully claiming “there can be little doubt that their [the French] intervention prevented the political disappearance of the kingdom”.

The French came to dominate Cambodia as a protectorate from the 1860s, part of a wider ambition to control the area then termed Indochina (modern day Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos). The French were always more concerned with their possessions in Vietnam. Education of Cambodians was neglected for all but the established elite. It was from this elite that many "Red Khmers" would emerge. Japan's hold on Southeast Asia during the Second World War undermined French prestige and following the Allied victory Prince Sihanouk soon declared independence. This was a relatively peaceful transition; France was too absorbed with its struggle in Vietnam, which it saw as more important in its conception of L'Indochine francaise.

Prince Sihanouk was the main power figure in the country after this. He was noted for making very strange movies which he wrote, starred in, and directed. His rule was characterized at this point with a Buddhist revival and an emphasis on education. This was a mixed blessing, however. He succeeded in helping create an educated elite who became increasingly disenchanted with the lack of available jobs. As the economic situation in Cambodia deteriorated, many of these young people were attracted to the Indochinese Communist Party, and later the Khmer Rouge.

As the Second Indochina War spread to Cambodia's border (an important part of the "Ho Chi Minh trail"), the USA became increasingly concerned with events in the country. The US Air Force bombed Cambodia from 1964 to 1973, with the period from March 1969 to May 1970 being particularly intense. During this campaign, which was codenamed Operation Menu, 540,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped. Estimates of the civilian death toll range from 150,000 to 500,000. In total, from 1964 to 1973 the US dropped 2.7 million tonnes of bombs on Cambodia, more than the combined amount dropped by all the Allies in all theatres during World War II.

In March 1970, while overseas visiting Moscow and Beijing, Sihanouk was overthrown by Lon Nol and other generals who were looked upon favourably by the United States. Sihanouk then put his support behind the Khmer Rouge. This change influenced many to follow suit; he was after all considered a Boddhisatva. Meanwhile the Khmer Rouge followed the Vietnamese example and began to endear themselves to the rural poor.

Following a five-year struggle, Communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh in 1975 and ordered the evacuation of all cities and towns. Over 1 million people (and possibly many more) died from execution or enforced hardships. Those from the cities were known as "new" people and suffered worst at first. The rural peasantry were regarded as "base" people and fared better. However, the Khmer Rouge's cruelty was inflicted on both groups. It also depended much upon where one was from. For example, people in the east generally suffered worse. It is debated whether or not the Khmer Rouge began "crimes against humanity" or a protracted "genocide". There are claims there was a disproportionate number of ethnic Chams killed, and the ethnic Vietnamese also suffered persecution. Nonetheless, the Khmer also suffered often indiscriminate mass killings. A 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside and ended 13 years of fighting (but the fighting would continue for some time in border areas). Cold War politics meant that despite the horrendous crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge they were the recognized government long after the liberation of the country by the Vietnamese. Indeed they continued to receive covert support and financing by the USA. Due to the devastating politics of the Khmer Rouge regime, there was virtually no infrastructure left. Institutions of higher education, money, and all forms of industry were destroyed in 1978, so the country had to be built up from scratch. UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy, as did the rapid diminution of the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1990s. A coalition government, formed after national elections in 1998, brought renewed political stability and the surrender of remaining Khmer Rouge forces.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is currently putting Ieng Sary, Pol Pot's brother in law, on trial for crimes against humanity.

Food

While not the strongest link in Southeast Asia's chain of delightful cuisines, Khmer food is tasty and cheap. Rice and occasionally noodles are the staples. Unlike in Thailand or Lao, spicy hot food is not the mainstay; black pepper is preferred over chilli peppers, though chillis are usually served on the side. Thai and Vietnamese influences can be noted in Khmer food, although Cambodians love strong sour tastes in their dishes. Prahok, a local fish paste, is common in Khmer cooking and may not please Western palates. Indian and Chinese restaurants have a healthy representation in Phnom Penh and the larger towns. Western food can be readily found in most restaurants in any of the tourist areas of Cambodia and Cambodia offers some of the best budget western meals in SE Asia. However, while still inexpensive, a western meal will often be double the price of a Khmer meal.

Typical Khmer dishes include:

  • Amok - Arguably the most well known Cambodian dish. A coconut milk curried dish less spicy than those found in Thailand. Amok is usually made with chicken, fish, or shrimp, plus some vegetables. It is sometimes served in a hollowed-out coconut with rice on the side. Quite delicious.
  • K'tieu (Kuytheav) - A noodle soup generally served for breakfast. Can be made with pork, beef or seafood. Flavourings are added to the customers taste in the form of lime juice, chili powder, sugar and fish sauce.
  • Somlah Machou Khmae - A sweet and sour soup made with pineapple, tomatoes and fish.
  • Bai Sarch Ch'rouk - Another breakfast staple. Rice (bai) with pork meat (sarch chrouk) often barbequed. Very tasty and served with some pickled vegetables.
  • Saik Ch'rouk Cha Kn'yei - Pork fried with ginger. Ginger is commonly used as a vegetable. This tasty dish is available just about everywhere.
  • Lok lak - Chopped up beef cooked quickly. Probably a holdover from the days of French colonization. Served with a simple dipping sauce made from lime juice and black pepper, lettuce, onion, and often with chips.
  • Mi/Bai Chaa - Fried noodles or rice. Never particularly inspiring, but a good traveller's staple.
  • Trey Ch'ien Chou 'Ayme - Trey (fish) fried with a sweet chili sauce and vegetables. Very tasty. Chou 'ayme is the phrase for "sweet and sour".
  • K'dam - Crab. Kampot in the south is famous for its crab cooked in locally sourced black pepper. A very tasty meal.

Don't forget Khmer desserts - Pong Aime (sweets). These are available from stalls in most Khmer towns and can be excellent. Choose from a variety of sweetmeats and have them served with ice, condensed milk and sugar water. A must try is the Tuk-a-loc, a blended drink of fruits, raw egg, sweetened condensed milk and ice.

There is also a wide variety of fresh fruit available from markets. The prices vary according to which fruit is in season but mangoes (around Khmer New Year, with up to 9 varieties on sale) and mangosteen (May/June) are both superb.

Other popular Khmer foods which may be less palatable to foreigners include pregnant eggs (duck eggs with the embryo still inside), and almost every variety of creepy or crawly animal (spiders, crickets, water beetles) as well as barbecued rats, frogs, snakes, bats and small birds.

Drinks

The tap water supply in Phnom Penh has undergone some serious changes at the hands of a "water revolutionary" in the government, Ek Sonn Chan. So, in Phnom Penh you can drink the tap water without problem, although it's highly chlorinated and you may not like the taste. Also, there is some concern about the bottle water vendors. The US Embassy website says that "In 2008, Cambodia's Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy reported that more than 100 bottled water companies in Cambodia were being considered for closure for failing to meet minimum production quality standards. Only 24 of the 130 bottled water companies are compliant with the ministry's Department of Industrial Standards." That page seems to be down on bottled water generally, so take it with a grain of salt.

Outside of Phnom Penh (and perhaps Siem Reap) you should assume that tap water is not potable. Khmer brand water in blue plastic bottles sell for 1,000 riel or less (although prices are often marked up for tourists, to 50 cents or a US dollar).

Soft drinks

Iced coffee is ubiquitous in Cambodia. It's made Vietnamese-style, freshly brewed and mixed with sweetened condensed milk. Walk past a local eatery any time of the day and you are bound to see at least a table of locals drinking them. One glass costs KHR1,500-2,000. Iced tea made with lemon and sugar is also refreshing and ubiquitous.

Fresh coconut can be found everywhere, you could say it is ubiquitous, and is healthy and sanitary if drunk straight from the fruit.

Alcohol

In general, Khmers are not what could be described as casual drinkers: their main objective is to get hammered as quickly as possible. Know your limits if invited to join in!

The two most popular domestic Cambodian beers are Anchor — pronounced "an-CHOR" with a ch sound! — and Angkor, both of which can be found in bottles, cans, and on draft, and generally for no more than USD1 each. New beers include the cheap Klang and Cambodia, while Beerlao and Tiger are popular beers with foreigners. A plethora of other beers include ABC Stout, which is dark and not so bad, in addition to the standard Heineken and Carlsberg. Cheaper beers include Crown and Leo, whilst Kingdom Beer aims for the premium market with a pilsener and a dark lager.

Palm wine and rice wine are available in villages and can be OK at KHR500-1,000 for a 1 L bottle. However, some safety concerns have been raised with regard to sanitation, so the local wines may be best avoided.

For a truly Khmer experience, hunt down a bottle of Golden Muscle Wine. Advertised on tuk-tuks everywhere, this pitch-black concoction made from deer antlers and assorted herbs packs a 35% punch and tastes vile when drunk straight, but can be made reasonably palatable (if not exactly tasty) by the addition of tonic water or cola. At USD2 for a 350 mL flask of the original and a budget-busting USD3 for the "X.O." version, it's the cheapest legitimate tipple around.

Shopping

The Cambodian riel (KHR) and US dollar (USD) are both official currencies, with riel only used for small transactions (i.e., below USD5). US coins are not used in Cambodia. ATMs will generally only dispense US dollars though some are loaded with both currencies. They generally charge USD3-5 per withdrawal but Canadia Bank and Mekong Bank are fee free. ATMs are common throughout the country with a surprising penetration even into backwater towns, though if in doubt stock up before a trip into the wild. High denomination notes are easy to break. Even in the smelliest of provincial markets, traders will not flinch at the sight of a USD100 bill, just look for traders with glass cabinets filled with money (they're advertising a service rather than showing off).

The Cambodian Central Bank maintains the riel at around 3,800-4,200 riel to the dollar. In day-to-day commerce, 4,000 riel per dollar is ubiquitous. So USD1.50 is one dollar plus 2,000 riel or 6,000 riel. Riel notes go as high as 100,000 riel (USD25) but 10,000 riel (USD2.50) is the highest denomination that is commonly encountered. Riel only have value outside Cambodia as souvenirs. No one will exchange them.

Near the Thai border (for example Battambang, Koh Kong, and Poipet) Thai baht is commonly used but the locals use a hopelessly unfavourable 40 baht to the dollar as a rule of thumb. Try to change any baht rather than spend them as banks and money changers will give you USD1 at a cost of about 30 baht. Baht and euros can easily be exchanged in any city. Shop around if a good rate is important to you: sometimes the banks are best, sometimes the market traders.

Torn or old foreign currency notes may be difficult to exchange, except USD1 bills which change hands often. Cambodia banks will refuse USD2 bills and notes without the security strip. Refusing imperfect notes is normal, traders may try to take advantage of tourists' naivete and try to palm off dud notes. Just smile and hand them back.

Banks sometimes operate as Western Union money transfer agents.

Cards

ATMs are spreading far beyond the main cities. They are generally compatible with Maestro, Cirrus, Plus, and VISA cards. Cash advances on credit cards may also be possible.

VISA and JCB are the most widely accepted credit cards; MasterCard and American Express cards are slowly becoming more widely accepted.

ATMs dispense USD in varying denominations from 10-100. If you receive bills in poor condition (especially USD50 or USD100) from an ATM attached directly to a bank try to change them there immediately as they may be difficult to change later.

Cambodian ATMs only accept 4-digit PINs. If your PIN is more than 4 digits, best to take care of that at home before you need cash and find yourself out of luck.

Traveller's cheques

Traveller's cheques, like credit cards, are accepted in major business establishments, such as large hotels, some restaurants, travel agencies and some souvenir shops; American Express (in USD) are the most widely accepted. However, competitive rates are only usually found in banks in Cambodia's larger cities (guesthouses in heavily visited areas may offer similar services but at horrendous rates). The usual fee for cashing traveller's cheques is 2% and USD2 minimum.

Shopping

When shopping be sure to look for businesses that display the Heritage Friendly Business logo. Heritage Watch has launched a campaign that aims to encourage support for Cambodia's arts, culture, heritage and development. Businesses that are giving back to the community are certified as Heritage Friendly by the independent organization and permitted to display either a gold or silver Heritage Friendly logo. Look for the logo to ensure that you are supporting socially responsible corporate citizens!

Haggling

You can get away with pretty much haggling for anything in Cambodia. Restaurants, outdoor food stalls, even rates for guesthouses. The Khmer are notoriously quiet up to a point of no return. They do not lose face, they lose their temper. However, there are a few guidelines:

  • Many products, especially those not aimed at tourists, are fixed price, and while it is possible to get a minor discount if you ask, you cannot get things significantly cheaper than this. Many markets have the prices of goods painted on the walls (in Khmer).
  • In Cambodia where dining out isn't really common among local people, restaurants cater almost entirely for foreigners and tend to be a little bit more expensive than neighbouring countries. However in Siem Reap, it is, sometimes if not always, possible to haggle with street food vendors over the portion of a dish, free side dish, and get 20-30% discount.
  • The US dollar is widely used in Cambodia but no circulation of coins will end up giving you a lot of Cambodian riels when the price you pay is not an integer. This gives a chance for short-changing, which is particularly popular in several grocery stores in Siem Reap. For example, you give USD1 for buying a bottle of water which is USD0.60, the staff should return the amount of riel equivalent to USD0.40, but they may keep some of them. The money cheated is usually minimal. Just be smart at mental arithmetic.
  • Haggle in groups. Having two other friends will make it much easier to convince Cambodians to give a discount: one person can play bad cop, the other good cop.
  • Ask to speak with the manager/owner (this applies to guesthouse and restaurants). Usually if you try to haggle at a restaurant or guesthouse the employee will say that the boss needs to be there. If so, then just ask to speak with him or ask the employee to speak with him. You would be surprised at how easy it is to haggle down once you speak to the boss, many times he doesn't even want to be bothered and will give the discount to you.
  • Never pay the asking price for anything near the temples of Angkor. This includes books, souvenirs, paintings, water and food. During the off-season, the food stalls near the temples will have a separate menu, ask for it. You can even bargain on top of that too! Note that it's much harder to bargain at the food stalls at Angkor Wat and especially at the breakfast restaurants across the street from Angkor Wat.
  • Try not to haggle too harshly with the motobike drivers and tuk-tuks that work near where you stay. Most are honest, but they will look after your safety more if you are seen as a good customer. Some will decide they will get the money from you another way, and could take you to be mugged. Agree upon the fare before your ride or you may get into a very uncomfortable situation.
  • If haggling isn't your strong point the easiest way to get a good price at a market is to pick up an item, ask how much it is, look disappointed and start to walk away. The price will usually drop as you walk away with vendors unlikely to go below this second price.

Siem Reap is the easiest place to bargain, Phnom Penh may be a little harder, but still worth trying. Just be polite and persistent.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Cambodia on Wikivoyage.

Cities in Cambodia

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The town of Siem Reap, in northern Cambodia, is the primary access point for the Angkor Archaeological Park.

Interesting places:

  • Angkor Wat
  • Elephant Terraces
  • Angkor Bayon
  • Angkor Baphuon
  • Angkor Temples
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Phnom Penh, at the confluence of the Mekong and the Tonle Sap Rivers, is the capital of Cambodia and its largest city.

Interesting places:

  • Royal Palace
  • Silver Pagoda
  • Riverfront Park
  • Kandal Market
  • Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument
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Sihanoukville , formerly Kompong Som and familiarly just Snookyville or even Snooky is a seaside town featuring Cambodia's best-known beaches.

Interesting places:

  • Victory Beach
  • Ochheutel Beach
  • Sokha Beach
  • Independence Beach
  • Bamboo Island
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Battambang is Cambodia's second most populous city, and a popular tourist destination due to the many nearby ancient temples, Buddhist shrines and the infamous bamboo railway. It is also the capital of Battambang Province.

Interesting places:

  • Phnom Sampeau
  • Ek Phnom Temple
  • University of Battambang
  • Battambang Museum

Kep

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Kep is a seaside resort area in Cambodia and includes the small town of the same name which is the capital of Kep Province.

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Kampot is a small town (pop.~40,000) in southeast Cambodia and capital of the province of the same name. It is a gateway to Bokor National Park

Interesting places:

  • Bokor National Park
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Koh Kong is the capital of Koh Kong Province in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains. It is 8 km from Cham Yeam, which is connected by Cambodia's southernmost Thai border crossing to the Thai town of Hat Lek.

Interesting places:

  • Tatai Waterfall
  • Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Koh Kong Beach
  • Dong Tong Market
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Tatai is in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains, near the town of Koh Kong.

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Kratie is a tiny town in northeastern Cambodia. Despite its small size, it is the capital of the province of the same name.

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Kampong Cham is the seventh largest city in Cambodia and the capital of the province of the same name.

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Poipet hosts Cambodia's main border crossing with Thailand, which links northwest Cambodia to Aranyaprathet, and hence Bangkok. Cross-border activity has made the town grow to be larger than its provincial capital, Sisophon. Poipet is on the fully paved National Hwy 5 which runs to Sisophon and then further ... (read more)

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Interesting places:

  • Virachey National Park
panoramio Photos are copyrighted by their owners

Points of Interest in Cambodia

  • Visit the temples of Angkor near Siem Reap
  • Go on a boat party in Phnom Penh
  • Go hiking in Bokor National Park
  • See endangered river dolphins in Kratie
  • Boat through to the floating village and have lunch aboard the floating restaurant near Siem Reap
  • Learn about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek Memorial (The Killing Fields)

Royal Palace - Phnom Penh

Angkor Wat - Siem Reap

Victory Beach - Sihanoukville

Bokor National Park - Kampot

Phnom Sampeau - Battambang

Saracen Beach - Koh Rong Sanloem

Elephant Terraces - Siem Reap

Angkor Bayon - Siem Reap

Silver Pagoda - Phnom Penh

Angkor Baphuon - Siem Reap

Riverfront Park - Phnom Penh

Kandal Market - Phnom Penh

Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument - Phnom Penh

Angkor Temples - Siem Reap

Pub Street - Siem Reap

Central Market - Phnom Penh

Phnom Bakheng - Siem Reap

Wat Phnom - Phnom Penh

Wat Preah Prom Rath - Siem Reap

National Museum of Cambodia - Phnom Penh

panoramio Photos are copyrighted by their owners
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