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.
Cambodia’s landscape is characterized by a low-lying central plain that is surrounded by uplands and low mountains and includes the Tonle Sap which is the country’s Great Lake and the upper reaches of the Mekong River delta. Extending outward from this central region are transitional plains, thinly forested and rising to elevations of about 650 feet (200 meters) above sea level.
The most distinctive geographical feature is the inundations of the Tonle Sap, measuring about 2,590 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) during the dry season and expanding to about 24,605 square kilometers (9,500 square miles) during the rainy season. This densely populated plain, which is devoted to wet rice cultivation, is the heartland of Cambodia. Much of this area has been designated as a biosphere reserve.
Historically, Cambodia has had a pretty bad run of luck for the last half-millennium or so. Ever since the fall of Angkor in 1431, the once mighty Khmer Empire has been plundered by its neighbors. Then in the early 19th century, It was colonized by the French. And during the 1970s the country suffered heavy carpet bombing by the USA. After a false dawn of independence in 1953, Cambodia promptly plunged back into the horrors of civil war in 1970 to suffer the Khmer Rouge’s incredibly brutal reign of terror, and only after UN-sponsored elections in 1993 did the country begin to totter back onto its feet.
Although the security situation has improved immeasurably, increasing numbers of visitors are rediscovering Cambodia’s temples and beaches. Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor, now sports luxury hotels, chic nightspots, and ATMs while Sihanoukville is getting good press as an up-and-coming beach destination with water sports such as fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. kayaking and stand-up paddling are also becoming popular.
The tourism industry is the country’s second-greatest source of hard currency after the textile industry. International visitor arrivals in 2018 topped six million, a ten-fold increase since the beginning of the 21st century. Tourism employs 26% of the country’s workforce, which translates into roughly 2.5 million jobs for Cambodians.
Cambodia cuisine contains tropical fruits, soups, and noodles. Key ingredients are kaffir lime, lemon grass, garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce, tamarind, ginger, oyster sauce, coconut milk, and Kampot black pepper. The pepper is reputed to be the best in the world.
French influence on Cambodian cuisine includes the Cambodian red curry with toasted baguette bread. Cambodian cuisine is relatively unknown to the world compared to that of its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam.
Even still today, Cambodia is busy cleaning and picking up the broken pieces of its country. Although, the situation of security has improved immeasurably, and increasing numbers of visitors are rediscovering Cambodia’s temples and beaches. Guidebooks still talk of walls pockmarked by bullets, but any signs of war are becoming hard to spot.