The Kingdom of Cambodia is a small nation bordered by Thailand to the West, Laos to the North, Vietnam to the East and a coastline on the Gulf of Thailand in the South. For such a small nation, Cambodia packs a punch; from the awe inspiring wonders of the Angkor Temple Complex, ecotourism adventures in the vast wilderness of the Cardamom Mountains, to pristine islands off the coast of its palm fringed coastline. The countries story is both inspiring and depressing, one of fascinating ancient empires as well as unbearably tragic recent history. But rising above it all is Cambodia’s true treasure, its people, whose irresistible friendliness and infectious optimism will leave any visitor with a sense of affection and admiration for this resilient nation.
The last two decades of reconciliation and recovery has seen Cambodia emerge as one of Asia’s fastest growing economies. Foreign visitors have been warmly welcome leading to a steady growth in tourism, a major pillar of the country’s economic development.
Dating back to 801 AD, the powerful Hindu-Buddhist Khmer Empire ruled over Cambodia and most of mainland South East Asia for over five centuries. Its greatest achievement was the capital of Angkor a city of unrivalled scale and opulence, the largest urban center in the world during its peak in the 11th to 13th Century. The golden age of Khmer rule led to significant influences in art, culture and architectural technique, a proud legacy that lives on in the ruins of the city today. But as always empire rise and fall, and fortunes turned when the Khmer Empire began to crumble in the 15th Century. For the next four hundred years, as the Khmer declined, emerging rivals in Siam and Vietnam carved up the territories of this once unstoppable civilization.
In the 19th Century, Cambodia became a part of French Indochina, a federation of French colonies and protectorates in Southeast Asia. In 1953, the country declared independence but internal conflict and a civil war followed leading to the rise of the Communist Khmer Rouge Regime. During its rule between 1975 and 1979, the regime attempted radical social reforms and was responsible for the deaths of millions of Cambodians through forced labor and genocide. The senseless cruelty of the Khmer Rouge left the country devastated; a whole generation had been lost, and its economy, infrastructure, and cultural heritage left in ruins. In 1978, a Vietnamese invasion followed by two decades of fighting drove the Khmer Rouge out, and then, in 1993, UN-sponsored elections helped restore some level of normalcy.
A coalition government, formed after national elections in 1998, brought renewed political stability and the surrender of remaining Khmer Rouge forces in 1998.
The last two decades of reconciliation and recovery has seen Cambodia emerge as one of Asia’s fastest growing economies. Foreign visitors have been warmly welcome leading to a steady growth in tourism, a major pillar of the country’s economic development. Cambodia still bears the scars of its tragic past and daunting challenges remain, but the resilience and sheer optimism of its people has prevailed and now its young population looks hopefully towards the future.
The crown jewel of Cambodia’s Khmer Civilization, the ancient capital of Angkor, is a sight that no visitor to the country can miss. The ancient mega city flourished from the 9th to the 15th century and its peak may have been inhabited by up to a million people. Today, the vast ruins of this once powerful empire remain; thousands of temples showcasing the ingenuity and beauty of Khmer architecture still stand scattered amid jungles and farmland. The culmination of the Khmer empires greatness is embodied in the world’s largest religious structure, the iconic, Angkor Wat. The extravagant beauty of this ancient marvel will inspire awe in even the most jaded traveler. The lively town of Siem Reap acts as a gateway to the ancient city, and there’s plenty to do here. From chic cafes to thriving art galleries, Siem Reap is the embodiment of modern Cambodia, and a remarkable contrast to the temples of Angkor.
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Most journeys to Cambodia will begin in Phnom Penh, the hectic yet endlessly charming capital city, where rapid change is in the air and the countries past, present and future collide. Situated on a gorgeous riverside setting on confluence of the mighty Mekong and the Tonle Sap rivers, Phnom Phen is a where leafy boulevards and colonial architecture mix with gilded temples and bustling markets. In the past decade, the city has risen from the ashes of its tragic past and revitalized itself; now a cultural renaissance of sorts is underway with an increasing number of world class restaurants, sophisticated bars and a thriving art scene showcasing the perseverance and optimism of the countries new generation. But the countries tragic past still looms large and glimpses of this dark time can be witnessed at memorial sights like the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and the Tuol Seng Genocide Museum.
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