Crammed with culture, history, and stunning scenery, Cambodia is a beautiful country with a tragic past. In this article we look at the country’s history, cuisine, and climate, identifying some of country’s outstanding attractions, including Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument.
The Khmer Empire was founded in the early 9th century. A series of powerful Hindu sovereigns reigned over the civilization until the 11th century, when a new dynasty introduced the Khmer people to Buddhism. By the mid-15th century, Hindu cults were no longer dominant in the region. However, the ancient monuments at Angkor Wat, which were dedicated to Hindu deities, retained their importance as spiritual centers.
Cambodia enjoyed great prosperity throughout the 16th century. Over the years, the Khmer Empire was invaded several times by neighboring countries as rising powers came to recognize the strategic importance of unseating the Khmer and assuming control of the lower Mekong basin.
By the 19th century, European colonial powers were arriving in droves. In 1863, King Norodom of Cambodia signed an accord with the French, effectively placing the nation under the protection of France, but leaving Cambodian sovereignty intact. In reality, the powers of the French grew over time, until King Norodom’s authority ceased to exist beyond the palace walls.
Norodom was succeeded by Sisowath, and then Monivong, both of whom acquiesced to French rule. Following Monivong’s death in 1941, King Sihanouk ascended to the throne. Sihanouk went on to lead a royal crusade for independence, finally ousting the French.
Sihanouk himself was ousted from power in 1970, when a military coup triggered the Cambodian Civil War. The nation underwent rapid, radical social transformation, with markets, money, and private property outlawed, and schools, offices, shops, and monasteries closed as the country transitioned to communism.
Pol Pot rose to power in 1976. Adopting Maoist principles, Pol Pot mobilized Cambodia’s population as an unpaid labor force, seeking to double rice yields. By 1979, 1.5 million people—equating to 1 in 5 Cambodians—had died from starvation, overwork, disease, or execution.
Associated with tragic conflict for decades, Cambodia has enjoyed peace for more than 25 years now, benefitting from billions of dollars of investment in development and restructuring. With its picture-postcard beaches, lively cities, and astounding archaeological sites, Cambodia has earned an international reputation as an up-and-coming tourist destination.
Cambodia has numerous attractions and destinations to keep visitors fascinated entertained. Sihanoukville’s tropical shoreline is popular with beachgoers, while the outback regions of Ratanakiri, with its red-dirt roads and ethnic minority villages, lure intrepid travelers from all over the world.
The country’s vibrant capital, Phnom Penh, is also popular with travelers. Its Royal Palace is full of historical treasures, including the Emerald Buddha, a priceless jeweled statue. It is also the home of the Maitrey Buddha, a relic encrusted with more than 2,000 diamonds.
Angkor Archaeological Park is one of the world’s most impressive—and well-known—ancient sites. Built between 802 and 1432 CE, Angkor Wat was once the home of the Khmer kings. During medieval times, it was the largest city in the world. Deep within the Cambodian jungle, Angkor is home to exquisite reliefs and ancient sandstone relics.
Covering approximately 400 acres, the site is the world’s largest religious monument. The main site was originally constructed in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu. Buddhists began using the temple for religious practices during the 12th century.
The ancient monumental temple complex of Prasat Preah Vihear, originally built in honor of the Hindu God Shiva, offers dizzying views across the surrounding floodplains, while the sleepy city of Battambang is an excellent base for exploring the nearby temples of Phnom Banan, Wat Ek Phnom, and Phnom Sampeau.
Influenced by a variety of other cultures over the centuries, Cambodian cuisine is a mouthwatering fusion of aromatics and spice.
Fish amok is the country’s national dish: a creamy fish curry flavored with shallots, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and coconut milk, steamed in a banana leaf.
Other highlights include kuy teav, a pork or beef noodle soup made with bean sprouts, shallots, green onion, garlic, chili, lime, and fresh herbs. Chicken and banana flower salad is a refreshing, light dish—the perfect antidote to the midday heat.
For the more adventurous, grilled frog, tarantula, and scorpions on sticks are also regional delicacies.
Cambodia has a tropical climate with warm temperatures year-round. With dryer weather and lower humidity, December and January are the best months to visit, although visitors should expect higher prices and larger crowds at this time.
From February onwards, temperatures start to rise, peaking at 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in April, and remaining high throughout May and June. The southwest monsoon season starts in May, bringing more humidity, with the most rain falling during the months of September and October. Travel is generally comfortable even during the monsoon months, except in remote regions with poor infrastructure.