Cambodia country profile: Cambodia

Country size:
Cambodia consists of a land mass between Thailand and Vietnam in Southeast Asia encompassing 181,035 sq. km (69,898 sq. miles). That ranks them no. 91 in the world for land mass, smaller than Syria but bigger than Uruguay.

Capital City:
Phnom Penh is the capital city in Cambodia and by far the largest, serving as the epicenter for government, population, business, international dealings, and arts and culture even more than any other capital city in southeast Asia. Phnom Penh, (or just ‘PP’ as you’ll hear it called) has an estimated population of 1.5 million, although its greater metro population is probably much bigger.

Per the 2016 census, it’s estimated that there are approximately 15,762,000 citizens and residents of the country, which would make it the 65th most populous country in the world. Population density is only 81.8 people per square kilometer, which is relatively spacious for southeast Asia and ranks 118th in the world.

Khmer is the official language (and also what the people and culture are called), but English is spoken to a smaller extent for business and when dealing with tourists, and a small number of people may speak French. However, it’s important to note that many French-speaking people were wiped out during the Cambodian genocide just because they were educated.

Cambodia’s governmental and political process is complex. On paper, they are a Unitarydominant-partyparliamentaryelectiveconstitutional monarchy. Say that ten times fast!

But in practice, all power sits with Hun Sen, their Prime Minister who was basically installed when the United Nations interjected in the early 1990s to set up “fair” elections and stabilize the country.

In fact, Hun Sen is the longest-ruling dictator err politician in all of Southeast Asia. Even though Cambodia has a free and open democracy on face value, Sen has resisted the political process, even jailing or allegedly assassinating his opponents.

Cambodia also has a king and a royal family, although King Norodom Sihamoni is a mostly ceremonial figurehead.

Ethnic groups:
Cambodia is almost entirely made up of 97.6% Khmer (traditional Cambodian) people, although there are 1.2% Chams ethnic groups, and Vietnamese and Chinese influences.

The predominant religion in Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism, and it’s a faith that you’ll see practiced in many aspects of daily Cambodian life. Some cities also have a small but significant Muslim population (and Muslim area of town), and some Christian churches are present, too.

Cambodia’s modern history has been one of desperate poverty, and it’s still one of the poorest countries in Asia. In fact, their total nominal GDP is estimated at less than $21 billion, with a per capita income of $1,308.

Many people survive through sustenance farming or fishing, although garment making and cheap manufacturing jobs are also prevalent. Some of the best jobs in the country are in the tourism industry, which is rapidly expanding.

Their unit of money is the Riel (KHR).

Drives on the:
Right-hand side of the road, although driving is so chaotic that they’re often on the wrong side!

Calling code

A dark and bloody modern history:
The Khmer Empire and Angkor civilization from the 9th to 13th centuries was one of the richest and most powerful in all of Asia at the time, and the remnants like Angkor Wat (a UNESCO world heritage site and the largest religious monument in the world) are living reminders of that history.

Cambodia succumbed to French colonization in 1863 to avoid Thai invasion, and the culture grew under French influence. However, in 1975, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge communist forces undertook a campaign of torture, murder, and starving and working people to death en masse. IN fact, nearly 2 million people – about ¼ of Cambodia’s population at the time, were killed during the 3 year Khmer Rouge regime, until Vietnamese forces liberated the country in 1978. Still, it was one of the most chaotic and lawless nations in the world for almost two decades until the United Nations interceded.