|Cambodia is bordered by Thailand and Laos on the north and Vietnam on the east and south. The Gulf of Thailand is off the western coast. Cambodia chiefly of a large alluvial plain ringed by mountains and on the east is the Mekong River. The plain is centered around Lake Tonle Sap, which is a natural storage basin of the Mekong.
By the 12th century, Cambodia had spread into other areas, now known as Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia. There is actually still evidence of Khmer inhabitance in Thailand and Laos to this day.
The 13th and 14th centuries were not as successful for Cambodia, some believe it was due to the increased power of Thai kingdoms that had at one time paid homage to Angkor. Others believe it was due to the induction of Theravada Buddhism, which was totally contrary to the Cambodian societal structure at that time. After this time historical records are rather sketchy at best regarding Cambodia and it is considered the "Dark Ages" of Cambodian history.
Cambodia was ravaged by Vietnamese and Thai invasions and wars up until the 19th century, when new dynasties in these countries fought over control of Cambodia. The war, that began in the 1830's almost destroyed Cambodia. King Norodom signed a treaty that enabled the French to be a protectorate, thus effectively stopping the Viet-Thai war within. For the next 90 years, France in essence ruled over Cambodia.
In 1953, Cambodia managed to gain their independence in spite of World War II and the First Indochina War. Their independence was obtained through the political savvy of King Sihanouk. Wanting to be released from the pressures of the monarchy, Sihanouk abdicated the throne and became a full time politician.
In 1960, when his father died he was named head of state (up until then he'd been the prime minister). Although he had remained neutral in a struggle between the US and USSR regarding tensions in Vietnam, he changed his position in 1965 and eliminated diplomatic relations with the US.
While Sihanouk was abroad in 1970, he was ousted from power and fled to China. General Lon Nol, the prime minister, had hoped for US aid, but the US was occupied with Vietnamese troubles and didn't help. In the meantime, since his army was ill-equipped, they couldn't stop an invasion by the South Vietnamese, searching for North Vietnamese.
During Pol Pot's (Khmer Rouge's) regime over twenty percent of Cambodia's population was murdered. The Khmer Rouge's plan to attack Vietnam and other areas backfired when the Vietnamese surprised Cambodia. They were accompanied by Cambodian Communist rebels and managed to invade Phnom Penh, which had been vacated by the Khmer Rouge the day before. The Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot among them, fled to the Thai-Cambodian border, where they were given asylum by the Thai government, which was unfriendly to Vietnam. The Vietnamese established a regime in Cambodia.
By the end of 1989, the Cold War had ended which had the Vietnamese exiting Cambodia. Without financial support from the Soviets, the Vietnamese couldn't keep their troops in the country.
In 1991, the UN, Cambodia, and other interested parties came to an agreement to end the Cambodian conflict. The agreement in Paris and the UN protectorate started competitive politics in Cambodia. In May 1993, UNTAC sponsored an election for the national assembly, which ended up ousting the military regime. A name change for the country was in order, so in 1993 Cambodia became known as the Kingdom of Cambodia. Things are stabilizing in Cambodia, but not without the help and support of foreign aid. With the outside world's interest waning, it's help is steadily decreasing, hich is discouraging any hopes for economic advancement and democracy.
Though abolished during the Pol Pot regime the official religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is also practiced in Laos, Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. Theravada Buddhism was introduced to Cambodia in the 12th Century by King Jayavarman VII, where it replaced Hinduism. Much of this is in evidence at Angkor Wat where Buddhist statues sit atop Hindu Plinths.
Religious traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism are reflected Cambodia's art and culture, wherein stone temples. Cambodian dances are symbolized by women, dressed in brightly colored costumes with elaborate headdresses and are usually slow, accompanied with graceful movements. The music is created with the help of drums, gongs, and bamboo xylophones.
The Cambodian language, Khmer, is part of the Mon-Khmer family and has its origins in Sanskrit and Pali. It is spoken all over the country except in some tribal areas where local indigenous languages are used. In larger towns and cities English is spoken by an increasing number of educated people. French is spoken by some of the older members of society and Chinese by many of the business people. All facilities catering to tourists employ English-speaking staff who more often than not speak several other local and international languages including German, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and even Russian.
Most of the population is made up of ethnic Cambodians or Khmer and the remaining 5% consists of people having Vietnamese origin and 1% of Chinese. The remaining 4% is made up of semi-nomadic tribal groups. The official language is Khmer, or Cambodian. Around eighty percent of the people live in rural areas.