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Cambodia and Khmer Culture

Situated between Thailand and Vietnam, but also sharing a land border with Laos in mainland Southeast Asia, Cambodia, or the Kingdom of Wonder’s central region lies within the flood plains of the Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake. The two meet at Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital where the river then divides and flows on through Vietnam to the South China Sea. Composed of 20 provinces, 2 municipalities, 172 districts and 435km of coastline Cambodia has, over the last 20 years become one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Cambodia’s year-round tropical climate and hot weather makes it a popular destination with tourists. Phnom Penh, previously known as The Pearl of Asia, has a population of over 2 million. Packed with historical architecture and attractions it brings in over 6 million tourists each year. This figure up from just 300,000 twenty years ago really gives an insight into the changes the country has seen. Projections suggest this figure will double again by 2025 to 12 million, prompting the construction of new airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap alongside major improvements to Sihanoukville airport.  

With a rich, vibrant and varied history dating back many centuries, Cambodian culture has developed with heavy influence from India, Buddhism and Hinduism. Indian culture and language arrived in South East Asia in around the 1st century AD and over the course of 2 millennia, developed within the region taking influence also from the indigenous Khmer beliefs into a fantastically spiritual and peaceful existence.

Many temples from the Angkor period remain throughout Cambodia. In this time, between the 9th and 14th century Cambodia was the dominant force throughout inland Southeast Asia. The powerful empire greatly influenced neighbouring countries Thailand, Vietnam and Laos which are also littered with Angkorian temples and display traits of Angkorian culture and characteristics to this day.

Through modern rural Cambodia, Khmer houses are often raised as high as 3 meters on stilts keeping them protected from the annual floods. Steep thatched roofs that overhang walls protect the interior from the rains. Rooms are often separated by woven bamboo partitions and families and neighbours usually work together on the construction of the houses, holding house-raising ceremonies upon their completion.

Khmer cuisine doesn’t have the reputation of Thai but an array of diverse dishes, usually passed down through generations, stand their own ground in comparison to neighbouring Southeast Asian culinary competition. With massive variations of texture and flavour using many sauces, herbs, pickled vegetables and condiments there’s plenty on offer. As with the majority of the continent, the dishes are usually served with rice but the fresh vegetables, local fish and seasonal herbs really make the Cambodian cuisine stand out.

The tourism figures alone stand as a major indicator for the success of Cambodia over the last 20 years. As more tourists arrive, the benefits of the boom are seen up and down the country, from improvements on road, rail and infrastructure, to the new airports and sea ports being built to handle the masses moving through the region. With expectations of the tourism figure to double again, within just the capital alone, there has never been a better time to invest in Cambodia.     

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