Swakum ! Visit Cambodia
A trip to Cambodia allows you to discover a fascinating country that has lost none of its legendary smile and hospitality.
You can visit the capital, Phnom Penh, considered the most pleasant city of the French Indochine era, Angkor, with its famous temples , a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Siam Reap, authentic and colonial.
For those who like to discover a country in-depth, travel down the Mekong - or better yet, take the route of Tonié Sap lake, the "mother of Cambodia," to discover its floating fishing villages.
181,035 square kilometers
Humid semi-tropical with monsoons
Cambodia is bordered by Vietnam to the east and Thailand to the west. It has a small maritime coast. The backbone of the country is the Mekong river, the most important waterway of Indochina. Along its banks, and in the Mekong valley, civilizations and capitals were built whose architectural remains are still admired today.
Over time, floods from the Mekong and Lake Tonle Sap created extremely fertile lands in central Cambodia, where the majority of the population lives. Moreover, Lake Tonle Sap is one of the richest sources of freshwater fish in the world. There are three mountain massifs in Cambodia: in the southwest, along the Thai border, and at the northeastern tip. The land was long covered by thick forests. Today these have been decimated by clear cutting.
The climate is semi-tropical, hot and humid. Sunny year round, Cambodia is a pleasant destination in any season. Temperatures vary from 20° C in January, the coolest month, to 35° C in April, the hottest month.
What to see
Phnom Penh has made great strides since the ordeals of the last century. It is Cambodia’s capital and a must-see destination if you wish to understand the hardy, warm and sophisticated spirits of the builders of Angkor. Siem Reap is the access point to the mythical site of Angkor with its fantastic stone carvings: monumental temples in pyramids or lacy aged sandstone, mysterious sanctuaries hidden in a screen of emerald jungle, carved waterfalls and superb doorways adorned with bas-reliefs… countless archeological wonders that you will discover little by little, from the mythical jewel of Angkor Wat to the hidden ruins of Beng Mealea.
Beyond Angkor lie the peaceful charm of the Siem Reap markets, workshop schools that carry on traditional artisanal skills, and the submerged forest and lake villages of Tonle Sap.
In central Cambodia discover the beginnings of Angkoran art in Kompong Thom and the colonial ruins of Kompong Cham.
Population - Language
There are about 11.5 million people in Cambodia, 85% of whom still live in rural areas. The Khmer predominate (90%) but there are also Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cham populations. Khmer is the primary language but Chinese, Vietnamese, English and French are also spoken.
Local culture suffered under the Khmer Rouge. Statues, musical instruments and books - anything that was a reminder of the past they were trying to wipe out - were destroyed. Since the 1990s there has been a slow rebirth of traditional culture. The Royal Cambodian Ballet recalls, more than any other art form, the past glories of Angkor. The mask theater (lkhaon khaol) has made a reappearance. Music provides an accompaniment to all religious rites. Traditional musical ensembles include areak ka, heard at weddings and made up of a three string violin (tro khmae), a curved one-string instrument called a khsae muoy and percussion (skor areak.) Cinema has almost disappeared, though films by Rithy Panh give hope that this art form is being renewed as well.
It is in sculpture and architecture that Cambodian artistic creativity expressed itself best, particularly in the great collection of buildings around Angkor. Each “god-king” wanted to build one or more temples, so that there are almost 1000 temples of every shape over an area of 1000 square kilometers.
Theravada Buddhism accounts for 95% of religious practice in Cambodia. There are a handful of Christians (the legacy of the French protectorate) and some Muslims (Chams from Vietnam). Animist religions are found in the rural regions among ethnic minorities. Hinduism, once the dominant religion during the Angkorian era, has disappeared.
Customs and Traditions
Cambodians greet each other by a sompiah, a bow from the waist with the hands joined. The deeper the bow and the higher the hands, the greater the respect. Western-style handshakes have become more common in recent years, but kissing is not done. As everywhere in Asia, small gifts, symbols of gratitude, are appreciated from guests. They should always be offered with the right hand. Don’t forget to remove your shoes before entering a Khmer house. When visiting pagodas, dress appropriately: avoid shorts and sleeveless T-shirts.
Here are a few rules of Asian etiquette: it is very impolite to gesture to someone with your foot, which is considered impure. Conversely, since the head is considered to be the most sacred part, you must not touch it (not even caress a baby’s head.) Elders must always be treated with deference and respect. Do not shock the modest Cambodians by overly-revealing clothing (short skirts, low cut tops, etc.) even if it is very warm. At table, don’t put your hands in contact with your mouth: use your chopsticks. When you are served by someone (food or drink) do the same for him. Finally, haggling for purchases is always welcomed, and is considered a social rite as much as a commercial negotiation.
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