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Cambodia

Cambodia history, language and culture

Little is known of the early history of Cambodia, although there is evidence of habitation in parts of the country as far back as 4000BC. It is also known that Chinese and Indian traders exchanged goods with people living on the coasts of present-day Cambodia and Vietnam in the early AD centuries.

According to Chinese chroniclers, a kingdom known as 'Funan' flourished between AD300–600. A dynasty founded by the prince Jayavarman – possibly descended from the rulers of Funan – ruled from settlements in the eastern part of the country between around AD790 and the 11th century. Cambodian power spread westwards during this period into parts of Thailand.

The golden era of the Khmer dynasty, from the 9th to the 15th centuries, made the kingdom of Kambuja (from where modern-day Cambodia gets its name) one of the most powerful in Asia. A long period of decline followed, before the country fell under French colonial clutches in the 1800s.

Independence was finally achieved in 1953, after which Norodom Sihanouk was appointed king. His first reign lasted until the 1970s, when a coup d’etat and the Khmer Rouge led to years of repression and the execution of tens of thousands. Following a period of Vietnamese occupation, Sihanouk returned to the throne in 1993. His son, the current monarch, took over following his father’s abdication in 2004. Politically, Hun Sen and the extreme-left Cambodian People’s Party have been in power since a disputed election in 1998.

Cambodia culture

Religion: 
95% Buddhist (Theravada), the remainder Muslim and Christian. Buddhism was reinstated as the national religion in 1989 after a ban on religious activity in 1975.

Social conventions: 
Sensitivity to politically-related subjects in conversation is advisable. Avoid pointing your foot at a person or touching someone on the head. Women should keep their shoulders covered and not wear shorts when visiting pagodas.

Photography: Permitted, with certain restrictions such as the photography of military installations, airports and railway stations. It is considered polite to ask permission before photographing Cambodian people, especially monks.

Language in Cambodia

Khmer is the official language and spoken by 95% of the population. Chinese and Vietnamese are also spoken. French was widely spoken until the arrival of the Pol Pot regime and is still taught in schools, although English is now similarly popular among younger generations.

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