Cambodia Country Info

Cambodia shares borders in the north with Laos and Thailand, in the east with Vietnam and in the southwest with the Gulf of Thailand. Since the ousting of the Pol Pot regime, many aspects of Khmer cultural life have revived. The famed National Ballet has been re-established by the surviving dancers and performs classical dances for visiting groups. Buddhist temples, such as Preah Vihear, close to the border with Thailand in the Dongrak mountains, have re-opened and are the sites of various celebrations, especially during Cambodian New Year.

Restaurants and other businesses abound in Phnom Penh, although the city remains poor. Food stalls are also common in Phnom Penh and can usually be found in and around the Central Market, O Ressei Market and Tuol Tom Pong Market.

The major hotels offer entertainment and, sometimes, local dance performances. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club (open to all) is an interesting bar/restaurant and often hosts talks.

Facts at a Glance

AREA: 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq miles).

POPULATION: 11,626,520 (1999).

POPULATION DENSITY: 54.3 per sq km.

CAPITAL: Phnom Penh. Population: 900,000 (1991).

GOVERNMENT: Constitutional monarchy since 1993. Head of State: King Norodom Sihanouk since 1993. Head of Government: Prime Minister Hun Sen since 1998.

LANGUAGE: 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 now spoken only by those of the old generation. English is now a more popular language to learn among the younger generation.

RELIGION: 95% Buddhist (Theravada), the remainder Muslim and Christian. Buddhism was reinstated as the national religion in the late 1980s after a ban on religious activity in 1975.

TIME: GMT + 7.

ELECTRICITY: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Power cuts are frequent. Outside Phnom Penh, electrical power is available only in the evenings from around 1830-2130.

COMMUNICATIONS: Telephone: IDD is available to and from Cambodia. Country code: 855. Phnom Penh code: 23. Fax: Service is available. Post: Airmail to Europe takes four to five days, and to the USA one week to ten days. The Post & Telephone Office (PTT) in Phnom Penh is located across from the Hotel Monorom at the corner of Achar Mean Boulevard and 126 Street and is open 0700-1200 and 1300-2300. The main post office in Phnom Penh is located on the western side of 13 Street between 98 Street and 102 Street, open 0630-2100. General post office hours: 0730-1200 and 1430-1700 Monday to Friday in Phnom Penh. Press: The Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia Daily and Cambodia Times are printed in English.


Much of Cambodia’s geography is dominated by large central plains (covering about three-fourths of the total land area) and by the Mekong River, which flows southward through the eastern part of the country. The low-lying, fertile, alluvial central plains surround the lake Tonle Sap, which is drained eastward by the Sab River to the Mekong River. Rimming the central plains on the northeast and east are the eastern highlands (average elevation 1,200 feet [360 m] above sea level); on the north are the Dangrek (Khmer: D?ngr?k) Mountains (average elevation 1,600 feet [490 m]); and on the southwest are the remote and largely uninhabited Kr?vanh (Cardamom) Mountains and the D?mrei (Elephant) Mountains. The Mekong drains the greater part of Cambodia and flows for approximately 315 miles (505 km) within the country. The annual floods of the Mekong deposit rich alluvial sediments on its extensive banks and provide natural irrigation to numerous rice paddies.

Cambodia has a tropical monsoonal climate with average temperatures from 82?-83? F (28? C) in January to 95? F (35? C) in April. Annual rainfall (mostly from the southwest monsoon) varies from up to 200 inches (5,000 mm) on the southwestern mountain slopes to 55 inches (1,400 mm) in the central plains. The climate is favourable for natural vegetation, and about three-fourths of Cambodia’s land area is forested. Animal life includes elephants, wild oxen, leopards, and bears.


Neolithic peoples inhabited present-day Cambodia during the 2nd and 1st millennia BC. Khmer civilization developed over several distinct periods. The first was marked by the small, somewhat decentralized Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Funan and Chenla, beginning in the 1st century AD and extending into the 8th century. In the late 8th and early 9th centuries, Jayavarman II founded the dynasty that by the early 10th century had become established at Angkor. This era has been called the classical period of Khmer civilization (802-1432).

Jayavarman’s successors constructed great architectural monuments at Angkor. The power of the Khmer empire peaked in the 12th century under Suryavarman II, who built the temple complex of Angkor Wat. His armies ranged as far west as northern Siam (now northern Thailand) and into the Red River delta (now in Vietnam) to the east. The Khmer empire’s strength was based on a well-developed system of irrigated rice cultivation and the control exerted over Khmer manpower by an elaborate bureaucracy. In the early 13th century, Jayavarman VII extended the empire farther than had any of his predecessors, but it quickly crumbled in the 13th and 14th centuries. Domestic instability caused by the accession of weak rulers left the Khmer exposed to the attacks of their neighbours, and their difficulties were compounded when Buddhism began to undermine the hierarchy of the state, which was based on Hinduism. By the 15th century the Khmer could no longer defend their capital at Angkor.

The next 400 years were a period of political and social decline in which Khmer rulers were often involved in wars with Vietnam and Siam. Many times the Khmer rulers became vassals of one or the other.

In 1864 the French established a protectorate that lasted until after World War II, when Cambodia became an autonomous state within the French Union. During the war the Japanese occupied the country but left the Vichy French administration in place. In 1941 the French installed Prince Norodom Sihanouk on the throne. In 1953 Cambodia received its independence from France, and the next year Sihanouk’s government was recognized as the legitimate authority within the country.

Sihanouk’s capable rule, a cornerstone of which was noninvolvement with either side in the Vietnam War, ended in 1970 when he was deposed by General Lon Nol and others opposed to the tacit presence of Vietnamese communists in the country.

Lon Nol’s attempts to suppress the Vietnamese presence and the small Cambodian communist group known as the Khmer Rouge disrupted the country. A massive and largely indiscriminate U.S. bombing campaign over much of the country during the early 1970s alienated large segments of the population, enabling the Khmer Rouge to grow rapidly by recruitment. Despite U.S. aid, Lon Nol’s government was overthrown by the Khmer Rouge in 1975. In 1976 the republic of Democratic Kampuchea was proclaimed, and the Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot became its premier. The next year the Communist Party of Kampuchea was officially recognized as the country’s governing body.

Phnom Penh was immediately evacuated by the Khmer Rouge after they overran the city in 1975, and Cambodia’s other urban populations were forcibly relocated to rural areas and set to digging immense irrigation and other public works in an effort to foster agricultural production. Miserable living and working conditions throughout the country bred starvation and disease, and these factors, along with the Khmer Rouge’s systematic extermination of the educated and middle classes and any other perceived enemies of the regime, had resulted in the deaths of at least 1,000,000 Cambodians by 1979. The Khmer Rouge’s combative stance toward their powerful neighbour, Vietnam, prompted the latter to launch a military invasion of Cambodia in 1979. The Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge into the western hinterlands and established a client Cambodian government composed largely of defectors from the Khmer Rouge. This socialist government was relatively benign compared with the preceding regime, but the reconstruction efforts that it undertook were severely hampered by meagre foreign aid and a dearth of skilled Cambodian technicians and professionals. Meanwhile, fighting continued between Khmer Rouge guerrillas, Cambodia’s Vietnam-backed government, and Cambodian royalist and anticommunist factions.

A peace accord was reached by most of the Cambodian factions under UN auspices in 1991, and a UN-supervised interim government held free elections in 1993. Sihanouk soon afterward returned as the country’s monarch, heading a coalition government that was opposed only by the Khmer Rouge.


Cambodia has a developing economy, and it is one of the world’s poorest countries. Agriculture employs three-fourths of the workforce and is dominated by subsistence farming. Rice is the chief staple, and rubber is the major cash crop. Authorities have successfully encouraged farmers to plant paddies with local strains of rice, which germinate at higher rates than do imported strains. Limited quantities of cassava, sugarcane, sweet potatoes, and corn (maize) are also produced. Livestock raising (mainly cattle, pigs, and water buffalo) and maritime fishing have increased.

Manufacturing industries are inconsequential and centre on the processing of locally grown rubber, rice, and other agricultural commodities. Small quantities of rubber, agricultural products, and wood (such as teak) are exported. Most capital and consumer goods must be imported.

Only about one-fifth of Cambodia’s roads are paved. Inland waterways include the Mekong and Sab rivers and Tonle Sap. The country’s principal deepwater port is K?mp?ng Sa?m on the Gulf of Thailand. There is an international airport near Phnom Penh.


Cambodia was a totalitarian state under the communist Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979 and was then governed by a more moderate communist party supported by neighbouring Vietnam from 1979 to 1991. After a period of interim government under United Nations (UN) supervision from 1991, free, multiparty elections for a new National Assembly were held in 1993. A new constitution was adopted that made the country a constitutional monarchy, with Prince Norodom Sihanouk presiding over a coalition of all the major political parties except the Khmer Rouge.

Infectious diseases such as malaria and schistosomiasis are prevalent, and malnutrition is widespread. The educational system includes primary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education; compulsory education between the ages of 6 and 12 has been introduced.

Cultural life. Cambodia’s culture descends from the rich achievements of the past, notably the architecture and sculpture of the Angkorean period (802-1432), seen in the restored temples at Angkor. These, together with other cultural relics, have been greatly damaged by vandalism, looting, and neglect in recent years

Facts for the Traveller

VISAS: Required by all. Types of visa and cost: Tourist and Business (single- and multiple-entry). Visas cost Ffr120 (US$20) for stays of up to 1 month and Ffr240 (US$40) for stays up to 3 months. Visitors arriving by air can obtain a visa for stays of up to 30 days on arrival at Pochentong International Airport, Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, Angkor, but visitors are advised to check current situation before travelling.

Validity: 30 days-3 months. Extensions may be granted by the Immigration Office in Phnom Penh. In some cases, business travellers may exceptionally be granted a 6-month visa.

Application to: Consulate (or Consular section of Embassy); see Useful Contacts section. Business visas are obtainable through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh or by official invitation. Tourists on package tours will normally have their visas arranged by the tour operator.

Application requirements: (a) 2 completed application forms. (b) 2 passport-size photos. (c) Valid passport. (d) Fee. (e) Proof of sufficient funds to cover stay. (f) For business trips, a business card and letter from employer.

Working days required: 48 hours.


Political turbulence and violence decreased significantly in Phnom Penh during 1999. While the formation of a coalition government has eased political tensions considerably, sporadic acts of violence remain possible. Therefore, the U.S. Embassy advises American citizens to avoid political gatherings or demonstrations, if they occur, and to avoid the vicinity of political party offices as well as military buildings or compounds in Phnom Penh and in the provincial capitals.

The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh advises its personnel who travel to the provinces to exercise caution outside the provincial towns during the day and everywhere at night. Many rural parts of the country remain without effective policing and are subject to banditry.

Land mines and unexploded ordnance can be found in rural areas throughout Cambodia but especially in Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pursat, Siem Reap, and Kampong Thom provinces. At no time should travelers walk in forested areas or even in dry rice paddies without a local guide. Areas around small bridges on secondary roads are particularly dangerous. Travelers who observe anything that resembles a mine or unexploded ordnance should not touch it. They should notify the Cambodia Mine Action Center at telephone number 023-981-083 or 084.

AREAS OF INSTABILITY: The town of Siem Reap and the vicinity of the Angkor Wat temple complex remain officially open to tourists, but the Embassy advises U.S. citizens to travel there only by air, and to limit their movements to the city of Siem Reap and the main Angkor Wat temple complexes. The risk of banditry and military activity continues in various parts of Siem Reap province. Illegal checkpoints, requiring cash payment to pass, have been reported sporadically on the road to the Banteay Srey temple, which is approximately 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) northeast of the town of Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Americans are advised to consult with local police or tourist authorities before traveling to Banteay Srey.

CRIME INFORMATION: Crime and banditry are persistent problems in many areas. The U.S. Embassy advises its personnel to review their personal security practices regularly. The decline of the Cambodian economy has contributed to a dramatic increase in armed robberies and assaults, sometimes during daylight hours. A number of Americans have been robbed at gunpoint in Phnom Penh. Most of them were robbed while riding on motorcycle taxis and generally after dark, but such incidents have occurred in broad daylight as well. Americans should avoid traveling alone, especially after dark. They should limit outdoor activity after dark in the capital city area and return to their homes or hotels early. To avoid the risk of theft or confiscation of original documents, the U.S. Embassy advises its personnel to carry photocopies of their U.S. passport, driver’s license or other important documents.

Money & Costs

Currency: Riel
Relative costs:

  • Budget meal: US$3-7
  • Restaurant meal: US$6-10
  • Top-end meal: US$12 and up
  • Budget hotel: US$7-9
  • Mid-range hotel: US$20+
  • Top-end hotel: US$150 plus…only in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

There are now a variety of good hotels available. The capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have a number of luxury hotels offering high standards and a range of recreational facilities. Hotels and guest houses are also available throughout the country, but standards generally tend to be basic. Camping is not permitted in Cambodia. For further information on accommodation, contact Diethelm Travel


Since the ousting of the Pol Pot regime, many aspects of Khmer cultural life have revived. The famed National Ballet has been re-established by the surviving dancers and performs classical dances for visiting groups. Buddhist temples, such as Preah Vihear, close to the border with Thailand in the Dongrak mountains, have re-opened and are the sites of various celebrations, especially during Cambodian New Year. The interrogation centre of the Pol Pot regime in Phnom Penh is now the chiling Toul Sleng Museum of Genocide, also called S-21 (security office 21). Other attractions in the capital are the Royal Palace, with its famous Silver Pagoda (whose floor consists of 5000 silver tiles), and the recently restored National Museum (which includes bronze and stone sculptures from the Angkor period). River cruises, some also now offering dolphin watching, operate on the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers near the capital. The famous and magnificent temples at Angkor, in the country’s northwest, are hard and dangerous to reach by road, but may be reached by regular flights from Phnom Penh and Bangkok. This ancient and astounding temple complex is what remains of the capital of the once mighty Khmer civilisation. Angkor Wat itself, built between 879-1191 AD to honour the Hindu god Vishnu and now a listed UNESCO World Heritage site, is often hailed as one of the most extraordinary architectural creations ever built, with its intricate bas reliefs, strange acoustics and magnificent soaring towers. Oudong, 30km (19 miles) from Phnom Penh, is located on a hill overlooking vast plains and is famous for the burial chedis of the Khmer kings. Tonle Bati, 42 km (26 miles) from Phnom Penh, is located near a lake close to the ancient temple of Ta Phrom. Sihanoukville is a popular beach resort town and may be reached by bus or air from Phnom Penh.

Getting There & Away

Cambodia’s national airline, Royal Air Cambodge (VJ), operates internationally to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong. Thai International and Bangkok Airways fly to Phnom Penh from Bangkok. Malaysia Airlines flies from Kuala Lumpur, Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi, Aeroflot Russian International Airlines from Moscow, Silkair from Singapore and Lao International Aviationfrom Vientiane.

Approximate flight times: From London to Phnom Penh takes 12 hours 30 minutes (with a stopover in Bangkok).

International airport: Pochentong (PNH) is 12km (7 miles) from Phnom Penh. A bus service (journey time 20 minutes) and taxis (journey time 10 minutes) to the city are available. For pre-arranged tours a pick-up service is available.

Departure tax: US$20 levied on international departures at Pochentong airport, US$8 at Siem Reap airport.


Getting Around

AIR: Internal flights operate between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap for Angkor (travel time 45 minutes), Battambang, Koh Kong, Sihanoukville and Stung Treng.

Siem Reap airport, the main gateway for visitors going to see the ancient temples at Angkor, is being upgraded. The project includes an additional runway and a new terminal.

Departure tax: US$10 at Pochentong, US$4 at Siem Reap.

SEA: Government-run ferries depart from the Psar Cha Ministry of Transport Ferry Landing between 102 and 104 streets and go to Kompong Cham, Kratie, Stung Treng, Kompong Chhnang and Phnom Krom. Boats are also available from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, a route popular with travellers. Due to the present rise in crime, inter-city boat travel should be restricted to the fast boats to Kompong Cham and Kratie.

RAIL: Some rail services operate, but foreigners are advised not to use them at present. There are plans to restore the international service to Bangkok, but a great deal of repair work is needed.

ROAD: Traffic drives on the right. Most roads are in poor condition, although the highway to Vietnam is open. It is possible to drive from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City in a day but there are formalities involved regarding the use of the same vehicle all the way. Right hand drive vehicles (quite common in Cambodia) are not allowed entry to Vietnam. Both Cambodian and Vietnamese visas must be obtained in advance and the Vietnamese visa must mention ‘Moc Bai’ (the border point on the Vietnamese side) as a point of entry/exit otherwise travellers run the risk of being turned back. Care should be taken while driving as Cambodian drivers are prone to recklessness and accidents are relatively frequent. The safety of road travel outside urban areas varies greatly from region to region. If travel is undertaken in vehicle convoy during daylight hours only, potential risks can be reduced. Reliable information about security should be obtained before considering extensive road journeys. Bus: Buses to Phnom Penh suburbs are available from 182 Street and the bus station is open 0530-1730. Taxi: Cruising taxis are non-existent in Cambodia. However, service taxis can be hired at Psar Chbam Pao Shared-Taxi Station between 367 Street and 369 Street. Cyclo’s, however, are a slow but inexpensive way to see the city and some of the drivers, especially those found outside main hotels, speak a little French or English. Car hire: Official visitors can arrange to hire a government car and driver. Enquiries about car hire should be addressed to the Ministry of Tourism (see Useful Contacts section). Documentation: An International Driving Permit is not recognised in Cambodia, but car hire is generally not recommended. Visitors are advised to hire a car with a driver instead which is only slightly more expensive than car hire