Located in Southeast Asia, The Kingdom of Cambodia is situated between Thailand (to the west and north), Laos (to the north), and Vietnam (to the east). Its population is close to 16.7 million people, with around 2.2 million of those living in the capital city, Phnom Penh. It is a made up of a very young population, with around 44% being under 15 years of age.
Though formerly a French colony, the national language is known as Khmer, (pronounced “Kumai”). The Khmer people are fiercely proud of their ancestry, as their advanced ancient civilization constructed the massive historic Angkor Wat temple complex, which is a national icon. Angkor Wat, located in the northern city of Siem Reap, is currently the largest tourist attraction in Asia. It brings millions of travelers of all budgets to Cambodia each year, making tourism one of Cambodia’s largest sources of income.
Cambodia is a developing country and a land of vast contrasts. Beside a growing wealthy and middle class, there exists multidimensional poverty. On the 2018 Human Development Index, which consists of composite statistics rating markers such as life expectancy, education and standard of living, Cambodia comes in at number 146 on a scale of 189 countries.
Recent events in Cambodia have played a large part of this situation. During the the 1970s, a Communist group known as the Khmer Rouge took over the country by force, and under their hand, an estimated 2 -3 million people died from execution, torture, starvation and forced labor. Civil war continued in Cambodia for many years after this, and this nation of peace-loving people, to this day, are still recovering from this horrific time that had been inflicted upon them. Through this unrestful period, Cambodia was heavily land-mined, and there are areas even today which have warnings not to stray from the known path, due to the possible presence of active mines.
It is a strong part of the culture that young people are expected to support their parents financially into their old age, as aging people have no type of pension or social security, unless they have worked in high profile government positions. In order to help their families get by, many young people leave school early to work. In fact, it is not uncommon to encounter teenagers who only have a basic second or third grade education. Family ties and expectations are very strong, and the extended family is very important to the individual.
Most Cambodians live in villages, many of them remote, and under-developed compared to western standards. Here they mostly eke out a living through farming or fishing, rice being the predominant crop and food staple.
Approximately 95% of Cambodians practice Theravada Buddhism, and the presence of exquisite temples, and saffron clad monks are a common sight. Most families and many businesses have a small shrine where offerings and prayers are made to their ancestors for good fortune.
Khmer people are generally very kind, gracious and accepting of Westerners.
They appreciate smiles and attempts to speak some phrases of their language. They are keen to learn English as it is the language that is seen to help them to get a better job and future and English schools abound, especially in the cities.