Cambodia has a history rich in culture, wealth, poverty, feast, famine, and life, and death. The juxtapositions of these culminated when Cambodia was caught in the very crosshairs of the Viet Nam War, and the dictatorial rule of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia survived through the constant campaign of their beloved king, Norodom Sihanouk. King Sihanouk was a champion for the peasantry in his country and appealed to the American as well as European governments on many occasions for their support. His people and his country were dying around him, the words holocaust and genocide were removed from speeches and documents addressing the issues faced by this country. Yet, the graves where the bodies of thousands of Cambodians were so carelessly tossed can only be described as the result of those two words.
King Sihanouk recognized these people, the common people were the ones who suffered most, and who were indeed the salt of his earth he loved so much. The people of Cambodia, their rich culture, and history survived due to Sihanouk’s leadership and advocacy, as well as their own resilience.
The United States has in past years admitted its role in the death and ruination of the Cambodian people and their land. However, even with the role played by the American government, Cambodia welcomes its US tourists with open arms.
The capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, has served as the capital since French Colonialization. Today the city has been restored to its former spender, and to see its beauty and how the people thrive is enough to almost make one forget the horrors of the not too distant past. The complex containing the palace was constructed in 1866 and has served as home to Cambodian kings since that time. The palace exemplifies the beauty and intricate detail of Khmer architecture and captures the attention of all who stand upon its grounds or enter into its spacious halls.
• Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is located within this city as not to provide a glimpse into Cambodia’s tragic history, but as also a warning for the future. The people within the city maintain their optimism for the future, while bearing in mind all that has transpired in the past.
• The Silver Pagoda, the temple of the palace’s floors is paved in silver and serve as the foundation for the jewel bedecked Buddhas. Two cultures adjoined are represented symbology and writings from both the Buddhists and Hindu religions that adorn the outer and interior walls.
• In addition to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, there is also the magnificent National Museum, constructed in the 1920s in the style of the temples. This museum contains much of the traditional Khmer art as well as their treasured religious artifacts.
• Wat Phnom is the hilltop site of what was once a Buddhist temple and is the tallest in Cambodia.
Siem Reap- is an exciting tourist town that offers shopping and dining by day and night, but also is considered the gateway to the ancient temple site, Angkor Wat, once the largest religious structure in the world. The intricate carvings represent two coexisting religious cultures of Buddhism and Hindu, both religions of peace. A large moat surrounds the temple, once meant to keep trespassers at bay, but now a place of wonderment to the ever-increasing crowds of tourists who arrive at the Angkor Wat complex each year. The complex contains eight temples from the 10th through 13th centuries. Each of the eight temples within the complex offers a different tale of the religion and culture through carvings, statues, and the very architecture.
After a day of temple tours, it might be time to lighten the mood with a visit to Cambodian Village, where visitors can see theatrical presentations of cultural dances and history, as well as insight into the daily lives of the Cambodian people.
Sihanoukville is a small beachside city that tourists go when they just want to relax by the sea or wander through the large variety of thatched roof cafes and shops.
As with most Asian diets, rice and fish are the main staples. Various cultures influence the Cambodian diet and cuisine, Chinese, Thai, as well as Indian and even the French. Most ethnic foods enjoyed by people were developed during times of poverty when food was not plentiful. Over years of cooking and experimenting with a variety of spices, a plate of snails or frog served with a side of rice can be quite an exciting treat to the palate.
The spices used in Cambodian cuisine vary from curry, cilantro, and cayenne pepper. Most of the food is on the hot side, and meals are served with numerous dishes from which to choose. Along with rice, there are numerous vegetables served, squashes, carrots, snow peas, and cabbages are favorites.
The People of Cambodia
The people of Cambodia have always been farmers and fishers. They have survived for millennia by loving and working the land. A deep respect for what the earth and the sea can provide has instilled a value and a culture of cultivating and caring for nature, so that nature can in turn care for them. Most Cambodians have ready smiles, are openly friendly, and courteous.
Cambodia a Blend of Cultures
The traditions and customs of the Cambodian people are steeped deeply into their Buddhist and Hindu religions. Much of the art and architecture, as well as music and dance, are derived from the blended cultural past. As Cambodians have traditionally been farmers and fishers, many of their festivals are reflective of their agriculture, as well as the rich history and religious traditions.
The most important festival is the celebration of the Khmer New Year. During this time homage is paid to the Cambodian elders, and the people dress in traditional attire, dance in accordance to the traditional style and music. It is a time of great happiness and thankfulness as the pay homage to Buddha and gives thanks for all their past blessings, and blessings to come in the new year.
Law and Order in Cambodia
Cambodian laws and the judicial system was once influenced by the French civil law system under the colonization. This legal system lasted from 1863 to 1953 and through1975. However, under the dictatorial rule of the Khmer Rouge, which lasted from 1975 until 1979, this democratic style of government and justice was destroyed. Today, as Cambodia continues its recovery from this dark time in history, their style of government is designed to promote responsibility, while not limiting freedom, and is hoped to bring about continued improvements to the economy.
Money Matters in Cambodia
The Cambodian reil is the official currency of Cambodia and is traded at 4000 real per 1 US dollar. However, the US dollar is very welcome in Cambodia so there is no need to worry about the use of cash or credit cards, however, do not forget to cash in that George for 400 rail to bring home to show off to your friends and family.
Healthcare in Cambodia
Cambodia’s healthcare system is improving, but the mortality rate among persons above 60 is still quite large with 65 the average life expectancy. Especially in rural areas, the infant mortality rate is still high. There are not enough vaccines and people still die from ailments Westerners equate with the Middle Ages.
With medical knowledge is still improving and there are programs to recruit and train doctors and nurses. However, Cambodia is not really the place you want to be if critically ill as they are still struggling to catch up with even late 20th-century medicine. The average is one doctor per every 5000 people, and Phnom Penh is the center for the most advanced medical care.
Now, on the flipside, they have the fastest growing rate of dentistry to be found and are quite famous for it. So maybe you want to schedule that root canal while there. If you do decide to do that and the dentist advises morphine, no prescription needed, all medicines are over the counter. This may be out of necessity considering the few doctors available.
Safety First in Cambodia
Cambodia is relatively safe, with the exception of land mines. This is no joke, there are landmines and other explosives throughout the Cambodian countryside. So, word to the wise, stay in tourist areas. There are few robberies during festival times, but the number of armed robberies is relatively low, considering the number of people who own guns.
Transportation in Cambodia
There are many ways of getting about in the cities of Cambodia. You are as likely to see people on carts as you are in cars. Due to the not so optimum conditions of the streets and roads, many opt to travel by bicycle, or motorbike, as opposed to the car. However, there are many cars, taxis, and buses on the streets and roads. If you do take a bus or taxi, try not to be too alarmed by the aggressive driver, or the fact he may have a cigarette in one hand and cell phone to the ear with the other. On second thought. Get a bike.
Communication in Cambodia
When in Cambodia be mindful of their customs, and have an awareness that whether in a business or someone’s home that the manner of dress or undress can communicate disrespect. Most of the people are open and friendly and enjoy their exchanges with tourists.
Many cultures consider it a sign of disrespect to make direct eye contact with one another, or especially with elders or those in positions of superiority. Therefore, when visiting in Cambodia abide by this rule when addressing the elders, and local authorities.
Cambodians once greeted one another with the same ah, a style of greeting where they pressed their hands together as if in prayer against the chest. If greeting someone held in high regard, the hands were located higher toward the forehead, and the bow was a deep respectful bow. By the same token, to have lowered hands and a slight bow would be considered an insult.
However, Western culture has influenced their style of greeting one another and with the exception of elders and public officials, the samp ah has been replaced with a simple handshake.
As far as telecommunication, unfortunately, much of Cambodia is still suffering in regard to technology services due to the era of Khmer Rouge when most landlines were destroyed. There are cell towers and cell service available, just as there is the internet, however, these services are very expensive. Tourist can buy sims cards for their phones that are sims capable and are then able to make calls and use data, where towers are available. For tourists, the recommended cities to stay if you need to stay online or need cell services are Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Most of the hotels and restaurants have Wi-Fi, and in addition to these, there are cyber cafes for people who are just visiting for the day. Payphones are available for use in phone centers found in public areas and government buildings.
The Climate in Cambodia
Some like it hot, and for those who do, they will not mind the tropical climate of Cambodia. The temperatures range from warm to hot year-round, and while there is some respite from the seasonal monsoons, they generally follow the seasonal drought. The rainy seasons are important to the people as they need the water for crops and to replenish the water from the drought seasons. The people are accustomed to these two extremes of weather and are adept at preparing, however, tourists should plan their trips to make the most of the beauty of the land, scenery, and attractions.
Cambodia is a place that for a period, no one wanted to talk about. For to talk about it was to realize the horror the people of the country endured, and the destruction of their way of life, and disrespect to their culture. Today, however, Cambodia is discussed as a place to vacation and enjoy the beauty of a vast countryside, experience the sea air, the rich culture, and the proud people. For thousands of years Khmer – now Cambodia- has stood, the temples, some in ruins, others having survived are a testimony to the faith of these people not only in their god but also in themselves.