Cambodia is popular for its beautiful and historic temples, as well as its reputation as being one of the countries with the lowest cost of living. For these reasons and more, tourists are constantly and increasingly flocking to this culturally rich gem in the heart of Southeast Asia. To know more about Cambodia, let’s take a look at these 8 interesting facts.
1. Cambodia has changed its name five times since becoming an independent nation in 1953.
After being ruled by France for 90 years, Cambodia finally gained its independence in 1953 and entered the free world as the “Kingdom of Cambodia”. Since then, it has gone through different kinds of leadership, from a monarchy to a dark and brutal communist period to democracy. Each new government brought about a new name for the country, changing five times before it ended up with its original and current name, the “Kingdom of Cambodia”.
At present, Cambodia is one of the only elective constitutional monarchies in the world, alongside Malaysia, The Vatican and Samoa. Its King is Norodom Sihamoni, a former UNESCO ambassador and ballet dancer, who was elected by a group of political and religious leaders collectively called The Royal Council of the Throne. An interesting fact about Cambodia is that the King serves as a symbolic figurehead for citizens to love, respect and feel the peace and stability of the nation. The actual political decisions are made by the Prime Minister, Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 35 years and is the longest serving non-royal leader in Southeast Asia.
2. It is most known for being home to the Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious site.
Every year, the Angkor Wat is visited by 2.6 million tourists looking to explore this UNESCO World Heritage site. Translated as the “City of Temples”, it spans more than 500 acres of land filled with over a thousand temples, making it the world’s largest religious monument and 50 times larger than the similarly enthralling Machu Picchu. It once had a 15-foot wall that enclosed a royal palace, the temple proper, a city and a moat, which was eventually destroyed throughout the centuries.
Interestingly enough, it was originally built to honor the Hindu god, Vishnu but later became a Buddhist worship site when the country became predominantly Buddhist in the 13th century. A fun fact about Cambodia is that this temple is embedded in their flag, the only one in the world to feature a historic building.
3. Half of Cambodia’s population is younger than 15 years old.
The majority of Cambodian citizens are the youth, with 50% being younger than 15 years old. This can be attributed to a dark time in the country’s history called the Khmer Rouge Regime. From 1975 to 1979, the country was ruled by Pol Pot and his communist party who inflicted brutal oppression and unjust killings throughout the country. By the end of the regime, 2 million people (one-fifth of the population) were killed and the majority of those who survived were young adults below 30 years old. This part of Cambodia’s past is immortalized through another popular tourist site, the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh.
4. Life milestones are celebrated very differently in Cambodia.
Because of the country’s Buddhist beliefs, life milestones are not celebrated the way we’re typically used to. For example, the Buddhist New Year or “Chaul Chnam Thmey” is celebrated every April instead of December. And instead of fireworks, people throw water and talcum powder to one another while partying in the streets and establishments.
Traditional Cambodian Weddings usually last for 3 days and 3 nights, full of good food, gift giving, music and dancing. The 3 days and nights symbolize the “three jewels” of Buddhism, which are Buddha (the enlightened one), Dharma (the teachings of Buddha) and Sangha (the monastic order of Buddhism).
If that weren’t extravagant enough, Cambodian funerals last even longer at 7 days to preserve the body and 49 days for mourning. After 100 days, the family plans another prayer ceremony. Because of its length and detail, some families spend their entire life’s savings just for one funeral. Ironically enough, while these milestones have over-the-top ceremonies, birthdays are not usually celebrated in the rural areas of Cambodia. In fact, the older generation do not even know their exact birth date and are only familiar with their “birthday season”.
5. Cambodia’s natural landscapes are rich in biodiversity and home to rare animal species and Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake.
Cambodia’s rivers, lakes and mountains are beautiful natural landscapes that are home to rare and endangered animal species like the Irrawaddy dolphin and Giant Softshell Turtle. On top of that, its Tonle Sap Lake is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake and one of UNESCO’s biosphere reserves, a fun fact about Cambodia. It is a relevant fishing source and provides nourishment to half of the country’s harvested crops.
6. Although the last civil war ended in the 80s, active landmines remain scattered around Cambodia.
Plagued by civil wars that lasted through 80s, different factions that clashed with one another sought revenge by scattering mines through the country, especially in the rural areas. Although it has been decades since then, involved parties no longer remember the location of these mines. Because of this, there are estimated to be 4 to 6 million active mines throughout Cambodia. As many as 30 people die yearly due to these mine accidents.
7. Cambodia uses the US dollar as their national currency.
Although Cambodia’s national currency is the Riel, its value is extremely low which has forced the country to use US dollars in most of their financial dealings, an interesting Cambodia fact. Now 90% dollarized, everything from ATM withdrawals to buying goods in the market are in US dollars.
8. Cambodia tries to preserve their culture even in small ways, like not allowing McDonald’s in the country.
As we now know through this article, Cambodia actively tries to preserve its rich culture through its religion, historic sites and ceremonial rituals. Apart from this, they also do so in small but relevant ways like being one of the only countries in the world without McDonald’s. Although it is reportedly due to business reasons and nothing cultural, it is something the country now takes pride in. Instead, they have a local equivalent called “Lucky Burger”.
Although small in size, Cambodia is big in tourism and rich in culture. From its complex history to its natural wonders, there is definitely much to be appreciated about this country and its people.
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