Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia that borders the Gulf of Thailand. Neighboring countries include Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. The geography of Cambodia is mountainous in the southwest and north and is dominated by the Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake.
Cambodia's modern-day culture has its roots in the 1st to 6th centuries in a state referred to as Funan, known as the oldest Indianised state in Southeast Asia. It is from this period that evolved Cambodia's language, part of the Mon-khmer family.
Funan gave way to the Angkor Empire with the rise to power of King Jayavarman II in 802. The following 600 years saw powerful Khmer kings dominate much of present-day Southeast Asia, from the borders of Myanmar east to the South China Sea and north to Laos. It was during this period that the Khmer kings built the most extensive concentration of religious temples in the world - the Angkor temple complex. This complex covers an area of 400 square kilometers in the province of Siem Reap. The area contains more that 100 temples and more than 1080 temples across the country. The most successful of the Angkor's kings, Jayavarman II and Jayavarman I, Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, also devised a masterpiece of ancient engineering: a sophisticated irrigation system that includes barays (gigantic man-made lakes) and canals that ensured as many as three rice crops a year. Part of this system is still in use today.
The 15th to 17th centuries represented a time of foreign influence, when expansionist Siam and Vietnam fought over Cambodia. By the mid-1800s, Cambodia, like most other countries in Asia, came under increasing pressure from European colonial powers. In 1863, Cambodia becomes a French protectorate and remains a French colony for the next 90 years.
For 1941–1945, Japan occupies Cambodia during World War II. Encouraged, King Sihanouk campaigned tirelessly and in 1953 he succeeded in winning independence for Cambodia. In 1946, France re-establishes its protectorate over Cambodia.
In 1953, Cambodia gains independence from France and becomes a monarchy. Throughout the 1950s and 60s Cambodia was self-sufficient and prospered in many areas.
In 1970, as war spilled over into Cambodia, Prince Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lon Nol. On 17 April 1975, Lon Nol's weak-ended government was itself overthrown by the Khmer Rouge. The ensuing four years "Reign of terror" under Pol Pot's democratic Kampuchea resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people. In 1979, the Khmer Rouge was overthrown and the Vietnamese-backed People's Republic of Kampuchea was established. In 1989, the country is re-named the State of Cambodia. A constitution was adopted in 1993, the same year King Norodom Sihanouk returned to the throne. His majesty remains a symbol of national unity to his people.
The capital Phom Penh features plenty of ancient Khmer structures, Buddhist shrines, and colonial architecture as well as a thriving nightlife and dining scene. Meanwhile, the city’s numerous traditional markets are ideal for experiencing the local culture, shopping for handicrafts, and sampling a wide range of Khmer delicacies at affordable prices.
Besides Phnom Penh, Siem Reap is widely renowned as the gateway to Angkor Wat, the millennium-old temple ruins of the Khmer Empire. Set along the Siem Reap River, this small provincial capital boasts hundreds of sightseeing opportunities such as well-preserved colonial buildings, unique museums, traditional markets, cultural performances, and verdant parks. This small but lively town close to the northern shore of Tonle Sap Lake has seen phenomenal growth as a tourist destination in recent years, and now offers all the facilities expected by experienced world travellers.
Sihanoukville is the next interesting place. Situated on the eastern part of the Gulf of Thailand, Sihanoukville is a peninsula and has several beaches and small, offshore islands. It was founded in 1964 and is much more urban and modern than other Cambodian cities. With its five beaches and three islands to relax on, Sihanoukville provides a peaceful counterpoint to Thailand's sometimes crowded beaches.
Do not forget Battambang where 293km from Phnom Penh, Battambang is in the heart of Cambodia's 'rice bowl' and this is the Cambodia's second-largest city. It lies in the heart of the Northwest and until the war years it was the leading rice-producing province of the country. The 100,000-person town offers not only one of the best preserved examples of the French Colonial era, but also the small-town feel you expect to encounter in Cambodia as a rule. The combined effect makes Battambang well worth the detour it requires to visit. For centuries, Battambang was part of Siam and was used as its eastern commercial hub. The French have left a strong mark on the town's architecture, resulting in a pleasing colonial effect. The town is the gateway between Thailand and Phnom Penh but still retains a sleepy atmosphere not conducive to people looking for nightlife and fine dining. Rather, people use the town as a base for visiting the nearby temples of Phnom Banon and Wat Ek Phnom.
In brief, as the Angkor period ended, Cambodia's capital moved south to Longvek, then to Oudong, and finally to the present-day capital of Phnom Penh.