A small country, about three–quarters of Cambodia lies in the flat basins that form the centre of the country, surrounded by plateaus and mountains. It lies in south–east Asia mainland between Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Situated in the southwest of the Indo–Chinese peninsula, it lies between 13°N latitude and 105°E longitude. Out of its total area of about 181,035 sq. km, land occupies about 176,515 sq. km while the area occupied by water is about 4,520 sq. km. Stretching a coastline of about 443 km, it ranks 90th in the world and is slightly smaller than Oklahoma.
The climate of Cambodia is that of a tropical monsoon type, with rainy season extending from the month of May to the month of November. There is a dry winter season that starts from December and lasts till April. However, very little variations are observed in the overall temperatures during different seasons. The terrain is mostly lowland and flat plains. There are mountainous regions in the south–west and northern part of the country. The lowest point of elevation is the Gulf of Thailand at 0 m whereas the highest point is Mount Phnom Aural at 1,810 m. The natural resources include oil and gas, timber, gemstones, iron ore, manganese, phosphates, hydropower potential and arable land. It faces natural hazards like flooding during monsoon in the months of June to November as well as occasional droughts. Illegal mining, logging, fishing, soil erosion and destruction of mangroves are some of the environmental issues faced in Cambodia.
Cambodia is home to a wide and diversified class of wildlife and vegetation. It has a number of endangered species due to wide deforestation. The endangered species include Siamese crocodile, Asian elephant, Germaine’s silver langur, hog deer, Elds deer, dholes and wild water buffalo. The national animal Kouprey is becoming extinct. Birds like parrots, green peafowl, pheasants and wild duck, along with some species of poisonous snakes are found here. A special variety of tree called Chankreussna (highly valued for its perfume) is critically endangered.
The culture of Cambodia has a rich and varied history dating back to centuries and is greatly inspired by religion. The people of Cambodia developed a unique set of traditions blended well with values of Buddhism and Hinduism. Traditional Cambodian weddings consist of many ceremonies and lasts for 3 days and 3 nights. A well-mannered Cambodian normally greets with ‘Chum reap Sour’, which involves pressing the palms together before the chest, with a slight bowing of head. Cambodians place great importance on proper behaviour. Marriages take place with the permission of parents. The husband is the head of the family and women look after the finances and the household. Women respect men, children respect the parents and even adults are expected to follow the advice of their elders.
Theravada Buddhism is the official religion here and majority of the population are Buddhists. However, religions like Islam, Hinduism and Christianity are also practised. Khmer is the official language of Cambodia and is derived from the Mon Khmer (Austro Asiatic) language. English is widely spoken and understood along with French and Mandarin. Elderly Cambodians speak French while the Khmer Chinese people speak Mandarin.
Rice is the staple food of the Cambodian diet but noodles, soup, grills, stir-fried foods, curries, salads, desserts and lots of tropical fruits and vegetables are also very important part of the cuisine. In addition to the common spices such as cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and garlic, they add other native ingredients such as galangal, shallot, cilantro and kaffir lime leaves and make a blend of spice called ‘kroeung’. Two other ingredients that give Cambodian cuisine a unique flavour is a pungent, fermented fish paste called ‘prahok’ and ‘kapi’, a fermented prawn paste.
The growth of the Cambodian economy largely depends on the garments, construction, agriculture and tourism sectors but it still remains a poor country due to reasons such as lack of education, lack of basic infrastructure facilities and corruption. Its agricultural products include rice, rubber, corn, vegetables, cashews, cassava and silk. Industries that contribute to its development are tourism, garments, constructions, rice, milling, fishing, wood and wood products, rubber, cement, gems, mining and textiles. Cambodia exports clothing, timber, rubber, rice, fish, tobacco and footwear to US, UK, Germany, Canada, Japan and Vietnam while it imports petroleum products, cigarettes, gold, construction materials, machinery, motor vehicles and pharmaceutical products from Thailand, China, Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong.