Located in the Southeast Asian tropical zone, Cambodia is bordered to the east by Vietnam, to the north by Laos, and to the west by Thailand. In the south, Cambodia’s coastline meets the Bay of Thailand. As a result of its tropical location, Cambodia’s climate ranges from warm to hot, with temperatures ranging from 20 degrees Celsius in the colder months, to the mid-30s in the warmer months of May to August. Between June and October, the monsoon season brings with it heavy rains, which typically fall for several hours in afternoons and evenings.
Cambodia has earned the nickname the “Kingdom of Wonder,” both for its gorgeous natural landscapes—particularly its coastal beaches—and the numerous ancient temples that are dotted all over the country. The most well-known are the temples of Angkor, formerly a capital city between the 9th and 15th centuries. There are more than 1,000 centuries-old temples in the region.
Cambodia’s favourite local sports include traditional Khmer wrestling and water buffalo racing, the latter of which is most famously enjoyed during the Festival of Death, a 15-day celebration which honours deceased relatives and ancestors.
In the region now known as Cambodia, the first civilizations developed along the Mekong river and along the country’s coastline. As settlements and kingdoms grew larger, the region became divided into numerous rival states; however, this situation came to an end in the 9th century CE when King Jayavarman II founded the Khmer Empire. Over the next several centuries, various leaders rose to power and were deposed. Eventually the country fell into decline, and neighbouring countries Thailand and Vietnam invaded.
By 1863 Cambodia had become a French protectorate, effectively ending its problems with its more powerful neighbours. After decades of French rule, Cambodia was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. Upon Japanese surrender France once again took over, but with less authority than before, and in 1953 Cambodia regained its status as a fully independent country.
In 1975, the tyrant Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge seized control. In the next three years this regime would execute as many as 3 million people, with the reign of terror ending only when Vietnam invaded in 1978, forcing Pol Pot to flee. The Khmer Rouge continued to wage war against the country and the Vietnamese forces, ultimately leading to Vietnam’s withdrawal. It wasn’t until Pol Pot died in 1998 that the last vestiges of his influence were eradicated.
While still a poor country, Cambodia now has a promising future, with strong textiles and tourism industries and a steadily improving economy.
Cambodia is a highly biodiverse country, with more than 2,000 species of mammal, reptile, fish, and bird. Many of these are endangered, such as the critically-endangered Siamese crocodile, of which only 250 adults are known to exist, and an ox known as the Kouprey, Cambodia’s national animal.
Along with this diverse array of animals are an equally diverse range of plants: more than 8,000 species, which include several unique species of carnivourous pitcher plant, as well as delicately beautiful orchids. The country’s national flower is the rumdul flower, a small yellow-white flower with a distinctively pleasant fragrance.
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