23 Interesting Facts About Cambodia That Might Surprise You

Facts about Cambodia

Most travelers have been in Thailand searching for exotic feelings and paradise beaches. But few of them paid attention to the country’s neighbor, Cambodia. Meanwhile, the area, currently known as the Kingdom of Cambodia once has been a part of the influential and almighty Khmer Empire [1], which included Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam as well. In spite of this, today, Cambodia is little known for tourists. But those travelers who were lucky to visit Cambodia managed to appreciate the country’s beauty and legacy. Let’s take a closer look at some interesting facts about Cambodia.

The underestimated paradise

Sihanoukville Cambodia

Unlike its neighbor, Laos, Cambodia has access to the sea. As a result, the country may be interesting for experienced tourists since there are a lot of lonely beaches to enjoy. However, unlike Thailand, the seaside of Sihanoukville [2] and other resorts look deserted and desolate. You may thereby experience the wildness of the Cambodian nature almost alone. On the other hand, the lack of proper infrastructure plays not in favor of Cambodian resorts.

Poverty

Cambodian Poverty

Though Cambodia is not included in the list of the poorest countries in the world [3], the vast majority of the country’s citizens lives below the poverty line.

A curious fact, those people (especially the officials) who managed to climb onto the social ladder prefer to purchase a luxurious SUV, as a rule, Lexus. As a result, among dirtiness and poorness, you’ll see dozens of prestigious vehicles parked along the streets of Phnom Penh, and other large cities of Cambodia. The gap between rich and poor is mostly due to the incredible level of corruption.

Dirtiness but picturesqueness

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Everything looks dirty, smells disgusting, and yells for a Western traveler on the streets of any town in Cambodia. However, if you try to take a picture of any building or square, the snapshot would seem astonishing. It’s difficult to explain how it works, and it’s likely subjective perception, but each corner of this country is incredibly picturesque. Just type the keyword “Cambodia” in Flickr, to be sure of this.

Angkor Temples

Angkor Wat

Don’t mislead yourself by supposing that the single temple you must visit in Cambodia is Angkor Wat. Without a doubt, Angkor Wat is the must-see tourist attraction of Cambodia. There are at least fifty-three temples [4] aside from it in the Angkor area. In addition, there are three temples in the Preah Vihear Province, and one more temple located in the Kampot Province. Angkor thereby is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia, according to UNESCO [5].

Has anyone ever seen the local currency?

Cambodian Riel

Credit to: Aaron Gilson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Even though Cambodia has its currency called “Riel,” it’s almost impossible to withdraw the local money from the ATM. The reason is that due to the dreadful denomination of the riel, all Cambodians use the US dollars as the primary currency [6]. But you may occasionally keep the Riels in your hands if some seller gave you short change in local currency.

Water & Alcohol

As a tourist, you might face troubles with water while visiting Cambodia. Even bottled water is unacceptable water for drinking. The reason is the water crisis in Cambodia [7].

A curious fact, if you remain in Cambodia for 1-3 nights, there is a way how not to die of dehydration. Surprisingly, but the alcoholic beverages in Cambodia are cheap. The price of any drink is less than those of Duty-Free shop [8]. As a result, a can of beer costs less than a bottle of water. But please, be reasonable; do not abuse alcohol.

Beautiful people, especially kids

Cambodian Kids

Khmer people are beautiful. This nation is distinguished among other East Asian races. The kids are especially cute. Unlike other Asian kids, they often have widely-opened eyes, as well as proper facial features. Isn’t it a reason why some celebrities have adopted Cambodian kids? [9]

The national flag of Cambodia

Cambodian Flag

There are only four states flags which differ the rest. Each this national flag contains a building on it. The Cambodian flag illustrates the primary asset of the country, Angkor Wat. Only during the Japanese occupation of Cambodia, the national symbol has been removed. However, if to take a closer look at the emblem, one might notice that the picture illustrates the same Angkor Wat but from above.

The Alphabet

Ancient Khmer Script

Source: Wikipedia (Public Domain)

Did you know that the Khmer script consists of 74 letters, which makes it the biggest alphabet in the world? By the way, the Cambodian alphabet has been included in the Guinness World Records because of this [10].

Operation Menu

Like Laos, Cambodia severely suffered during the Vietnam War. As a result of the bombing, many locations of the country are still unreachable. The operation with code name “Menu” was a covert mission undertaken by the US between 1969-1970 [11].

Deforestation

A sad fact, but Cambodia is one of the most deforested countries in the world [12]. The state had the highest deforestation rate from 2000-2005, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Cambodia’s primary forest cover decreased disastrously from over 70% in 1970 at the end of the Vietnam War to just 3.1% in 2007.

Khmer Rouge

During the bloody Khmer Rouge regime [13], approx. 1.5-3 million Cambodian citizens have been killed. The history knows the event which happened between 1975 and 1979 as the Cambodian genocide. The local revolt leader and Khmer nationalist, Pol Pot, dreamt of creating an agrarian socialist society in Cambodia. Because of his devilish efforts of interpreting a Marxist–Leninist ideology, millions of people died.

Central Market

Central Market Phnom Penh

Credits to: Matthew Klein (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Phnom Penh Central Market is considered to be the largest market in Eastern Asia. The diversity of goods presented here may impress. This place ideally fits for those tourists who are going to experience the color of Asia. On the market, you can acquire everything from the fake brands to gemstones.

Gemstones

Cambodia is rich in mineral resources, especially, precious stones. There is no centralized mining industry in Cambodia. However, the country is one of the best places in the world where a tourist could buy natural sapphires and rubies [14]. It is believed that Pailin, is the only spot in the world where natural sapphires remained. But you must be highly careful while purchasing gemstones on the local markets in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap since due to the absence of certification, no one could ensure you against fraud.

Tonlé Sap

Tonlé Sap, Cambodia

Tonlé Sap is not only the biggest freshwater lake in Asia but also is one of the famous tourist attractions in Cambodia, thanks to the floating villages located on it. The lake is under the protection of UNESCO [15] as the first Biosphere Reserve in Cambodia. If you want to see and experience something extraordinary, we suggest you book the Tonlé Sap floating village tour, to enjoy the uniqueness and wildness of Cambodia.

Traffic

The traffic in Cambodia is utterly chaotic. There are no official rules, how to drive. The only offense on the Cambodian roads is that a driver has no helmet on the head, in the case of the motorbike. But the fact is that the tourist can’t rent a motorbike in Siem Reap since it’s illegal, according to the Cambodian laws. Of course, there is a possibility to rent a motorbike for only $6 a day. But we wouldn’t recommend you doing it [16].

Cambodian–Thai border conflict

The confrontation between the two countries aroused because of the 11th century Preah Vihear Temple [17] which locates on the border between Cambodia and Thailand. The conflict started in June 2008 and is continuing nowadays. That’s why both nations dislike each other.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Ta Prohm

All the fans of Angelina Jolie are acquainted with her possible best role as Lara Croft. A noticeable fact is that the filming of Tomb Raider held in Angkor, Cambodia. A lot of prominent scenes were shot in the Ta Prohm temple [18]. The temple was erected in 1186 A.D. by Jayavarman VII [19]. By the way, Jolie decided to adopt a Cambodian kid after participating in this movie.

Nāga

Nāga

Credit to: Mariel Drego (CC BY 2.0)

Nāga [20] is an unofficial symbol of Cambodia. This seven-headed cobra-like serpent meets mostly as an architectural detail in the decoration of the temples and other cult buildings of Khmers. Nāga represents the guardian who meets you at the doorstep of every temple. The mythological entity possesses deep symbolism. Some sources claim that seven heads symbolize the seven colors of the rainbow, while others have records about the numerological symbolism relating to the Male Energy.

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Even though the continental beaches of Cambodia are not so impressive, there still exists one indeed paradise spot in the country. Koh Rong is the Maldives of Cambodia. The island is distinguished thanks to the white sand which gives the water of crystal clear tint. Unlike neighboring Thai islands, Koh Rong looks abandoned and free of tourists. So if you plan vacations, and are going to visit some exotic place, Koh Rong might be one of the best candidates for your destination.

The King

Norodom Sihamoni: The King of Cambodia

King Norodom Sihamoni (right) meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the Royal Palace in 2009. Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Norodom Sihamoni, the King of Cambodia, is the only ruling monarch who speaks Czech fluently [21]. In addition, the king fluently speaks French, English, and even Russian. A curious fact, Norodom Sihamoni is well known as a classical dance instructor.

Hun Sen

Hun Sen

Hun Sen with the President of Russia Vladimir Putin (CC BY 4.0)

The prime minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, is the world’s youngest head of government. Also, Mr. Hun Sen was world’s youngest foreign minister, who took office at 26 [22]. However, Mr. Hun Sen possesses ill fame since he came to power thanks to the violence, intimidation, and corruption [23].

Landmines

The most shocking fact about Cambodia is that the country is one of the most heavily mined areas in the world. According to the estimates [24], there are approx. 10 million mines spread across the country of 15.76 million people [25]. Thus, any tourist should be especially careful while visiting any unknown area in Cambodia.