"The good, the bad and the ugly" has been aptly used to describe Cambodian history - from the dominance of the vast and sophisticated Angkor civilization, which saw the building of some of the largest and most technologically advanced cities on earth at that time, to their disintegration through a mixture of environmental catastrophe and warfare, to the unmitigated horror of the Khmer Rouge years, when Pol Pot's brutal ideology led to the death of over 1.5 million people. People have been living in Cambodia for at least 7 thousand years. The Khmer Empire had its "golden age" from the 9th to the 13th centuries, when huge temple complexes (Angkor Wat) and cities (Angkor Thom) were built, together with sophisticated irrigation schemes, vast libraries and powerful armies. Cambodian culture fell into decline with the end of the Angkor civilisation, with many areas conquered by neighboring countries, and the population reverting to a largely rural state. Spanish and Portuguese missionaries visited from the 16th century, and Cambodia became a protectorate of France in the 19th century, being ruled as part of French Indochina. Cambodia became an independent kingdom in 1953 under Norodom Sihanouk. However, as the Vietnam War extended into Cambodia, this gave rise to the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge, who took over the country in 1975 and began their "year zero" campaign, leading to the deaths of over 1.5 million Cambodians. Following an invasion by Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge were deposed and the People's Republic of Kampuchea was established. After years of isolation, the war-ravaged nation was reunited under the monarchy in 1993 and has seen rapid economic progress and rebuilding. Cambodia today is still recovering from these years, but increasing numbers of tourists, drawn to the ancient wonders of Angkor, are changing the country, as is the gradually increasing wealth, social cohesion and education levels of the population.
Throughout Cambodia's long history, religion has been a major source of cultural inspiration. The indian religions of Buddhism and Hinduism and traditional animistic beliefs have merged into a unique Khmer culture. Wider Indian culture has also heavily influenced Cambodia, from written language to cuisine. The Angkor architects and sculptors created temples that mapped the cosmic and religious world in stone, some of them Hindu and some Buddhist. Derspite all religion being banned during the Khmer Rouge years, Cambodia today is predominantly Buddhist, with 90% of the population being Theravada Buddhist, 1% Christian and the remaining population following Islam (Cham people), atheism, or animism. Along with strong family ties, strong community obligations operate in Khmer culture, which is very hierarchical. The greater a person's age, the greater the level of respect that must be granted to them. A person's head is believed to contain the person's soul—therefore making it taboo to touch. It is also considered to be extremely disrespectful to use the feet to point out a person, or to sit or sleep with the soles of the feet pointing at a person. When greeting people or to show respect in Cambodia people do the "sampeah" gesture, identical to the Indian namaste and Thai wai. Clothing in Cambodia differs according to ethnic group and social class, but most Cambodians still wear some aspect of traditional dress daily. A checkered scarf called a krama is used for many purposes including sun protection, a climbing aid, a hammock for infants or a towel. A folded and tucked skirt, the sampot, is also worn on special occasions and by traditional apsara dancers. Increasingly however, Cambodians are adopting Western clothing. The population has recovered rapidly in recent years, with refugees returning home and many people having large families. More than 15 million people now live in Cambodia, and the birth rate remains high. This, combined with some sectors of the population (the very young and old) perishing disproportionately under the Khmer Rouge, gives the country a very young average age.
Amok, Prahok and Rice
Khmer cuisine takes elements from other south-east Asian cuisines, such a Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese, as well as India. Indian influenced dishes include many types of curry known as kari dried spices such as star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and fennel as well as local ingredients like lemongrass, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, kampot pepper and galangal that give dishes a distinctive Cambodian flavor. Khmer cuisine also uses prahok, a type of fermented fish paste, in many dishes as a distinctive flavoring. Almost every meal is eaten with a bowl of rice. There are over a hundred words and phrases for rice in the Khmer language as well as hundreds of varieties of indigenous rice. Typically, Cambodians eat their meals with at least three or four separate dishes. Each individual dish will usually be either sweet, sour, salty or bitter. Insects, molluscs of various kinds, as well as a large variety of freshwater fish are widely eaten. During the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodian cuisine was almost wiped out (along with all other forms of art and culture). However, the recent increase in local living standards, as well as an influx of tourists interested in food, has meant the revival of Khmer cuisine.
Cambodia covers around 180,000 square kilometers. It lies completely within the tropics, bounded on the north by Thailand and Laos, and on the east by Vietnam. The south opens onto the Gulf of Thailand, and Cambodia has lovely beaches and islands. The country's interior consists of the Mekong River and its' alluvial flood plains, which feeds the large and centrally located Tonlé Sap Lake. The Mekong traverses the country from north to south over a length of around 450 km. The climate is monsoonal and has marked wet and dry seasons of roughly equal length. Both temperature and humidity are generally high year round.
Plants and Animals
Cambodia is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including 212 mammals, 536 birds, 176 reptiles species and over 850 freshwater fish species found in Lake Tonle Sap. Wildlife in Cambodia includes dholes, elephant, deer, wild oxen, panthers, bears, and tigers. Cormorants, cranes, ibises, parrots, pheasants, and wild ducks are also found, and wetlands are an important rest stop for migrating birds. However, many species are endangered due to deforestation and habitat destruction, poaching and the spread of farming, fishing, and forestry activities. Intensive poaching may have already driven Cambodia's national animal, the Kouprey, to extinction, and wild tigers, Eld's deer, wild water buffaloes and hog deer are at critically low numbers. It is hoped that education and increasing prosperity will help aid the preservation of remaining wild areas in the country.
Scheduled tours 2015
Explore Vietnam and Cambodia through the art of photography! This fantastic tour is a great way to learn new skills in lands of surprises and contrasts. Whether you are interested in a career in photography, are an enthusiastic amateur, or just want to polish your social media offerings, this tour is an opportunity to experience fascinating people and places in the company of passionate experts. Cycling “off the beaten track” allows us to interact with people and landscapes and experience local life, rather than seeing it flash by the windows of a bus... A full time support vehicle allows you to cycle as much or as little as you wish. Engaging with the community through visiting and working on philanthropic projects along the way adds to your experience enormously. Visit magnificent temples and imposing monuments, fascinating markets, endearing villages and people, and bring home the photographs to prove it.
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