• Population: 14.8 million (UN, 2005)
  • Capital: Phnom Penh
  • Area: 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq miles)
  • Major language: Khmer
  • Major religion: Buddhism
  • Life expectancy: 52 years (men), 60 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 riel = 100 sen
  • The Kingdom born from water, this is Cambodia. What the greater of us know is its horrifying past of the Killing Fields that we now merely have reveries of in history class, and that’s just about everything we know. For some, Cambodia is the last place they dream of finding themselves in, for it is a little intimidating here, and frightening as well. But the place grows on you by sight of old civilization temples, or aroma of herbs and spices, and when it does, the traveller will have a sense of familiarity. The country may be slightly depressing sight at the start, but despite its brutally tragic past, the smiling faces will tell that its future holds great potential.


    Out of the 181,035 km2 area, Cambodia (13 00 N, 105 00 E) is a mostly low and flat terrain with mountains to the Gulf of Thailand in the south, and to Thailand to the North. Paddies and forest dominated by the Mekong and Tonle Sap are also characteristic of the landscape of Cambodia. In the Cardamom Mountains is the highest elevation at 1,813 metres above sea level, the Phnom Aoral, standing tall amongst the kingdom’s general topography of 75% lying merely 100 metres above the Gulf of Thailand, the lowest point thus.


    As with all the countries in the SEA region, the climate is tropical, or succinctly put, hot and hotter. While summer is surely one of the worst times to visit, weather-wise, it is best time to soak up some sun. The high season of tourism in Cambodia is during the dry season from December to April during the cool of the northeast monsoon where the temperature and humidity ranges from cool to warm.


    Whatever the climate, the 14,244,293 Cambodians are a cool bunch year round, no matter what their beliefs, be they Theravada Buddhists, the dominant religion, Muslims, Christians, and so on. The people radiate charm and determination to survive with what little resources they have. The majority of the people are Khmers, an ethno-linguistic group, and minor populations of Chinese and Vietnamese, with KHMER, equally, as the official language of the state. ENGLISH is the second most important language, followed by a small senile generation of FRENCH speakers, while VIETNAMESE comes last. The Cambodians, in all their dynamism and enthusiasm, are what makes a visit in this great land unknown truly worth the while.


    But the places you go in Cambodia are as charming. We’re talking history class outside the confines of the classroom. The ancient monuments such as the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap feign a playground for a traveller with a sense of adventure. The Angkor Wat is too big, too beautiful! It is this building that made the Cambodian flag distinctly as the only flag to carry a building as a design. After all, it is the pinnacle of the Khmer empire, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. In Cambodia, the traveller will find evidence that a sophisticated, intricate, and magnificent civilization existed as the colossal edifices such as The Silver Pagoda, Wat Phnom, and Wat Botum. In addition to all these wonderful monuments, the country has scores more to offer like untouched beaches and secret islands tucked away somewhere on the Gulf of Thailand.


    All that is left to be said is be ready for a meal that will match the grandeur of the experience of being here. A really good meal at that, beautifully plated characterised by an inventive use of aromatic herbs and spices and many local ingredients that create a rich and textured gastronomic experience. But nothing quite presents Khmer food from the Kingdom as accurately as street food. Most of the locally-loved dishes here are to most of us an acquired taste, but that’s Cambodian cuisine. It opens the eye, expands the palate.

    Generally, rice is the staple in these parts in a multitude of forms such as aromatic, or glutinous. Most dishes are eaten with this or with noodles. Some meats are used sparingly, but vegetables, fruits, and fish, liberally! The French has left its legacy, but the influence continues to subsist in the modern Khmer cuisine, as the French baguette or the crème brulee. Khmer cuisine is not distant to its neighbouring Thai cuisine, but is not as spicy or hot. If fried spiders are testing your intestinal fortitude, there are pork or chicken stew (caw), pork noodle soup (kuyteav), curry with fish, shrimp, or chicken (amok), and fried rice with sausages and pork (bai cha).

    Desserts vary from fresh and chilled fruits to fruits cooked with rice, coconut milk and sugar, or even some French desserts and pastries. One thing for sure, Khmer kitchens smell heavenly, and if it smells right, just eat it. It is the element of Cambodian surprise that adds a sense of adventure and excitement to the weary traveller.

    To enjoy Cambodia, the traveller has to make sure to follow some precious guidelines, like wear protection, drink bottled, and possibly, stay away from durian. If things go wrong, and the traveller ends up in violation of his Lonely Planet travel guides, you will love Cambodia even more. Just have a gastroenterologist check-up when you get back home. But the real concern for travel here are the 6 million landmines strewn all over to the Thailand border. But what the heck, right?

    Josh Boorman


    Backpacking Addictz



    Twitter: @backpackaddictz

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    Joshua Boorman

    Joshua Boorman

    Founder & Editor in Chief at Backpacking Addictz
    Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.
    Joshua Boorman

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