Cambodia History

Cambodia history is a tortuous path from the once most powerful empire in Southeast Asia to an atrocious regime and a country which came close to dissapearence.

The first vestiges of human presence in Cambodia date back 6,000 years and mark the starting point of Cambodian pre-history. By the first century AD trade routes between China and India had developed and groups of settlers appeared in the Mekong Delta. Chinese records mention the Funan Kingdom as one of the earliest trading settlements and finds have been made of Roman coins confirming the establishment of a staging post on important trade routes between West and East. Funan was strongly influenced by Indian religious and social ideas and is known as the first precursor of the Khmer empire. The second predecessor would be the Chenla Kingdom in the 6th century that, according to Chinese records, gained control over Funan and moved inland.

The period that follows is known as the golden age of Cambodia history. Angkor history starts in 802 AD with King Jayavarman II proclaiming itself the first God king at a ceremony on the Kulen Hills to the North of Tonle Sap. The Angkor era saw the empire ruling over vast territores and a cultural and architectural supremacy over its neighbours that reached its zenith during Suryavarman's construction of Angkor Wat near the modern site of Siem Reap and then the reing of King Jayavarman VII. After his death the empire started to decline and Angkor was misterioulsy abandoned in 1431.

Post Angkor history is known as the dark ages due to lack of records and the Kingdom became fougt over between its two neighbours Thailand and Vietnam, being controlled by either one or the other.

Modern Cambodia History

To protect the country from its neighbours, King Norodom signed an agreement with the French to establish a protectorate in 1863. Cambodia became a French colony and part of French Indochina in 1887. Cambodia was largely neglected, the French collected taxes but brought few improvements to the country. WWII brought the next chapter in Cambodia history as control over Indochina shifted to Japanese hands. After the war the French tried to regain control over the region but King Norodom launched a crusade for independence that resulted in French withdrawal in 1953.

 

Despite King Norodom's efforts to maintain neutrality, the Vietnam War spilled over to Cambodia and when America got involved in the war aerial bombings on the country killed thousands of Khmers. The ideological influence of the communist ideas and discontent of the french educated middle class leaders with the US supported Lon Nol Government gave rise to the birth of the Khmer rouge.

In 1975 Khmer Rouge troops entered Phnom Penh and took control of the country. For the next four years Cambodia history entered its darkest phase as the country suffered one of the most bloody regimes imaginable; between 1 and 3 million people perished. In 1979 Vietnamese forces overran Phnom Penh and started the Vietnam occupation that would last until 1989. The UN prepared the country for free elections, which took place in 1993, and the multiparty liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy system established then has lasted until the present day in a largely peaceful period.

For more Cambodia travel information please visit our Country Facts, and Cambodia geography pages.



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Cambodian History and Angkor Wat information by ABOUTAsia