Cambodia and the Vietnam War

Cambodian politics since independence from French colonial rule until the advent of the Khmer Rouge have been heavily influenced by one of the most controversial political figures of Asia: King Norodom Sihanouk. His shifting alliances with the international powers and flirtations with both the leftist and rightist elements of Cambodia have been very much discussed. His political decisions responded both to his determination to keep afloat in politics and to avoid Cambodia getting involved in a major international conflict.

Vietnam War and non alignment pact

In 1955 Sihanouk abdicated and put his father in the throne in order to engage in political affairs. He funded the political party Sangkum and he united the most right -wing groups under his party in order to avoid the democrats to win the 1955 elections. Indeed, the Sangkum won the ballots with an overwhelming victory, although these results have been said to be obtained thanks to the use of intimidation and fraudulent means. During the 60s the now Prime Minister Sihanouk ruled in an autocratic fashion leading a sometimes violent campaing against leftist elements in the country.

When the Vietnam war broke out, Sihanouk promoted policies that aimed to preserve Cambodia's neutrality. In 1965 he signed a pact with China and North Vietnam to allow North Vietnamese forces to establish bases in Cambodian territory to fight South Vietnam. The relationships with the USA were problematic due to Sihanouk's mistrust towards Americans and the preference of Lon Nol, the right wing general in Sihanouk's government, by the USA. However, by 1967 North Vietnamese use of the sanctuaries in Cambodia was desestabilizing the country and China was too preoccupied with the "Cultural Revolution" to provide any assistance. Trying to restore relationships with the west, Sihanouk allowed USA and South Vietnam to enter Cambodia in their fight against communists.

Map of the Funan Kingdom in 200 A.D

Map of the Funan Kingdom in 200 A.D.

The presence of Vietnamese forces in Cambodia, the USA bombings and the corruption and repression of Sihanouk's regime had enraged the public opinion and in 1970, Lon Nol deposed Sihanouk as a head of the state while he was out of the country in a coup d'etat. However, there were about 40,000 Vietnamese troops in the country and as American and South Vietnamese troops invaded Southeastern Cambodia, the Vietnamese communist troops went deeper into the country.

Meanwhile, the Khmer Rouge were gaining power amongst peasants who opposed Lon Nol's rule. Sihanouk, in order to take revenge on Lon Nol showed his support for the Khmer Rouge visiting them in the fields. This gesture increased dramatically the support of the Khmer Rouge in the countryside. The years that follow would lead to the bloodiest chapter in Cambodian history.


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