Introduction to Geography of Cambodia

Cambodia, or Kampuchea, a country of Southeast Asia. It lies near the southern end of the Indochinese Peninsula, facing the Gulf of Thailand. Its neighbors are Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Cambodia extends some 350 miles (560 km) east-west and 275 miles (440 km) north-south. The country's area is 69,898 square miles (181,035 km2).

Physical Geography

CambodiaCambodia is a country in Southeast Asia.

Cambodia lies in the lower Mekong River basin and occupies some of the flattest and lowest land in Southeast Asia. Three-quarters of the country consists of a broad, very gently rolling lowland called the Cambodian Plain. In several places, the plain is fringed by uplands. In the southwest, the Cardamom Mountains, reaching more than 6,000 feet (1,800 m), and the Elephant Range separate the interior from the coast. Along the northern border with Thailand the Dangrek Range rises sharply above the plain. Eastern Cambodia's uplands are mostly extensions of the mountains and plateaus of Vietnam.

The Mekong, one of Asia's greatest rivers, drains nearly all of the country. The Mekong runs generally southward from the Laos border, passing through many rapids north of the town of Kratie. Southward, the river widens as it winds through the Cambodian Plain, eventually splitting into two main branches before entering its delta in Vietnam.

When summer monsoon rains raise the Mekong's level as much as 40 feet (12 m), part of the river's flow backs up into the Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia's largest lake. The lake then increases considerably in size and depth, flooding the surrounding land. By November the waters of the lake have receded, leaving behind rich alluvial soil and shallow ponds teeming with fish.

Cambodia has a humid, tropical climate. Average temperatures are high all year, varying between about 75º and 90° F. (24º and 32° C.). Most of the rain comes during the monsoon season, from May through October. Coastal areas annually receive as much as 150 inches (3,800 mm) of rain; much less falls in the interior. At Phnom Penh, the national capital, annual rainfall is about 55 inches (1,400 mm); northern areas get somewhat more.

Economy

The economy is primarily agricultural, based on the growing of food for local consumption. As in most of Southeast Asia, the standard of living and per capita income are low. Unlike some of its neighbors, however, Cambodia has a relatively small population and abundant land for crops.

Most of the farming is carried on in the Mekong valley and around the Tonle Sap. Rice, the staple food, is the chief crop and is raised on a large share of the cultivated land. Farmers also raise fruit and corn, cassava, beans, and other vegetables. Cattle and water buffalo are used as draft animals, and most farms have some poultry and a few pigs. Rubber, produced on large plantations in the southeast, is a major commercial crop and export. The Vietnam War and the Cambodian civil wars destroyed a number of farms and rubber plantations.

Fishing is second only to farming as a source of food. There is a thriving commercial fishing industry on the Tonle Sap, and nearly all farm families fish in streams and rivers near their homes. Also commercially valuable are timber and other products from the forests that cover about 70 per cent of the country.

With roughly 70 per cent of the workers employed in agriculture, Cambodia's manufacturing industries make up only a small part of the economy and are closely linked to the processing of farm goods. Rice mills are found wherever rice is grown, and there are numerous sawmills and textile plants. Small factories produce locally used items such as cement, plywood, processed foods, rubber tires, textiles, matches, paper, clothing and garment manufacturing, and beverages. More modern manufacturing activities, such as truck assembly and petroleum refining, are found in or near Phnom Penh and Kompong Som. There are few mineral resources, and mining is relatively unimportant.

Tourism contributes much to the economy of Cambodia, as does foreign aid.

Transportation in Cambodia has long been based on the country's waterways, particularly the Mekong and its tributaries. Small oceangoing vessels can sail up the Mekong to Phnom Penh, but most of the foreign trade is handled through Kompong Som, Cambodia’s only deepwater port. Railways run from Phnom Penh northwestward to the Thai border and southwestward to Kompong Som. Hard-surfaced roads link Phnom Penh with the main provincial cities and towns. During the monsoon season, many of the secondary roads are impassable. Cambodia's international airport is near Phnom Penh. Siem Reap and Battambang also have airports.

Cambodia's basic monetary unit is the riel.

The People

More than 85 per cent of the people are Khmers (Cambodians), a Mongoloid people. Other peoples include Vietnamese, Chinese, Thais, Laotians, and Cham-Malays.

In 1994 Cambodia had a population of about 9,568,000. Phnom Penh, the capital and largest city, had some 900,000 residents in 1991. The overall population density is about 137 persons per square mile (53 per km2).

Khmer, the national language, belongs to the Mon-Khmer language family. Minority groups retain their own languages. Nearly 90 per cent of the people adhere to Theravada Buddhism. Most Cambodians are also animists. Other faiths are Christianity (predominantly Roman Catholicism), Mahayana Buddhism, and Islam.

Public education is free. Primary education lasts six years; secondary education, seven years. There are vocational and technical schools. The leading institution of higher learning is Phnom Penh University. About half the people are literate.

Government

Under the constitution of 1993, Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, though the powers of the King are merely ceremonious. The king (head of state) appoints the First Prime Minister (head of government), the Second Prime Minister, and a cabinet. The legislature is the 122 member popularly elected National Assembly, and the 61 member Senate. .The Senate was first established in 1999, and the members were elected by the party leaders and the King.