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.