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Cambodia

Cambodia today - between tradition and modernity

Cambodia is a small south-east Asian country, bordered by Thailand and Vietnam, which has found a place for itself since the arrival of tourists there about 20 years ago. However, even if the situation is stable at the moment, the population faces many challenges.

The dictatorship of Pol Pot, a torturer who led the Khmer Rouge, ended in 1979, and the Vietnamese troops left a free Cambodia in 1989. This recent history has left its marks, and even today every Cambodian keeps this painful episode in mind. It has made the Khmer people calm, smiling and non-violent. Actually, most of the locals will tell you that they have no desire to relive a similar period and they want to breathe with relief and slowly get on with things again. 

Uncertain politics

Cambodia is a kingdom whose current king is called Norodom Sihamoni. He is still single and is the son of the very famous King Norodom Sihanouk, who died in 2008. He was much loved by the Cambodians, far more in fact than the current king. 

But the person who governs the country is Prime MInister Hun Sen, who was originally prime minister from 1985 to 1993, and has been in power continuously since 1998. Internationally he is criticised for having a very corrupt regime. The inequalities in Cambodia can be very shocking, especially in Phnom Penh. You can see lots of big beautiful cars, which belong to those who are close to the government, and on the other hand, 60% of the population is living below the poverty line. 

There are two parties in Cambodia, but the opposition party is quickly repressed: they (the CNRP or Cambodian National Rescue Party) won the last election in 2013, but Hun Sen demanded a recount and in the end his party won! This gives you some idea of the level of corruption. 

Hun Sen

Tourism and agriculture - major sectors in Cambodia

When you travel in Cambodia the principal destinations are Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. If you stay in the centre of town you won't really notice the challenges facing the country because the town reaps the benefits of money from tourism. 

However, if you get on a bike and ride 10 minutes out of Siem Reap, you will find yourself in the middle of the paddy fields and there is a much higher level of poverty. Actually, about 70% of the population makes its living from agriculture, mainly the cultivation of rice or fishing. So what happens with the weather is crucial to Cambodia. The monsoon season of 2014 was very weak and a lot of people feared the harvest would be very bad. In addition, lake Tonlé Sap, which is in the middle of the country, may well shrink because the Mekong floods are decreasing in strength. 

For tourists, the principal attraction is obviously Angkor, which had 4 million visitors in 2014. So, keeping the Angkor temples in good condition is a major challenge. At the moment, there are associations such as the EFEO (French School of the Far East) which are working on programmes to restore some of the temples. However, Angkor Wat, the most widely known, is built on a water reservoir, and many specialists fear that the growth in the number of tourists will require restorations to be done to avoid it sinking. The country needs proper regulations, at all levels, and this is something the government seems unable to do. 

Bettina Zourli
125 contributions
Updated 7 August 2015
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