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The king of cambodia

His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia

Norodom Sihamoni, born into the royal family, and currently serving as the King of Cambodia, is considered by many to be quite a different picture from the usual nobility. As a child, he was sent to a foreign nation to study, and having spent his childhood and adolescence in Prague, the city became like a second home to this prince. He showed a strong inclination towards culture and performing arts, and graduated in classical music and dance from the ‘Academy of Music Arts’ in Czechoslovakia. To further his artistic skills, he travelled all the way to North Korea to study film making. For twenty years, this prince lived in Paris, teaching and choreographing dance, and forming his own group called ‘Ballet Deva’. He has also been the ambassador for his country to the ‘United Nations’ and ‘UNESCO’ conventions.

In 2004, his father the late King Norodom Sihanouk decided to hand over the kingdom to someone who was not politically biased, and Sihamoni seemed to be the obvious choice. The latter was crowned king by a council of nine people, and though there were initial doubts about his capability as a ruler, he has since then done justice to his post. He pays special attention to health care and education, particularly in the rural areas.

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The Royal Government of Cambodia

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary government.  The King is the Head of State under Cambodia’s constitutional monarchy and the Prime Minister serves as the Head of Government.  The current King of Cambodia, King Norodom Sihamoni, was selected by the Royal Council of the Throne to ascend the throne in October 2004.

The Royal Government of Cambodia is a bicameral parliament. It is based on Cambodia’s constitution which was ratified and adopted in 1993, after signing the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991. Cambodia’s legislature consists of a National Assembly and the Senate. The executive branch of the Royal Government of Cambodia is formed by the party that wins the greatest number of seats in the National Assembly elections, which take place every five years.  The prime minister is chosen by the King based upon the recommendation of the National Assembly’s President and Vice Presidents, whom are voted by members of the National Assembly. The current Prime Minister of Cambodia is His Excellency Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen.

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Cambodian History

The race that produced the builders of Angkor developed slowly through the fusion of the Mon-Khmer racial groups of Southern Indochina during the first six centuries of the Christian era. Under Indian influence, two principal centers of civilization developed. The older, in the extreme south of the peninsula was called “Funan” (the name is a Chinese transliteration of the ancient Khmer form of the word “Phnom”, which means “hill”). Funan was a powerful maritime empire that ruled over all the shores of the Gulf of Siam.

In the mid-sixth century, the Kambuja who lived in the middle Mekong (north of present day Cambodia), broke away from Funan. Within a short period, this new power known as Chenla, absorbed the Funanese Kingdom. In the late seventh century, Chenla broke into two parts: Land Chenla (to the north) and Water Chenla (to the south along the Gulf of Thailand). Both were dominated by the Chinese. Land Chenla was fairly stable during the 8th century, whereas Water Chenla was beset by dynastic rivalries. During this period, Java invaded and took control over part of the country.

At the beginning of the ninth century, the kings set up their respective capital in the present province of Siem Reap. For nearly six centuries, the kings enriched it by building several temples. Each of these temples was more sumptuous than the previous one. Two hundred of these temples are spread all over the area that defined today as Angkor Archeological Park in Seam Reap province. The temples and their sanctuaries are best known for their stunning architecture and intricate sculptures.

The first founder of Angkor was King Jayayarman II (802-850), who built one of his residences on the plateau of the Kulen in 802. King Indravarman I (887-889), a nephew of King Jayavarman II, constructed a vast irrigation system at Lolei and then built the tower of Preah Ko in 879 and Bakong in 881. King Yasovarman (889-900), the son of King Indravarman I, dedicated the towers of Lolei to his memory in 893 and founded a new capital to the northwest which was to remain the very heart of Angkor. He built the Eastern Baray, a 7km X 2km size artificial lake also.

King Harshavarman I (900-923), the son of King Yasovarman, who took to the foot of Phnom Bakheng, consecrated the little temple of Baksei Chamkrong, and built Prasat Kravan in 921. King Jayavarman IV (928-941), uncle of King Harshavarman I, reigned in northeastern Cambodia near the present town of Koh Ker. He erected several majestic monuments. King Rajendravarman (944-968) returned to Angkor in 952 and built the Eastern Mebon and Prè Roup in 961. In 967, the Brahman Yajnavaraha, a high religious dignitary of royal blood, erected the temple of Banteay Srei, about 20 km northeast of the capital. King Jayavarman V (968-1001) founded a new capital around Takeo Temple.

In the eleventh century, King Suryavarman I (1002-1050) seized Angkor and founded a glorious dynasty. It was at this time that the Gopura of the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom was completed with the sober pyramid of the Phimeanakas at its center. He also erected the temple of Phnom Chiso, some parts of Preah Vihear, and Preah Khan in Kampong Svay District.

King Udayadityavarman II (1050-1066), son of king Suryavarman I, built the mountain temple of Baphuon and Western Baray. King Udayadityavarman's brother, King Harshavarman III, succeeded him and ruled from 1066 to 1080 when violent strife led to the fall of the dynasty. King Jayavarman VI (1080-1113) continued to build Preah Vihear Mount in Vat Po and Phimai.

King Suryavarman II (1113-1150) extended his power from the coast of the China Sea to the Indian Ocean and built the temples of Angkor Wat, Thommanon, Chau Say Tevoda, Preah Palilay, Preah Pithu and Banteay Samrè. After these dazzling achievements, the Khmer civilization began to decline due to internal strife and an attack by the Chams.

King Jayavarman VII (1181-1220) was the most fascinating personality in Khmer history. He re-established his rule over all of southern Indochina and is best known for his huge building program. He built Ta Prohm (1186) and Preah Khan (1191) as a dedication to his parents. Then he erected Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang, the Terrace of the Leper King, the Terrace of the Elephants, Neak Pean, Ta Saom, Ta Nei, and a few monuments in other parts of the country. It was he who founded his great capital, Angkor Thom and in the center of which, he built the Bayon temple with its two hundred stone faces.

The decline of the Angkor era began after the death of King Jayavarman VII in the early thirteenth century. Due to Siamese invasion and the limitations of the irrigation system, Khmer power declined so drastically that the king was finally obliged to move to the vicinity of Phnom Penh in 1431. Then, resulting from a series of Siamese and Cham invasions, the country was placed as a French protectorate in 1863.

After regaining Independence in 1953, the country resumed several names:

  •     The Kingdom of Cambodia (under the Reachia Niyum Regime from 1953 to 1970)
  •     The Khmer Republic (under the Lon Nol Regime from 1970 to 1975)
  •     Democratic Kampuchea (under the Pol Pot Genocidal Regime from 1975 to 1979)
  •     The People's Republic of Kampuchea (1979-1989)
  •     The State of Cambodia (1989-1993)
  •     The Kingdom of Cambodia (1993 until now).

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Culture & Tradition

Customs and Tradition

Cambodian culture and tradition have a rich history that dates back many centuries. Over the years, the people of Cambodia developed a set of unique traditions which is based on the syncretism of indigenous Buddhism and Hinduism. Cambodians have been raised to respect their culture and are very traditional in their way of life.

Chumreap Suor

Cambodians traditionally greet with a Sampeah. This involves pressing the hands together before the chest, a slight bow and the polite phrase ‘Chumreap Suor’. Customarily, the higher the hands are held and the lower the bow, the more respect is conveyed.

Except when meeting elderly people or government officials, between men, this custom has been partially replaced by the handshake. Women usually greet both men and women with the same traditional greeting. Although it may be considered acceptable for foreigners to shake hands with a Cambodian, it is more appropriate to respect the custom and respond with a ‘Chumreap Suor’.

Traditional Dances

There are many classical dance forms in Cambodia. This highly stylized art form was once mainly confined to the courts of the royal palace and performed mainly by females. Known formally in Khmer as Robam Apsara, the dancers of this classical form are often referred to as Apsara dancers.

The traditional dance form was first introduced to foreign countries and best known during the 1960s as the Khmer Royal Ballet. The first royal ballerina was Princess Norodom Bopha Devi, a daughter of King Norodom Sihanouk.

The Apsara Dance is very beautiful and even served as a source of inspiration for the many intricate stone carvings in the Angkor temple complex. The dance has been part of the Khmer culture for more than a millennium.

A visit to Cambodia is only complete when travellers have attended at least one traditional dance performance.

Kbach Kun Khmer Boran ( Martial Art )

Khmer martial arts date back more than a thousand years. Many carvings and bas-reliefs in the Angkor temples serve as evidences.The martial arts include Bokator, Pradal Serey, Baok Chambab, Kbach Kun Dambong Vèng, amongst others.

Bokator

Khmer Bokator, known formally as Labokatao, is a Cambodian martial arts form that involves close hand-to-hand combat, ground techniques and weapons.Bokator is one of the earliest Cambodian martial arts and is said to be the close quarter combat system used by the armies during the Angkor era. Practitioners are trained to strike with knees, elbows, hands, feet and even the head. Short sticks are commonly used as weapon.

Baok Chambab

Baok Chambab is Khmer wrestling; a sport in which involves two opponents who try to pin each other’s back to the ground. A match consists of three rounds. Before starting the match, wrestlers perform pre-match ritual dancing. A wrestler wins a match by two out of three rounds. However, after each round, the loser is asked if he still wishes to continue with the match. A Baok Chambab match is traditionally accompanied by drum beats, involving two drums known as Skor Nhy (female drum) and and Chhmol (male drum). Traditional matches are held at the Cambodian National Olympic Stadium during the Khmer New Year and other Cambodian holidays.

Kbach Kun Dambong Vèng

Kbach Kun Dambong Vèng literally refers to an ancient Cambodian martial art form involving the use of a long staff. It has traditionally been practiced to prepare against enemies bearing eventual malice towards their villages and their country. Now, it is particularly popular with youths in main sports clubs in Cambodia.

Pradal Serey

Khmer Pradal Serey is traditional Khmer kick boxing. A match consists of five rounds and takes place in a boxing ring. Between each round there is a one or two-minute break. Before a match, boxers perform  praying rituals known as the Kun Krou and traditional Cambodian music is played during a match. The instruments used are the Skor Yaul (a drum), the Sralai (a flute-like instrument) and the stringed Chhing. Boxers are required to wear leather gloves and shorts.

Victory is instantaneously granted when a boxer delivers a knockout which is determined when the knocked down boxer is unable to continue the fight after a 10-second counted by a referee. Victory is also determined at the end of the match when judges decide based on a point system. If the fighters end up with the same score, a draw is called.

Khmer Weddings

Traditional Cambodian weddings are intricate affairs that consist of multiple ceremonies spread over three days and three nights. The wedding begins with the groom and his family traveling to the bride’s home bearing gifts to the bride’s family as dowry. Family members and friends are introduced, and wedding rings are exchanged. Customarily, three traditional songs accompany this first segment; the first song announces the arrival of the groom. The second song is played while the dowry is presented to the brides family. The final song invites the elders to chew Betel Nut, which is an age-old Khmer tradition. Following this tradition, is the Tea Ceremony, at which the bride and groom offer tea to the spirits of their ancestors.

To prepare the bride and groom for their life as a married couple, their hair must then be symbolically cut to represent a fresh start to their new relationship together as husband and wife. The master of ceremony performs the first symbolic hair cut; the bride and groom’s parents, relatives, and friends then take turn to symbolically cut the bride's and groom’s hair while giving them blessing and good wishes.

The finale is the most memorable segment of the wedding. Family members and friends take turns to tie the bride’s and groom’s left and right wrists with ‘blessing strings’. The praises and wishes of happiness, good health, success, prosperity, and long-lasting love are acknowledged and witnessed by the loud sound of the gong and joyful cheers. The wedding guests then throw palm flowers over the new couple accompanied by a traditional song. After the couple is pronounced husband and wife, the groom holds the bride’s fabric into the bridal room accompanied by a traditional song.

At the close of this wedding ceremony, all of the guests are invited to a wedding reception accompanied by an orchestral concert. The Khmer wedding is a rowdy and joyous event.

Nowadays most families reduce the three-day and three-night ritual to a one-day affair.

Traditional Medicine

The Khmer traditional medicine is a form of naturopathy using natural remedies, such as roots, barks, leaves and herbs. The ingredients are meant to motivate the body’s vital ability to heal and maintain itself. The medicine has been used to treat various diseases for many years.

The ancient Khmer people first formulated this medical lore during the Angkor period. Today, the traditional medicine offers a holistic approach and aims at avoiding the use of surgery and drugs. Practitioners of this therapy are known locally as Krou Khmer.

Khmer traditional doctors are receiving recognition and training from the government at the National Center of Traditional Medicine which has gathered medical books and knowledge from temples across the country. Traditional healers are welcomed at the centre, where they receive a uniform level of training. It also allows the centre to accumulate local knowledge from across the country.

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Religion

Theravada Buddhism is the prevailing official religion in Cambodia. Approximately 90 percent of the population is Buddhist. Islam, Hinduism and Christianity are also embraced in Cambodia.

Since Buddha statues and images represent the revered Buddha, travellers are asked to treat all such statues and images with respect.

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Language

Khmer is the official language in Cambodia. The Cambodian language is derived from the Mon-Khmer (Austro-Asiatic) language family and is renowned for possessing one of the largest sets of alphabets. 33 consonants, 23 vowels and 12 independent vowels are part of the alphabet.

While it is always very much appreciated by the locals if travellers speak a few phrases in Khmer, wish to , English is widely spoken and understood. French and Mandarin are also spoken frequently in the country. Most elderly Cambodians speak French and many people in the Khmer-Chinese population speak Mandarin.