Cambodia has a deeply interesting history. From the early days of Funan and Chen La to a powerful and majestic Khmer empire and even in the period of independence loss, Cambodia is a land of mystery and color.   

Funan Empire

The appearance of Kingdom of Funan from 1st – 6th century AD was the first civilization in the area of present-day Cambodia. But almost nothing survives until today, except for the ruins of the supposed capital, Oc Eo in Mekong Delta in currently Vietnamese region.

Funan Kingdom established a flourishing extensive coastal trade network across Southeast Asia, China, India, the Middle East and even the Mediterranean and Rome.

Chen La: the rise of the Khmer people

By 500, Funan started to be in decline, due to the development of proto-Khmer state in the region of present-day Phnom Penh. According to Chinese annals, these inhabitants were known as Chen La, speaking a Mon-Khmer Language and strongly influenced by Indian traditional religions. They may be considered ancestors of the first authentic Cambodians.

By around 800AD, Chen La had developed into a total kingdom with its capital at Isanapura (modern- day Sambor Prei Kuk, near Kompong Thom). This capital was believed to be the most extensive complex of stone buildings in all Southeast Asia, built a century before similar constructions in Java.

The move inland

There is some uncertain description about “Water Chen La” and “Land Chen La”. The former is thought to be a Mekong Delta successor to Funan with its capital near modern-day Phnom Penh, while “Land Chen La” laid further inland. By the 7th century, “Land Chen La” had gradually replaced “Water Chen La” as the important centre of the Kingdom moved northwestwards, which became Angkor later.

By the 8th century “Land Chen La” was increasing to a wealthy and centralized kingdom. Because of the center movement into inland, away from the sea, it decreased the dependence on agriculture and trade. Instead, they relied more on manpower, irrigation technology and intensive rice production. As a result, it laid the foundations for the establishment of the Khmer Empire developing in the region of Angkor.

The empire of Angkor

The Angkor period of Cambodian history under a kingdom generally existed from AD 802 to 1431. This period was considered as the peak of Cambodia’s power and influence in Southeast Asia, as well as the pinnacle of Khmer artistic and cultural achievement. Read more

14th–20th centuries

Then political and economic center of country began a long but inexorable development from “Land Chen La”, which is the Roluos-Angkor region at the head of Tonle Sap to “Water Chen La”, which is the region around Phnom Penh, Lovek and Udong in the middle of 14th century. This country expanded maritime trade and threats from Siam (Thailand) to the West partly.

The changes of capital location seem to be the final movement, taking place after 1432. From Lovek in the 15th century to Udong in 17th century, and finally capitals has been situated in Phnom Penh.

By the mid-19th century, Khmer Empire had been gradually weakened its power, with the domination in the east by Vietnam and in the west by Siam. Then, in 1863, King Norodom was persuaded to become a nation under French protection, or as a French protectorate. 

The Indochina wars and the Khmer Rouge

Indochina wars, 20th century conflicts in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with the invasion of France (1946 – 1954) and later the United States (beginning in the 1950s).

In the half of the 19th century, Vietnam became French protectorate from 1883 to 1939, then its possession from 1939 to 1945. Then Vietnam saw a conflict to get the independence from French from the beginning of 1945 to 1954. Consequently, an agreement was signed at Geneva on July 21, 1954, providing for a temporary division of the country, at the 17th parallel of latitude, between a communist-dominated north and a U.S.-supported south. Vietnam continuously experiences a war to get independence from the United State until the two Vietnams were reunited as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 02, 1976.

Cambodia had been a French protectorate sine 1863 until the independence achievement in 1953 under the leadership of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Sihanouk had a neutral position in the Vietnam conflict and permitted Vietnamese communist to use sanctuaries inside Cambodia. But in 1970, in the effort to destroy communist sanctuaries along the Cambodia-Vietnam border, American and South Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia. While Cambodia underwent a new threat from Cambodian communists named the Khmer Rouge (“Red Khmers”). The U.S.A launched a lot of bombing raids to destroy rural area of Cambodia until 1973 to disrupt Khmer Rouge activities; but, after a five-year civil war, the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975.

During Khmer Rouge, over 2 million Cambodians died until the end of 1978 when Vietnam sent its forces to help Cambodian, seizing Phnom Penh and forcing Pol Pot’s soldiers fled to Thailand, who feared a Vietnamese invasion. 

Recovery and Modernization

1979 – People’s Republic of Cambodia was established with Vietnamese troops invasion and Pol Pot regime overthrown.

The Khmer Rouge continued a war against Vietnamese, but the Vietnamese forces withdrew from Cambodia in 1989.

After negotiations among several parties, the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 was approved with the abandonment of communism in Cambodia and a provisional government ruled until 1993 when elections were held and a constitution was framed. Sihanouk was made a constitutional monarch.

Although Khmer Rouge refused to take part in the elections and continuously increased their guerrilla war. Pol Pot died in 1998 ad peace returned to Cambodia.

In 1999 Cambodia joined ASEAN.

Cambodia in the 21st Century

In 2004 King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated, then succeeded by his son, King Norodom Sihamoni.

Cambodia is a developing country and see a rapid economy increase in the early years of the 21st century. The textiles industry in Cambodia is booming so is tourism. Cambodia is growing more and more prosperous.