Cambodian History

Cambodia is a country rich in culture, historical and natural diversity, and is starting to take its rightful

place as one of the leading tourism destinations in Asia. The Angkor Wat temple complex and the more

than a thousand ancient ruins that dot the countryside can take visitors back to the ancient times of the

great Khmer Empire. This charming land of gentle people has opened its doors to offer visitors a unique

experience, fascinating traditional dances, centuries of history and some of the world's most splendid

ancient temples. The architectural marvels of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, are proudly preserved as

world heritage sites.

Besides Phnom Penh, the capital city and hub of politics and business, another major tourist

destination is Siem Reap Province, which is rich in culture and history with well over a hundred ancient

temples.And the Royal Cambodian Government, through its natural and coastal resources, is now

actively promoting eco-tourism spots as alternative destinations for relaxation and adventure.

Indeed, Cambodia's coastal area has great potential as a major tourist destination with its pristine

beaches, underwater treasures and wide range of aquatic activities. Cambodia's eco-tourism sites

offer visitors exquisite landscapes, waterfalls, wildlife, tribal villages and rare species of bird, flora

and fauna that have fascinated explorers, naturalists and bird watchers for centuries. Moreover, the

range and quality of transportation, accommodation and infrastructure in the country is expanding to

meet the ever-growing numbers of visitors coming to Cambodia.

Cambodia is waiting to warmly welcome all foreign visitors to visit our world heritage sites,

particularly Angkor Wat, and to experience the true warmth of Khmer hospitality.

No one knows for certain how long people have lived in what is now Cambodia, as studies of its

prehistory are undeveloped. A carbon-l4dating from a cave in northwestern Cambodia suggests

that people usingstone t ools lived in the cave as early as 4000 bc, and rice has been grown on

Cambodian soil since well before the 1st century ad. The first Cambodians likely arrived long

before either of these dates. They probably migrated from the north, although nothing is known

about their language or their way of life.

By the beginning of the 1st century ad, Chinese traders began to reportthe existence of inland

and coastal kingdoms in Cambodia. These kingdoms already owed much to Indian culture, which

provided alphabets, art forms, architectural styles, religions (Hinduism and Buddhism), anda

stratified class system. Local beliefs that stressed the importance of ancestral dianized state in

South east Asia. It is from this period that evolved Cambodia's language, part of the Mon-Khmer

family, which contains elements of Sanskrit, its ancient religion of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Historians have noted, for example,that Cambodians can be distinguished from their neighbors

by their clothing - checkered scarves known as Kramas are worn instead of straw hats.

Funan gave way to the Angkor Empire with the rise to power of King Jayavarman II in 802.

The following 600 years saw powerful Khmer kings dominate much of present day Southeast

Asia, from the borders of Myanmar east to the South ChinaSea and north to Laos. It was during

this period that Khmer kings built the most extensive concentration of religious temples in the world

-the Angkor temple complex. The most successful of Angkor's kings,Jayavarman II, Indravarman I,

Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, also devised a masterpiece of ancient engineering: a

sophisticated irrigation system that includes barays (gigantic man-made lakes) and canals that

ensured as many as three rice crops a year. Part of this system is still in use todSpirits coexisted with the Indian religions  and remain powerful today.

Cambodia's modem-day culture has its roots in the 1st to 6th centuries in a state referred to aFunan, known as the oldest.


                                                                         Top Ten Kings Of Angkor

A mind-numbing array of Kings ruled the Khmer Empire from the 9th century to the 14th century. Many of the names are difficult to pronounce for foreigners but all include Varman, which means 'armour' or 'protector'. Forget the small fish and focus on the big fish in my page to the most powerful kings of Angkor, the dates they reigned and their most important archievements:

  • Jayavarman II (802-850) Founder of the Khmer Empire in 802
  • Indravarman I (877-889) Builder of the first Baray (reservoir), and of Preah Ko and Bakong
  • Yasovarman I (889-910) Moved the capital to Angkor and built Lolei and Phnom Bakheng
  • Jayavarman IV (928-942) Usurper king who moved the capital to Koh Ker
  • Rajendravarman II (944-968) Builder of East Mebon, Pre Rub and Phimeanakas
  • Jayavarman V (968-1001) Saw construction of Ta Keo and Banteay Srey
  • Soryavarman I (1002-1049) Expanded the Empire to perhaps its greatest extent
  • Udayadityavarman II (1049-1065) Builder of the pyramid Baphuon and the Western Mebon
  • Suryavarman II (1112-1152) Legendary builder of Angkor Wat and Beng Mealea
  • Jayavarman VII (1181-1219) The king of kings, building Angkor Thom, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm

The  race which produced  the builders of Angkor developed slowly by  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 grew up. 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”), a powerful maritime empire which ruled over all  the shores of  the Gulf of Siam.  In  the mid-6th century,  the Kambuja, who  lived  in  the middle Mekong (north of present day Cambodia), broke away from Funan. Within a short time, this  new  power  known  as  Chenla  absorbed  the  Funanese  Kingdom.  In  the  late  7th century, Chenla broke into two parts: land Chenla (to the north) and water Chenla (to the south along the Gulf  of  Thailand)  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 probably invaded and controlled part of the country.

At the beginning of the 9th century, the kings set up their capital in the present province of Siem Reap. For nearly six centuries,  they enriched  it by  temple after  temple, one more sumptuous than  the  other,  in  the  Angkorian  area  of  some  400  square  kilometers  in  the  Siem  Reap Province. Evidently,  two hundred  temples as well as  their sanctuaries are best known  for  their architecture and sculpture.

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. Jayavarman II’s nephew, Indravarman I (reigning 887-889), constructed a vast  irrigation system at Lolei, and  then built  the  tower of Preah Ko  in 879 and Bakong  in 881.  Indravarman  I’s son, Yasovarman  (reigning 889-900), 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. The Eastern Baray, an artificial  lake of 7-km  length and 2-km width, was being prepared.

Yasovarman’s  son, Harshavarman  I  (900-923), who was  at  the  foot  of  the  Phnom  Bakheng, consecrated  the  little  temple  of  Baksei  Chamkrong,  and  built  Prasat  Kravan  in  921. Harshavarman I’s uncle, Jayavarman IV (928-941), reigning in the northeastern Cambodia, near the present town of Koh Ker, 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  the  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  11th 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  finished with the sober pyramid of the Phimeanakas at its center. He also erected the temple of Phnom Chiso, some part of Preah Vihear, and Preah Khan in Kampong Svay District.

Suryavarman  I’s son, Udayadityavarman  II (1050-1066), built  the  temple mountain of Baphuon and Western Baray. Udayadityavarman’s brother, arshavarman III, succeeded him in a periodof 1066-1080. But violent strife soon  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  such  as  Angkor Wat,  Thommanon,  Chau  Say  Tevoda, Preah  Palilay,  Preah  Pithu,  and  Banteay  Samrè.  After  these  dazzling  achievements,  Khmer civilization appears to have begun to decline accompanied by internal strife and an attack by the Chams.

Jayavarman  VII  (1181-1220)  was  the  most  fascinating  personality  in  Khmer  history.  He  reestablished his rule over all southern Indochina. He has been best known for his huge building program. Firstly, he built Ta Prohm  (1186) and Preah Khan  (1191)  to dedicate  to his parents. Secondly, he erected Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang, the Terrace of the Leper King, the Terrace of the Elephants, Neak Pean, Ta Saom, Ta Nei, and some others  in other parts of  the country. Thirdly, he  founded his great  capital, Angkor Thom. Finally,  in  the  center, he built  the Bayon temple with its two hundred stone faces.

It is understandable that the country was exhausted after these enormous efforts. The decline of the Angkor era began after  the death of King Jayavarman VII  in  the early 13th century. Due  to the Siamese invasion and the limitation of the irrigation system, Khmer power declined so much that the king was finally obliged to move to the vicinity of Phnom Penh in 1431. Resulting from a series of Siamese and Cham invasions, the country was put as a French protectorate in 1863.

By 1884, Cambodia was a virtual colony; soon after  it was made part of  the  Indochina Union with  Annam,  Tonkin, Cochin-China,  and  Laos.  France  continued  to  control  the  country  even after  the start of World War  II  through  its Vichy government.  In 1945,  the Japanese dissolved the colonial administration, and King Norodom Sihanouk declared an independent, anti-colonial government  under  Prime Minister  Son  Ngoc  Thanh  in March  1945.  The  Allies  deposed  this government  in October.  In January 1953, Sihanouk named his  father as  regent and went  into self-imposed exile, refusing to return until Cambodia gained genuine independence.

Sihanouk’s  actions  hastened  the  French  Government’s  July  4,  1953  announcement  of  its readiness  to grant  independence, which came on November 9, 1953. The situation  remained uncertain until a 1954 conference was held  in Geneva  to settle  the French-Indochina war. All participants,  except  the  United  States  and  the  State  of  Vietnam,  associated  themselves  (by voice) with the final declaration. The Cambodian delegation agreed to the neutrality of the three Indochinese  states  but  insisted  on  a  provision  in  the  cease-fire  agreement  that  left  the Cambodian  Government  free  to  call  for  outside  military  assistance  should  the  Viet  Minh  or others threaten its territory.

After regaining Independence in 1953, the country has had several names:

  1. The Kingdom of Cambodia (under the Reachia Niyum Regime from 1953 to 1970);
  2. The Khmer Republic (under the Lon Nol Regime from 1970 to 1975);
  3. Democratic Kampuchea (under the Pol Pot Genocidal Regime from 1975 to 1979);
  4. The People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979-1989);
  5. The State of Cambodia (1989-1993);
  6. The Kingdom of Cambodia (1993 until now).


     Cambodia Timeline
    • AD100 - AD600: The Kingdom of Funan that rules over a vast land of Indo China and part of  now South East Asia covers part of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the whole Cambodia.
    • AD600 - AD800: The Kingdom of Chenla still rules part of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the whole Cambodia.
    • AD800 - AD 1400: The Kingdom and Khmer Empire.  The Kingdom starts to crumble thereafter AD 800.  The peripheral areas of the Kingdom falls into the hands of the Thais invading  from the West and the North and the Vietnamese from the East.
    • AD1400 - 1860: The erosion of the Khmer Empire.  More and more peripheral lands are occupied by the Thais and the Vietnamese.
    • 1860 - 1953: The French colonize Indochina and rule Cambodia as protectorate.
    • 1953: Cambodia gains independence from France.
    • 1975: Cambodia falls into Communism ruled by Khmer Rouge supported by China
    • 1979: Cambodia is invaded by Vietnamese that in turn drive Khmer Rouge regime out of power.
    • 1991: Cambodia holds a democratic election administered by the United Nations.
     The Rise and the Fall of Angkor
    • AD900 - AD1200: The development of the City of Angkor
    • AD1200 - AD1400: The Decline of Angkor and Khmer Empire
    • AD1400 - 1860: The Khmer Empire is in disarray.  The peripheral land of the empire is lost to the invading Thais from the West and the Vietnamese from the East.


Reigns of Khmer Kings: 8th century to early 14th century
King Reign
 Jayavarman II  802-850
 Jayavarman III  850-877
 Indravarman I  877-889
 Yasovarman I  889-910
 Harshvarman I  910-923
 Isanavarman II  923-928
 Jayavarman IV  928-942
 Harshavarman II  942-944
 Rejendravarman  944-968
 Jayavarman V  968-1001
 Udayadityavarman  1001-1002
 Suryavarman I  1002-1050
 Udayadityavar II  1050-1066
 Harshavarman III  1066-1080
 Jayavarman VI  1080-1108
 Dharanindravarman I  1180-1112
 Suryavarman II  1112-1150
 Dharanindravarmen II  1150-1181
 Jayavarman VII  1180-1220
 Indarvarman II  1220-1243
 Jayavarmand VIII  1243-1295
 Indravarman III  1295-1308