Cambodian history in a nutshell


It is believed that the Funan Kingdom started in the first century BC -- the first known kingdom of Cambodia. The Indian culture had a big impact in shaping the culture, art, political system, architectural styles and religion. During the 9th century Jayavarman II crowned himself as a deva-raja (god-king) which linked him with the Hindu god Shiva. Theravada Buddhism entered Cambodia during 13th century and it is the religion of  most of the ethnic Khmer who constitute about 90% or more of the Cambodian population.    


In the early years the Kingdom prospered, culminating in the vast Angkor empire, unrivalled in the region during four centuries of dominance. This was the case until the 13th and 14th centuries when Vietnam and Thailand steadily chipped away at Cambodian territory and the wars in the 1830's nearly destroy it. This war was stopped when King Norodom signed a treaty with France and Cambodia became a French colony for 90 years. In 1953 Cambodia became independent again.


In the 20th century a brutal civil war culminated in the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge (1975–79), Communist ideology was the focus and Cambodia experienced the most rapid and radical transformation in its history. The country was restructured as a socialistic agricultural society. Money, markets and private property were abolished. Institutions like schools, hospitals and monasteries were closed and everybody had to wear black peasant work clothes. This regime followed Maoist China's ideologies and mobilized the people into unpaid manual labour. They had to work 12 - 15 hours a day eg in the paddy fields, and the amount of food they received was so inadequate that the outcome was starvation. Many people were executed for reasons like being identified as educated (doctors, teachers, etc), being former urbanites, being religious (Christians and Buddhists alike), or being disobedient workers. According to conservative estimates about 20% (1.5million) of the population died from overwork and starvation. Others were murdered by the Khmer Rouge - some estimates report that about 3 million Cambodians died during this genocide.


In December 1978 the Vietnamese took over Cambodia and installed a puppet regime consisting of mostly Cambodian communists who fled from the Khmer Rouge regime. During 1989-1997 the country was under the rule of the Vietnamese-sponsored government and was known as the People's Republic of Kampuchea. 


The country had a few name changes, the last change was in 1993 when she was named the Kingdom of Cambodia. The first national elections were held under UN supervision in July 1993; a power-struggle lead to a coalition and two prime ministers were appointed namely prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen. A coup de tête followed in 1997 and Hun Sen becam the sole prime minister as he took control of the country.  

shattered economy 


Over the next years Cambodia stood up out of the ashes improving and stabilized the shattered economy which was the legacy of the genocide during the Khmer Rouge regime (1995-1979). 




 Buddhism dominates Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. 


Religions  (Stats: Operational World 2014)

      • Christians   3.3%  (Evangelicals 1.6%)
      • Buddhist   83.34%
      • Muslims   3.9%   (Stats: Operational World 2011)
      • Other: Chinese religions, Animism etc.  


Biggest People groups and their religions

          Ethnic groups: Khmer 90%, Vietnamese 5%, Chinese 1% and other 4% (CIA World fact book) 


 KHMER: National religion is Buddhism - Theravada 

Most ethnic Khmer (Cambodians) are Theravada Buddhists though it is syncretistic and includes other faith systems like ancestral worship, Brahmanism / Hinduism and animism



The history of Buddhism in Cambodia spans over thousands of years, across a number of successive kingdoms and empires.  According to legend Buddhism came to South East Asia as early a 300B.C. Buddhism was a secondary religion which excisted peacefully alongside Hinduism when Cambodia  was still  the Funan kingdom (100BC – 500AD) The Funan kingdom was heavily influenced by India and the Indian culture (Hindu merchants).  During the Angkor Kingdom period Buddhism thrived in Cambodia especially during the reign of the Buddhist Khmer King Jayavarman VII (1181 – 1215).   (

Theravada Buddhism has been Cambodia’s state religion since the 13th century AD (except during 1975-1979 when the Khmer Rouge sought to eradicate all religion). An estimated 95% of the population confesses to be Buddhists


 CHINESE:  Taoism,Buddhism   


Since the 1st-7th century small Chinese families started to settle in Cambodia.  The Chinese population in Cambodia is a complex mixture of people who arrived from different parts of China, especially during the last 800 years.  (   



VIETNAMESE:   Buddhism (Probably Mahayana Buddhism)

Even though they claim to be Buddhist they lean more to ancestral worship and animism. They are the biggest minority group within Cambodia.  Migration to Cambodia started in 17th century. During 1863 the French brought them to Cambodia to work in plantations and also in civil servant position. (