The Kingdom of Cambodia, formerly Kampuchea, is a Southeast Asian nation that borders Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the Gulf of Thailand. The capital city is Phnom Penh.
During more than 5 centuries, Cambodia was the centre of the Khmer empire which produced one of the world ‘s greatest civilisation of its time, with Angkor as its capital. After the death of the great king Jayavarman VII in 1218, the Khmer empire fell into progressive decline over the next two centuries and following several military defeats against the Siamese during the 14th century, Angkor was finally abandoned in 1431. Since this moment, the magnificent temples, due to a lack of inhabitants for its maintenance, were largely consumed by the jungle. Apart for the monks who continued to live in Angkor Wat and for some rare explorers, Angkor remained a forgotten city for the next four centuries. In 1860, the publication of the diaries of the French naturalist Henry Mouhot allowed a large public to find out the existence of this “lost city in the jungle��? and fired the imagination of archaeologists, adventurers and treasure hunters in Europe. In 1898, the Ecole Française d’Extrême Orient started clearing the jungle, restoring the temples, mapping the complex and making the inventory. The Tourism began in 1907; about 200 Westerner visited Angkor during the autumn of this year. The excursion was not a sinecure. From Phnom Penh a steam-launch crossed the Tonle Sap lake only once a week. From Siem Reap, uncomfortable ox-carts were used on the bad paths to reach the temples – a trip which took sometimes 6 hours when the wheels got stuck in the sand. Inside the walls of Angkor Wat, a hut on stilts was the only accommodation available, travellers needed to bring their own sheets, food and pots and pans. The visit of Angkor Thom was an exhausting trek inside the jungle. Until 1970, the ruins of Angkor were maintained and restored but unfortunately the temples were partly destroyed and abandoned again to the power of the jungle during the following years of war.
In 1992, Angkor was declared a World Heritage site and since then UNESCO is co-ordinating the activities of he various teams on the site. Today, the importance of Angkor remains essential for Cambodia as this amazing site draws about one million of international tourists each year. However, Cambodia has a lot more to offer. Besides the ancient temples of the angkorean Era, there are charming old colonial cities, such as Phnom Penh and Battambang. The south is the place of peaceful white sand beaches along the Gulf of Thailand. In the heart of the country lies the great Tonle Sap Lake and its floating villages. The North-east is a mountainous region, home to the hill-tribes and to a beautiful specific flora and fauna. But the most charm of the country is the warmth of its people. Travellers come to Cambodia for its temples, they come back for its people.