Cambodia’s majority is Khmer, an ethnic group that makes up 90% of the national population of just over 15 million. There are Khmer people also living in neighbouring Vietnam and Thailand with perhaps 1 million in Thailand and possibly many more in Vietnam, largely in the Mekong Delta? Cambodia tour packages introduce tourists to all parts of the country and contact with local Khmer will be extensive.
Cambodia Vietnam tours usually include the Mekong Delta and indeed it is possible to cruise down from the capital, Phnom Penh down into the Delta.The Khmer actually originated west of Cambodia in India back in the Iron Age and there are even suggestions of links even further west in Iran. There are legends relating to how people moved into what is now Cambodia but what is more certain is that the Khmer Empire was the dominant force in South East Asia from the 9th Century for six further centuries. Indochina tour packages will reveal the area as a whole, including many fine examples of Khmer architecture.
The newcomers to what is now Cambodia, predating the Khmer Empire were lowlanders traditionally so that the mountain tribes all over South East Asia come from minorities. They brought with them many aspects of Indian life and created their own alphabet. Initially they were largely Hindu but increasingly Islam was embraced, reflected in the temples of Angkor that every Cambodia family tour includes. It was not recognised as the national religion until the rule of Jayavarman VII (1181–1218) but the Empire was nearing its fall with Angkor destroyed in 1431; it was abandoned to the jungle.
It was not until the arrival of the French in the 19th Century that there was any real semblance of order and of course the problems of the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge are well chronicled. Cambodians have lived through this all but remain resilient and welcoming. The French did more than just control the region and in some ways the period of colonisation produced positive progress.
The recognised language is that of the central plains but there are certainly regional dialects. Today’s Cambodian mostly embraces Theravada Buddhism but also the worship of the spirits of their ancestors; they often believe in the supernatural world. Khmer life is largely rural, farmers and fishermen, and festivals play an important part of their lives. The two most important festivals are Cambodian New Year (Chol Chnam) and Ancestor Day (Pchum Ben). They follow the Buddhist calendar so that the year begins in what is the spring (usually mid-April).
A Cambodia travel agency will put together a holiday to meet their clients’ wishes and is certain to include them finding out about the Khmer people, their daily lives and the things that have influenced them and their ancestors. Minorities are evident with small populations of Chinese and Vietnamese living within today’s Cambodian borders as well as small tribes, mostly in the hills, whose lives have changed very little over many generations.