Cambodians are accustomed to rebuild from scratch. Their troubled history – a history of conquests, tyrannies, dictators, protectorates, and occupations, a history where war was much more present than diplomacy – speaks for itself. Only in the last 100 years they changed more than five regimes, including two monarchies, one French protectorate, one Japanese occupation; war with Vietnam and disputes with Thailand.
From roughly 1990 onwards, the country started to develop rapidly, assisted by international support, under constitutional monarchy (King Norodom Sihamoni). Cambodia is the only country in the world to have returned to monarchy after experiencing communism.
1953 – 1970
In 1953, Cambodia declares independence from France and it’s soon acknowledged as such at international level. During the next 17 years, the country experiences a growth that is still visible today, especially in Phnom Penh and in the southern regions, where buildings and infrastructure dating from those years are still extremely visible. One should not forget that, ironically, such a growth was possible due to the French presence in the area, which brought in the region technology and a different sense of civilization.
1970 – 1992
The civil war, the Khmer Rouge rule, and the war with Vietnam impoverished the entire country to the point where famine was common. The anti-technological Khmer Rouge Party destroyed most of the infrastructure. Cities were kept to unacceptable standards and intellectuals were exterminated. At the end of the ninth decade, the country was basically incapable to sustain itself.
Development from 1992 to Today
In 1992 UN starts monitoring Cambodia. This, followed by the new political changes (free elections in 1992), was the sign of a new start. Ever since, Cambodian economy witnessed one of the most effective economic growths in the world (with values reaching as much as 6.5% per year). Today, there are many places in the big cities civilized enough to receive any kind of tourists, from anywhere. But a short visit to the country side is enough to illustrate how poor this country used to be and, to some extent, still is.
The economy in Cambodia is based on a combination of agriculture, industries, and tourism. Highlights of Cambodian agriculture include silk, rice and corn production, but also rubber and tapioca. In the North, many villagers grow livestock. The fishing industry is very popular in the country, even if not equally effective due to the rudimentary tools fishermen use to catch fish. Tourism, on the other side, represents Cambodians’ chance to grow even faster. Most people in towns and in the capital have already adapted to this style of living and contribute to their best, to gain an additional income.
The natural resources of this country are tremendous, both in terms of living animals and places of interest for tourists. On the other side, Cambodia isn’t facing the problem of overpopulation (Cambodia’s population growth is around 1.7 – not as good as its northern neighbor Laos, but definitely better than that of Thailand, or, even worse, that of Vietnam). So the prospects are good and, if Cambodia will keep developing at this pace, it will soon become one of the most relevant nations in the area. However, from a touristic point of view, it already is.