Regional Geography of Cambodia


  1. Physical Characteristics
  2. Human Characteristics
  3. Economic Characteristics
  4. References

Physical Characteristics

Relative Location: Cambodia is located on the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia, situated between the countries Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. It covers a geographic area of 181,040 square kilometers (roughly 69,900 square miles) ( n.d.).

Landscape and Physical Environment: Cambodia's main geographical features include central plains, the Tonle Sap basin, Mekong River flood-plains, the Bassac River flood plain, forests, wetlands, and several mountain ranges including the Cardamom Mountains and the Elephant Mountains. The Mekong River divides the land in two, and is the longest river in Cambodia at 486 km (302 mi) in length. The river widens in the lowlands of the country, creating the Cambodian wetlands. These areas are essential to both urban and rural developments, as it is a source of freshwater fisheries, rice cultivation, and various other forms of agriculture. Currently there are five designated Wetlands of International Importance in Cambodia (also known as Ramar Sites) covering an area of 852.35 square kilometers ( n.d.). These wetlands cover over thirty percent of Cambodia and is responsible for making the soil highly fertile for agriculture. Wetlands heavily influence plant and animal ecosystems (Hess, 267). As the Mekong River flows through Cambodia, it merges with the large freshwater lake, known as the Tonle Sap Lake. Referred to by the locals as the heart of Cambodia, this lake serves as an important source of water for fishing and crops. In addition to the Mekong river, another important body of water connected to the Tonle Sap Lake is the Bassac River (Wikipedia 2019). This freshwater river, also known as the Tonle Bassac, is 190 km (120 mi) long and 72 feet deep. The river starts in Phnom Penh, flows south and eventually crosses into Vietnam. The Bassac river is important for transportation between Cambodia and Vietnam, with freight and ferry boats commonly spotted. Cambodia once had tropical forests covering over seventy percent of the land, but due to massive deforestation, less than five percent of the original forests remain. Government officials claimed that the deforestation was necessary for logging and agricultural needs. In these forests are 521 species of birds, 127 mammals, and 116 reptiles (Wikipedia 2019). Just off the off-skirts of the Cambodian mainland is a series of small islands. The sixty islands can easily be reached from the mainland and several islands include personal resorts that can be rented. Many of the islands have more than one name, and several islands share the same name. Ancient Malay and French colonial names merged with Khmer names have created the various names of the islands that exist today. The islands are owned by the provinces they are located near. Such provinces include Koh Kong, Sihanoukville, Kep, and Kampot ( n.d.). Extending along the Koh Kong Province to the Gulf of Thailand are the Cardamom Mountains. Also known as the Kravanh Mountains, the Cardamom Mountains are 300 km (190 mi) long and 70 km (43 mi) wide, with the highest elevation at Phnom Aural with a height of 1,813 m (5,948 ft). The mountains are becoming a popular tourist destination. This includes the Elephant Mountains, officially known as the Damrei Mountains, are located in south-western Cambodia. The mountain range is 110 km (68 mi) in length, and has an elevation is 1,081 m (3,547 ft) at its peak (Wikipedia 2018). These mountains receive some of the heaviest rainfall in Cambodia, with 150-200 inches on the western slopes and 40-60 inches on the eastern slopes (the difference in precipitation is due to a rain shadow).

Weather and Climate:Cambodia is not located too far from the equator, so yearly temperatures are overall fairly warm to hot. Cambodia has four distinct seasons: cool and dry, hot and dry, hot and wet, and cool and wet. Cool and dry occurs from November to February. During this time average mid-day temperatures are in the mid-20s (between 69-75 degrees F), and can dip below 20 degrees (68 degrees F). Many travel sites advise traveling during this time as the weather is overall more tolerable during the day and the chance of rain is very low. The next season is hot and dry which occurs from March to May. During these months the rivers and lake levels are very low, which makes river travel difficult, resulting in longer travel times. The temperatures by April can average around the mid to upper 30s (between 93-100 degrees F). During this season it is a great time to visit the temples of the beaches (Ray & Harrell, 23). The hot and wet season occurs from June to August. During this time, monsoon rains are pretty much a daily occurrence. These rains are fairly predictable, usually occurring in the afternoon or at night. These rains are easy to plan around as they tend to last a few short hours. While it might be inconvenient during your swim at the beach, the rains make boat and ferry travel much easier. The final season is the cool and wet, occurring from September to early November. The temperature does not begin to really cool until October, and rains are still fairly regular( n.d.).

Human Characteristics

Population and Density: Cambodia is composed of 25 provinces including Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampot, and Koh Kong. The five largest cities are Phnom Penh, Ta Khmau, Serei Saophoan, Battambang, and Siem Reap, respectively. The entire population of Cambodia is around 14,952,665 people, with a density of 84.7 square kilometers (219.4 square miles). Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia, and is home to over 1.5 million people.


Language:The main language of Cambodia is Central Khmer, but older members of the country speak French, which was once the language of the government under French rule. To this day, there are still several newspapers and television shows that are available in French. Since the early 1990’s, there has been a huge push for citizens to learn English. Unfortunately, the school system in Cambodia is fairly poor, as the French did not care to educate the Khmer people during their ruling. Currently, teachers are paid very little, class sizes are very large, the cost of education is very expensive, and many students have to walk miles to attend their classes. Cambodia is looking to improve their literacy rate by improving the school systems (Wikipedia 2019).

Age/Sex Characteristics: Cambodian age groups are divided into five categories: 0-14 years (children), 15-24 years (early working age), 25-54 years (prime working age), 55-64 years (mature working age), 65 years and over (elderly). Based on 2017 estimates of population distribution, 31.01% of the Cambodia population is between the ages of 0-14 years old (males 2,537,753/female 2,487,633), 18.36% is between the ages of 15-24 years old (male 1,471,965/female 1,503,977), 40.68% is between 25-54 years old (male 3,229,901/female 3,361,475), 5.69% is between 55-64 years old (male 374,663/female 547,971), and 4.25% are 65 or older (258,584/female 430,564) ( 2018). When looking at the population distribution, we can determine that Cambodia is a developing nation, as the distribution forms a pyramid. Developing nations have a pyramid shape with population distribution while developed nations have a squarer shape. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the Cambodian life expectancy is 67.3 years for males, 71.2 years for females, an average 69.4 years for the total population. The top five causes of death in Cambodia are coronary heart disease, stroke, tuberculosis, influenza and pneumonia, and lung disease ( n.d.).


Religion: Cambodia was heavily influenced by Hinduism during the early Empire's, and the Angkor Wat is the largest Hindu temple in the world. Thearavada Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, and was declared so in 1989. Over 95% of the population practices the various forms of Buddhism. It is considered a great honor for a male in the family to become a monk, even though less men are interested in becoming monks in pursuit of higher education and professional occupations. The rest of the population of Cambodia practices Islam or Christianity, both are growing in popularity in the capital city Phnom Penh (Wikipedia 2019).

Ethnic Groups: 90-95% of the Cambodian population are considered Khmer ethnic, while the remaining percentages are Chinese-Khmers, Khmer Islam (also known as the Chams), ethnic hill-tribe people (known as the Khmer Loeu), and Vietnamese. The Chinese form the largest minority group, with sixty percent involved with commerce in the city, while the other forty percent are rural residents that work in agriculture (rice, palm sugar, fruit, and fish) ( n.d.). There are several other ethnic groups including the Tai, Lao, and Mountain Cham, but their numbers are much lower than the other the other ethnic groups (Wikipedia 2019).

Government:Cambodia was a part of the French Union until the country received its independence on November 9 of 1953. The official name for the Royal Government of Cambodia is Preah-reach-ana-chak Kampuchea, which means the Kingom of Kampuchea. The government structure of Cambodia includes a variety of councils including the National Assembly, the Council of State, and the Council of Ministers. The National Assembly is considered the "supreme organ of state power", and 117 members are elected for five-year terms every election. The National Assembly meets twice a year, but will hold additional sessions if it is deemed necessary. Between sessions, legislative functions are handled by the Council of State ( n.d.). Seven members of The National Assembly are elected to the Council of State, which remain in office after the five-year terms of the assembly, until the new assembly elects a new council. The Council of Ministers is considered to be the cabinet of the government n.d.). This group is composed of a prime minister, two deputy prime ministers, and twenty ministers. The National Assembly is responsible for electing the ministers for their five-year terms. The Council of Ministers meet on a weekly basis, with the prime minister and deputy prime ministers in attendance. The government ministries are responsible for agriculture, communications, education, health, foreign trade, national defense, and so much more. While these councils are responsible for the legislative duties, the executive power is ruled by the Royal Government, lead by the King. The current King of Cambodia is Norodom Sihamoni, whom has ruled since October 14 of 2004. The current Prime Minister of Camboida is Hun Sen, serving in office since 1985, making him the second longest-serving prime minister (Wikipedia 2019).

Economic Characteristics

Economic activities: A majority of Cambodia's economy is driven by garment manufacturing and tourism. Because of the huge recent success of these industries, Cambodia was able to decrease their poverty rate from 47.8% in 2007 to 13.5%. Government officials state that they would like their people to attain upper middle-class income status by 2030. According to the World Bank, Cambodia's economy averages a growth rate of 7.7% each year, making it one of the fastest growing economies in the world. To achieve this level of economic growth, Cambodia has focused on eliminating poverty, building better infrastructure, and investing in their people. While it has shown good results so far, time will tell if this increasing trend continues.

Currency: The currency of Cambodia is the Cambodian riel (KHR), and $1 (USD) is equivalate to 4,043.67 KHR ( n.d.). There are no coins in Cambodian currency, with riel notes valuing 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 (with the 1,000 riel being the most commonly used).

Exports: Cambodia is the 74th largest export economy in the world, having exported $15.8 billion dollars (USD) in 2017. A majority of Cambodia's exports are garments including knit sweaters, knit women's suits, t-shirts, and non-knit men and women's suits. Other major exports include footwear, fur-skins and artificial fur, leather, jewelry/accessories, fish, rice, and vegetables. Most of the goods are shipped to the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan and France, respectively ( 2018).

Imports: Cambodia imported $12 billion (USD) worth of goods in 2017. Top imports include a variety of fabrics for textile production, rolled tobacco, vehicles, petroleum products, electronics, and medicine. Cambodia's main countries for importing goods include China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Indonesia ( n.d.).

GDP and GDP per capita: In 2017, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 22.16 billion USD, with a GDP per capita of 1135.20 USD ( 2019). Both values are the highest that Cambodia has ever experienced ( n.d.).


Bassac River. (2019, January 02). Retrieved from

Cambodia. (n.d). Retrieved from

Cambodia. (n.d.). Retrieved from

CAMBODIA. (n.d.) Retrieved from

Cambodia. (2019, April 09). Retrieved from

Cambodia Age structure. (2018, January 20). Retrieved from

Cambodia GDP. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Cambodia Imports. (2019, April). Retrieved from

Cambodia's Top 10 Exports. (2018, August 27). Retrieved from (n.d.). Country Profile of Cambodia. Retrieved from

Cambodia: Climate and Weather. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Cambodia Government. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Convert USD/KHR. United States Dollar to Cambodia Riel. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Damrei Mountains. (2018, September 07). Retrieved from

Ethnic groups in Cambodia. (2019, September 06). Retrieved from

Geography of Cambodia. (2019, April 09). Retrieved from

Hess, D. (2017) McKnights Physical Geography, A Landscape Appreciation, 12th edition. Place of publication not identified: Pearson Education.

Life Expectancy in Cambodia. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Overview. (2019, April 11). Retrieved from

Politics of Cambodia. (2019, April 11). Retrieved from

Ray, N., & Harrell, A. (2016). Lonely Planet Cambodia. Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications Pty.

Religion in Cambodia. (2019, January 18). Retrieved from

Tonle Sap Lake. (2019, January 13). Retrieved from (n.d.). Cambodia Geography. Retrieved from (n.d.). Khmer People. Retrieved from (n.d.). About Cambodia. Retrieved from

Where is Cambodia? (2015, October 02). Retrieved from

Submitted by Kiley Simmons on April 11, 2019.