Culture and identity
Most people are Khmer, with small Vietnamese, Chinese and Cham communities. There are also indigenous hill tribes in the remote north-east of Cambodia.
Cambodians traditionally greet each other by pressing their palms together in front of their bodies and bowing, called a sompeah. Generally, a younger or lower rank person initiates the greeting.
The traditional Khmer costume consists of a shirt or blouse and a skirt-like lower garment, sampot for women and sarong for men, and the krama, or long scarf, which is worn around the neck, over the shoulders, or wrapped turban-style around the head. Most Cambodians today, however, wear simple Western dress.
Contemporary Cambodia has a rich cultural heritage from the Khmer dynasties, which were at their peak from the 9th to 13th centuries. The vast Buddhist complex at Angkor in western Cambodia is one of the world’s greatest antiquities. Buddhist images are portrayed in carved sandstone reliefs, which decorate many buildings and handicraft items. Classical Cambodian dance mimes the legendary lives of ancient religious deities.
Many in Cambodia have poor access to health services and safe water and sanitation, which has a great effect on health. Life expectancy is 62 years (63 for women and 61 for men) and the infant mortality rate stands at 43 per 1,000 live births. Communicable diseases, including acute respiratory infection and tuberculosis, affect large numbers of people. About 1% of the population live with HIV/AIDS. About 40% of Cambodian children are moderately to severely stunted because of chronic malnutrition. Injuries from landmines place increased demands on the limited health facilities.
Religion and beliefs
Theravada Buddhism is a significant influence in Cambodian life and was reinstituted in 1989 as the state religion. Small Muslim and Christian communities also exist. Astrology is widely observed.
Food and shelter
The basic foods are several varieties of rice, fish, and vegetables. Rice may be less thoroughly milled than it is in many other rice-eating countries, and consequently it contains more vitamins and roughage. Fermented fish, in the form of sauce or paste, is an important protein supplement to the diet. Hot peppers, lemon grass, mint and ginger are the main flavours. Beef, pork, poultry and eggs are eaten on special occasions, or, if the family can afford it, daily. Bananas, mangoes, papayas, rambutan, jackfruit and palm fruit are common. In the cities, many Western foods are available, including daily baked bread.
Rural Cambodian houses are rectangular buildings on stilts with walls of woven bamboo. Typically, a house contains three rooms separated by partitions of woven bamboo. City houses include single-storey brick homes and multi-storey apartment blocks.