The name "Cambodia"
derives from the French Cambodge, which comes from the Khmer word
Kāmpuchea, meaning "born of Kambu." During the socialist regimes
of Democratic Kampuchea (DK) (19751979) and the People's Republic of
Kampuchea (PRK) (19791989), the country was known internationally as
Kampuchea, but more recent governments have returned to using Cambodia,
and the official name in English is now the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Khmer as a noun or
adjective can refer to the Cambodian language, people, or culture and
thus suggests an ethnic and linguistic identity more than a political
entity. From 1970 to 1975, the country was known as the Khmer Republic
Geography. Cambodia lies between Thailand and Vietnam in
mainland southeast Asia, with a smaller stretch of the northern border
adjoining Laos. The most central region culturally and economically is
the lowland flood plain of the Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake. The Sap
River meets the Mekong at Phnom Penh, where the river soon divides again
into the Bassac and the Mekong, which flow through southern Vietnam to
the South China Sea. Although Cambodia also has a coastline on the Gulf
of Thailand, the coast is separated from the central flood plain by
mountains; only since the 1950s have railroads and roads provided ready
access to the coastal port towns.
The economy is
dominated by wet rice agriculture. The iconic image of the countryside
is one of rice paddies among which are scattered sugar palms. Until
recently, much of the area outside the flood plains was forested.