Independence Day in Cambodia falls on November 9th, the day in 1953 when its independence from France was finally recognised.
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The Khmer people of Cambodia had long maintained their own identity and had often had their own nation in the ancient past, but during the colonial era, they fell under French rule for a 90-year period.
In 1867, to escape the ambitions of other nations, the King of Cambodia invited the French to establish a protectorate over his country. Neighbouring Siam then was forced to give up its claim on Cambodian territory, and by 1887, Cambodia was made part of the unified colony of French Indochina.
Cambodia fell under Japanese control during World War II, but it was returned to France after the war. Due to unrest, France allowed Cambodia limited self-rule in 1946, but this did not quench the thirst for full independence, which was not granted until 1953.
Cambodians celebrate their independence every year with various parades, events, and fireworks displays all across the nation. The biggest celebrations take place in the capital city of Phnom Penh, but they are not at all limited to that vicinity.
Should you visit Cambodia in time for its independence day on November 9th, some of the main activities you may want to take part in include:
- Be sure to be in Phnom Penh for the celebrations. First, you may wish to visit Independence Monument for the ceremony that begins the celebration. Soon, a parade with floats and marching bands sets off from the Royal Palace, passing by streets full of watching spectators and flying Cambodian flags. In the evening, many buildings, including the Royal Palace and various monuments, are lit up, while fireworks explode in the sky over the Mekong River.
- Tour the Cambodian Cultural Village to learn about Cambodian culture and history. This Siem Reap theme part is also a museum, and it is in easy reach from the Phnom Penh airport. The park is expansive, and holds within itself numerous mini-replicas of historic buildings and landmarks. You will find 11 distinct villages, which represent various ethnic groups of Cambodia. There are wooden houses, stone carvings, examples of local customs, traditional songs and dances, folk games, elephant shows, circuses, wedding ceremonies, acrobatic acts, and even peacock dances. Finally, the on-site was museum gives you a “wax figure tour” of much of Cambodia’s long history.
- Visit the Royal Palace, where kings of Cambodia have resided since the 1860’s. It sits at the confluence of two rivers in the capital city of Phnom Penh and is a stunning example of Khmer architecture with a few French influences. Be sure to see the Silver Pagoda, the Throne Hall, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the surrounding defensive wall.
- Don’t forget to get a good taste of Khmer cuisine while visiting Cambodia. The “Cambodian menu” has its own core components, but it partakes of influences from French, Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese cooking. Along the small, southern coastal region, Japanese and European influences are found and seafood is very common. Rice, fish sauce, chili peppers, coconut, lemon grass, and lime juice are commonly used ingredients in Khmer foods. A typical meal might consist of soup and salad, fish as the main dish, rice, and some form of vegetable. For dessert, you might get local fruits or “sticky rice.”
Cambodian Independence Day is a time for celebrating the long journey that the Khmer people have made through centuries of oppression and conflict to Cambodia’s present status as a free and independent nation. Cambodia contains more than only Khmer. There are heavy Chinese and Vietnamese populations, for example, and much French influence on its history. Celebrating Cambodian independence need not be a rejection of these outside influences, for they have found unique Cambodian expressions and become an integral part of the existing culture.