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Environment: THE LAND

Cambodia, as we know it today, is the result of a classic historical squeeze. As the Vietnamese moved south into the Mekong Delta and the Thais pushed west towards Angkor, Cambodia’s territory - which, in Angkorian times, stretched from southern Burma to Saigon and north into Laos - shrank. Only the arrival of the French prevented Cambodia from going the way of the Chams, who became a people without a state. In that sense, French rule was a protectorate that protected.
 
Modern-day Cambodia covers 181,035 sq km, making it a little more than half the size of Vietnam (about the same size as the US state of Washington, or England and Wales combined). The country is a bit wider (about 580km east-west) than it is tall (about 450km north-south). To the west and northwest it borders Thailand, to the northeast Laos, to the east and southeast Vietnam, and to its south is the Gulf of Thailand.
 
Cambodia’s two dominant geographical features are the mighty Mekong River and the vast lake, Tonlé Sap - see opposite for more on this natural miracle. The Mekong, an incredible 5km wide in places, rises in Tibet and flows for almost 500km through Cambodia before continuing, via southern Vietnam, to the South China Sea.
 
At Phnom Penh the Mekong splits into three channels: Tonle Sap River, which connects with Tonle Sap Lake; the Upper River (called simply the Mekong or, in Vietnamese, Tien Giang) and the Lower River (Tonlé Bassac, or Hau Giang in Vietnamese). The rich sediment deposited during the Mekong’s annual wet-season flooding has made central Cambodia incredibly fertile. This low-lying alluvial plain is where the vast majority of Cambodians live, fishing and farming in time with the rhythms of the monsoon.
 
In Cambodia’s southwest quadrant, much of the landmass is covered by forested mountains up to 1764m high. These are the Cardamom Mountains (Chuor Phnom Kravanh), which cover parts of Koh Kong, Battambang, Pursat and Krong Pailin Provinces and include the wildlife sanctuaries of Peam Krasaop (pl87) and Phnom Samkos (p239), the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest (pl89 and p238), the Southern Cardamoms Protected Forest (pl89) and Botum Sakor National Park (pl90). Southeast of the Cardamoms, the Elephant Mountains (Chuor Phnom Damrei) cover parts of the provinces of Kompong Speu, Koh Kong and Kampot - where you’ll find Kirirom National Park (p116) and Bokor National Park (p219).
 
The mountains end just north of Cambodia’s 435km coastline, a big draw for visitors on the lookout for isolated tropical beaches. There are islands aplenty off the coast of Sihanoukville (pl93), Kep (p224) and the Koh Kong Conservation Corridor (p186).
 
Along Cambodia’s northern border with Thailand, the plains collide with a striking sandstone escarpment more than 300km long and up to 550m high: the Dangkrek Mountains (Chuor Phnom Dangkrek). One of the best places to get a sense of this area is Prasat Preah Vihear (p268).
 
In the northeastern corner of the country, the plains give way to the Eastern Highlands, a remote region of densely forested mountains and high plateaus that extends east into Vietnam’s Central Highlands and north into Laos. The wild provinces of Ratanakiri (p291) and Mondulkiri (p298) provide a home to many minority peoples and are taking off as traveller hot-spots.
 
If you want to discover more about Vietnam beautiful country, come to visit Vietnam through a Vietnam 9 day tour.
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Update : 27-07-2017
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