The jungles also altered life, however the jungles prevented movement due to their
dense vegetation, instead of catering to movement. The swamps and jungles in the
country maintained the historic culture and prevented many foreigners from entering
the country in past centuries, although eventually foreign powers did make their
way into the country.
Prior to significant foreign influence, some of the few outside contributions that
were introduced to Cambodia have stuck for centuries. The greatest of these outside
influences came via the waterways, with the Indians having the greatest impact in
early history as they introduced Hinduism and later Buddhism, the latter of which
is still the dominant religion in the country today. The introduction of Buddhism
remains an important part of the culture and lifestyle in Cambodia today.
In about the 1100s or 1200s the Khmers, or ethnic Cambodian people, rose to power
with the Khmer Empire, which built upon the earlier cultures, but also had many
similarities, such as a reliance on the waterways and their Buddhist faith. This
empire expanded its territory, but they also gained the money to spend on lasting
monuments including arts and culture, with the most impressive and famous of these
monuments being the city of Angkor and its crown jewel, Angkor Wat (or temple).
Even today the people view Angkor Wat as the symbol of their culture and history.
Later, the Siamese took control of Angkor and much of the Khmer Empire, arguably
influencing the culture in Cambodia, although no Cambodian will accept this argument
(both Cambodia and Thailand view the city of Angkor as their own as both people
ruled from the city).
As Cambodian power fell, the French swept in and took power in the 1800s. Although
not happy with the alliance, the Cambodians accepted this rule in order to prevent
war and over time adopted many French customs and foods as the French baguette is
now seen everywhere.
In more recent history the Khmer people have become more and more confused regarding
who they are and in what direction they should go. The Khmer Rouge of the 1970s
killed much of the population and the people are now balancing between pride in
being Khmer while trying to escape their past and redefining what it means to be
Khmer, a movement shifting away from political parties and towards the culture and
lifestyle of their past again defined by the landscape, foods, language, religion,
architecture, and culture of the people.