The influences of many Asian cultures, alongside those of France and the United States, can be seen in the capital, Phnom Penh, one of a handful of urban centres in the largely rural country.
For 2,000 years Cambodia’s civilization absorbed influences from India and China and, in turn, transferred them to other Southeast Asian civilizations. From the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Funan and Chenla (1st–8th century) through the classical age of the Angkor period (9th–15th century), it held sway over territories that are now part of Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. The Khmer (Cambodian) empire reached its apex in the 12th century, a time marked by the construction of the massive temple complexes known as Angkor Wat and Bayon and the imperial capital of Angkor Thom. Following 400 years of decline, Cambodia became a French colony and during the 20th century experienced the turmoil of war, occupation by the Japanese, postwar independence, and political instability. Between 1975 and 1979 the country was devastated by the reign of the Khmer Rouge, a rural communist guerrilla movement. During the Khmer Rouge’s period of power, at least 1.5 million Cambodians were killed or died, a monumental tragedy from which the country still suffers.
Cambodia began the process of recovery under the Vietnam-backed regime of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979–89), and in the 1990s it regained political autonomy, reestablished a constitutional government, and subsequently instituted free elections. The Cambodian economy has steadily improved, and the country seems to be living by the words of the Cambodian proverb, "Fear not the future, weep not for the past."