Geography of Cambodia

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Geography of Cambodia
Cambodia on the globe (Cambodia centered).svg
Continent Asia
Region Southeast Asia
Coordinates 13°00′N 105°00′E / 13.000°N 105.000°E / 13.000; 105.000
Area Ranked 90th
 • Total 181,035 km2 (69,898 sq mi)
 • Land 97.50%
 • Water 2.50%
Coastline 443 km (275 mi)
Borders 2530 km
Laos 555 km
Thailand 817 km
Vietnam 1158 km
Highest point Phnom Aural
1810 m
Lowest point Gulf of Thailand
0 m
Longest river Mekong river
450 km
Largest lake Tonlé Sap
16000 km²
Cambodia, Topography

Cambodia is a country in mainland South-east Asia, bordering Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and the Gulf of Thailand. Its main geographical features include the low central plain of the Tonlé Sap basin and the lower Mekong River, surrounded by mountain ranges to the North, North-East, in the South-West and South. The central lowlands extend into Vietnam to the East.

Cambodia covers a total area of 181,035 km2 (69,898 sq mi) and situated in its entirety inside the tropical Indomalayan ecozone.

The highest peak is Phnom Aural, which is 1,810 metres (5,938 ft) above sea level. The South and South-West of the country constitute a 443 km (275 mi) long coast at the Gulf of Thailand, characterized by sizable mangrove marshes, peninsulas, sandy beaches and headlands and bays. Cambodia's territorial waters account for over 60 islands.

The landmass is bisected by the Mekong river, which at 450 km (280 mi) is the longest river in Cambodia. After extensive rapids, turbulent sections and cataracts in Laos, the river is predominantly calm and widens, entering the country at Stung Treng province. The Mekong strongly affects the seasonal nature of the Tonlé Sap lake in central Cambodia, branches off into several arms near Phnom Penh and reaches Vietnamese territory south of Koh Thom and Loek Daek districts of Kandal Province.

The majority of the country lies within the Tropical savanna climate zone, as its coastal areas in the South and West receive noticeably more and steady rain during the wet season. These areas constitute the easternmost fringes of the south-west monsoon, lying inside the Tropical monsoon climate. Countrywide there are two seasons of relatively equal length, defined by varying precipitation as temperatures and humidity are generally steady throughout the entire year.

Geological development[edit]

Southeast Asia consists of allochthonous continental blocks from Gondwanaland. These include the South China, Indochina, Sibumasu, and West Burma blocks, which amalgamated to form the Southeast Asian continent during Paleozoic and Mesozoic time.[1]

The current geological structure of South China and South-East Asia is determined to be the response to the "Indo-sinian" collision in South-East Asia during the Carboniferous.[2][3] The Indo-Sinian orogeny was followed by extension of the Indo-Chinese block, the formation of rift basins and thermal subsidence during the early Triassic.[4] [5][6]

The Indochina continental block, which is separated from the South China Block by the Jinshajiang-Ailaoshan Suture zone, is an amalgamation of the Viet-Lao, Khorat-Kontum, Uttaradit (UTD), and Chiang Mai-West Kachin terranes, all of which are separated by suture zones or ductile shear zones. The Khorat-Kontum terrane, which includes western Laos, Cambodia and southern Vietnam, consists of the Kontum metamorphic complex, Paleozoic shallow marine deposits, upper Permian arc volcanic rocks and Mesozoic terrigenous sedimentary rocks.[7]

The central plains consist mainly of Quaternary sands, loam and clay, as most of the northern mountain regions and the coastal region are largely composed of Cretaceous granite, Triassic stones and Jurassic sandstone formations.[8][9]

General Topography[edit]

Detailed map of Cambodia

Bowl-shaped,[10] Cambodia covers 181,035 km2 in the south-western part of the Indochinese peninsula and lies completely within the tropics. A rugged coastline at the Gulf of Thailand of 443 km length and many offshore islands provides the basis for a variety of eco-regions. Most mountain ranges remain formidably forested and were excluded from infrastructural developments throughout history. The central lowlands on the other hand underwent cultivation through wet-rice agriculture over the centuries.

Cambodia's interior, about 75 percent, consists of alluvial flood-plains of the Mekong river, whose waters feed the large and almost centrally located Tonlé Sap Lake basin and surrounding wetlands. The Mekong traverses the country from North to South-East, where the low-lying plains extend into Vietnam and reach the South China Sea at the Mekong Delta region.

The country is bounded to the north by the Dangrek Mountains plateau, borderng Thailand and Laos, to the north-east by the Annamite Range, in the south-west by the Cardamom Mountains and in the South by the Elephant Mountains. Highlands to the north-east and to the east merge into the Central Highlands and Mekong Delta lowlands of Vietnam.


Sandy materials cover a large proportion of the landscape of Cambodia, on account of the siliceous sedimentary formations that underlie much of the Kingdom. Mesozoic sandstone dominates most of the basement geology in Cambodia and hence will have a dominating influence on the properties of upland soils. Arenosols (sandy soils featuring very weak or no soil development) are mapped on only 1.6% of the land area.

Sandy surface textures are more prevalent than the deep sandy soils that fit the definition for Arenosols. Sandy textured profiles are common amongst the most prevalent soil groups including Acrisols and Leptosols. The Acrisols are the most prevalent soil group occupying nearly half of the land area of Cambodia. The main subgroups are: Gleyic Acrisols (20.5%, Haplic Acrisols (13.3%), Plinthic Acrisol (8.7%) and Ferric Acrisol (6.3%).[11]

Geographic regions[edit]

Central plain[edit]

extensive flooding

The Cambodian Plain is a geologically recent depression that "traps" the sediments of the Mekong and those of its tributaries with frequent course changes.[12] The area covers 25,069 square kilometers.[13] The Tonlé Sap lake and river system occupies Cambodia's central region. The Tonle Sap river is a waterway that leaves the Mekong near Phnom Penh in North-Westerly direction and meets the Tonle Sap lake after around 115 km. Its flow reverses direction twice a year caused by greatly varying amounts of water carried by the Mekong over the course of a year and the monsoonal rains.

The Mekong river and its tributaries increase water volumes by the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, caused by melting snows. As the Mekong enters Cambodia, over 95% of its waters have already joined the river. Vast areas of Cambodia's lowlands are flooded with the Tonle Sap as its deepest point. The inundated area varies from a low of around 2,700 km2 (1,000 sq mi) with a depth of around 1 meter at the end of the dry season (April). Flooding is being amplified by the start of the annual monsoon in May/June.

In November the lake might reach a size of 16,000 km2 (6,200 sq mi) and a depth of up to 9 meters. The annual monsoon ceases around this time of the year. As the Mekong river begins its minimum and falls deeper than the Tonle Sap lake and river, waters of the lake's basin now flows via the Tonle Sap river into the Mekong.[14][15][16]

Southern Mountains[edit]

Tatai River, draining Cardamom Mountains
Kampot province, countryside with Elephant Mountains

The eco-region represents the original extent of the wet evergreen forests that cover the Cardamom and Elephant mountains in southwest Cambodia and along the mountains east of Bangkok, in Thailand.[17]

The densely wooded hills receive rainfall of 150–200 inches (3,800–5,000 mm) annually on their western slopes (which are subject to southwest monsoons) but only 40–60 inches (1,020–1,520 mm) on their eastern, or rain shadow, slopes.[18]

*The Cardamom/Krâvanh Mountains - Occupying Koh Kong Province and Kampong Speu Province, running in a north-western to south-eastern direction and rise to more than 1,500 meters. The highest mountain of Cambodia, Phnom Aural, at 1,810 meters is located in Aoral District in Kampong Speu Province. The Cardamom Mountains form - including the north-western part of Chanthaburi Province, Thailand, the 'Soi Dao Mountains' - the Cardamom Mountains Moist Forests Ecoregion, that is considered to be one of the most species-rich and intact natural habitats in the region.[19][20][21]

*The Elephant Mountains - running toward the south and the south-east from the Cardamom Mountains, rise to elevations of between 500 and 1,000 meters. A north-south-trending range of high hills, an extension of the Cardamom/Krâvanh Mountains, in south-eastern Cambodia. Extending 70 miles (110 km) north from the Gulf of Thailand, they reach a high point in the Bok Koŭ ridge at Mount Bokor (3,547 feet [1,081 m]) near the sea.[22][23]

To the south-west of the Southern mountain ranges sits a narrow coastal plain that contains the Kampong Saom Bay and the Sihanoukville peninsula, facing the Gulf of Thailand.

Northern Mountains[edit]

*The Dangrek Mountains - a forested range of hills averaging 1,500–2,000 feet (450–600 m) and dividing Thailand from Cambodia. This east–west-trending range extends from the Mekong River westward for approximately 200 miles (320 km), merging with the highland area near San Kamphaeng, Thailand. Essentially the southern escarpment of the sandstone Khorat Plateau of northeastern Thailand, the Dângrêk range slopes gradually northward to the Mun River in Thailand but falls more abruptly in the south to the Cambodian plain. Its highest point is 2,497 feet (761 m).[24][25][26]

*Annamite Range Moist Forests - Lying to the east of the Mekong River, the long chain of mountains called the Annamite Mountains of Indochina and the lowlands that surround them make up the Greater Annamites ecoregion. This ecoregion has varying levels of rainfall of 1,500-3,850 mm annually. Mean annual temperatures are about 20 °C.[27] This region contains some of the last relatively intact moist forests in Indochina, formed as the moisture-laden monsoon winds blew in from the Gulf of Tonkin. This allowed the plants and animals adapted to moist conditions to seek refuge here and evolve into the specialized species that are found nowhere else on Earth.[28][29]

Ethnically diverse More than 30 ethnic groups live in the Annamites, each with their distinctive and traditional music, language, dress and customs. The natural resources of the Greater Annamites are vital to all of the people.[30]

The Coast[edit]

Cambodia's coastal area covers 17,237 square kilometers, distributed among 4 provinces: Sihanoukville province, Kampot province, Koh Kong province, and Kep province. The total length of the Cambodian coastal area has been disputed over the years. The generally accepted length is 440 kilometers, although a 1997 survey by the DANIDA organization set the length at 435 kilometers, while the Oil Authority in 1973 determined the coast to be 450 kilometers long.[13] The southern mountains drain on the south and west towards the shallow sea. Sediments on the continental shelf are the basis for extensive mangroves marshes, in particular in the Koh Kong province.[31][32]


Koh Koun island

Most Cambodian islands are, apart from the group of the outer islands, in relative proximity to the coast. The islands and the coastal region of Koh Kong province are mainly composed of upper Jurassic and lower Cretaceous sandstomne massives.[8] The north-westernmost islands near and around the Koh Kong river delta (Prek Kaoh Pao) area are to a great extent sediments of estuaries and rivers, very flat, engulfed in contiguous mangrove marshes and consequently hard to recognize.


Worldwide zones of Tropical savanna climate (Aw).
Worldwide zones of tropical monsoon climate (Am).

Cambodia's climate, like that of much the rest of mainland Southeast Asia is dominated by monsoons, which are known as tropical wet and dry because of the distinctly marked seasonal differences. The monsoonal air-flows are caused by annual alternating high pressure and low pressure over the Central Asian landmass. In summer, moisture-laden air—the southwest monsoon—is drawn landward from the Indian Ocean. The flow is reversed during the winter, and the northeast monsoon sends back dry air. The southwest monsoon brings the rainy season from mid-May to mid-September or to early October, and the northeast monsoon flow of drier and cooler air lasts from early November to March. The southern third of the country has a two-month dry season; the northern two-thirds, a four-month one. Short transitional periods, which are marked by some difference in humidity but by little change in temperature, intervene between the alternating seasons. Temperatures are fairly uniform throughout the Tonlé Sap Basin area, with only small variations from the average annual mean of around 25 °C (77.0 °F). The maximum mean is about 28.0 °C (82.4 °F); the minimum mean, about 22.98 °C (73.36 °F). Maximum temperatures of higher than 32 °C (89.6 °F), however, are common and, just before the start of the rainy season, they may rise to more than 38 °C (100.4 °F). Minimum temperatures rarely fall below 10 °C (50 °F). January is the coolest month, and April is the warmest. Tropical cyclones that often devastate coastal Vietnam rarely cause damage in Cambodia.[33][34]

The total annual rainfall average is between 1,000 and 1,500 millimeters (39.4 and 59.1 in), and the heaviest amounts fall in the southeast. Rainfall from April to September in the Tonlé Sap Basin-Mekong Lowlands area averages 1,300 to 1,500 millimeters (51.2 to 59.1 in) annually, but the amount varies considerably from year to year. Rainfall around the basin increases with elevation. It is heaviest in the mountains along the coast in the southwest, which receive from 2,500 millimeters (98.4 in) to more than 5,000 millimeters (196.9 in) of precipitation annually as the southwest monsoon reaches the coast. This area of greatest rainfall, however, drains mostly to the sea; only a small quantity goes into the rivers flowing into the basin. The relative humidity is high at night throughout the year; usually it exceeds 90 percent. During the daytime in the dry season, humidity averages about 50 percent or slightly lower, but it may remain about 60 percent in the rainy period.[11][35]

Climate data for Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 31.3
Average low °C (°F) 23.9
Average precipitation mm (inches) 28.3
Source: world weather online[36]

Climate data for Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 31.3
Average low °C (°F) 23.9
Average precipitation mm (inches) 0.0
Source: world weather online[37]

Climate data for Senmonorom, Cambodia
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 26.0
Average low °C (°F) 14.0
Average precipitation mm (inches) 30.0
Source: world weather online[37]


floating homes on the Mekong

The Tonle Sap Great Lake has several input rivers, the most important being the Tonle Sap river during the rainy season, which contributes 62 percent of the total water supply. The other rivers in the sub-basin and direct rainfall on the lake contribute the remaining 38 percent. Other major rivers are the Sen river, Sreng river, Pursat (Pouthisat) river, Sisophon river, Mongkul Borey river, and Sangker river.[38][39]

overview of Cambodia's Drainage divides

Except for the smaller rivers in the southeast, most of the major rivers and river systems in Cambodia drain into the Tonle Sap or into the Mekong River. The Cardamom Mountains and Elephant Range form a separate drainage divide. To the east the rivers flow into the Tonle Sap, while on the west they flow into the Gulf of Thailand. Toward the southern end of the Elephant Mountains, small rivers flow southward on the eastern side of the divide.

The Mekong River in Cambodia flows southward from the Cambodia-Laos border to a point below Kratie city, where it turns west for about 50 kilometers and then turns southwest to Phnom Penh. Extensive rapids run above Kratie city. From Kampong Cham Province the gradient slopes very gently, and inundation of areas along the river occurs at flood stage—June through November—through breaks in the natural levees that have built up along its course. At Phnom Penh four major water courses meet at a point called the Chattomukh (Four Faces). The Mekong River flows in from the northeast and the Tonle Sap, a river emanating from the Tonle Sap—flows in from the northwest. They divide into two parallel channels, the Mekong River proper and the Bassac River, and flow independently through the delta areas of Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea.

The flow of water into the Tonle Sap is seasonal. In September or in October, the flow of the Mekong River, fed by monsoon rains, increases to a point where its outlets through the delta cannot handle the enormous volume of water. At this point, the water pushes northward up the Tonle Sab and empties into the Tonle Sap, thereby increasing the size of the lake from about 2,590 square kilometers to about 24,605 square kilometers at the height of the flooding. After the Mekong's waters crest—when its downstream channels can handle the volume of water—the flow reverses, and water flows out of the engorged lake.

Mekong tributary in Stung Treng province

As the level of the Tonle Sap retreats, it deposits a new layer of sediment. The annual flooding, combined with poor drainage immediately around the lake, transforms the surrounding area into marshlands unusable for agricultural purposes during the dry season. The sediment deposited into the lake during the Mekong's flood stage appears to be greater than the quantity carried away later by the Tonle Sap River. Gradual silting of the lake would seem to be occurring; during low-water level, it is only about 1.5 meters deep, while at flood stage it is between 10 and 15 meters deep.

Vegetation & Eco Regions[edit]

Cambodia has one of the highest levels of forest cover in Southeast Asia. The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) estimates Cambodia contains approximately 10.36 million hectares of forest cover representing approximately 57.07% of Cambodia’s land area in 2011).

About 69,000 ha (1%) of forest cover is planted forest. Overall Cambodia’s forests contain an estimated 464 million metric tonnes of carbon stock in living forest biomass.[41]

Approximately 40% of Cambodia’s Forests have some level of protection and one of the Cambodia Millennium Development Goals targets is to achieve a 60% forest cover by 2015. According to the Forestry Administration statistics, a total of 380,000 hectares of forest were cleared between 2002 and 2005/2006, resulting in a deforestation rate of 0.5% per year.[42]

Southern Annamites Montane Rain Forests ecoregion[edit]

The Southern Annamites Montane Rain Forests ecoregion in the remote montane forests of Kontuey Neak, or "the dragon's tail"-in the extreme northwest of Cambodia, where the boundaries of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam meet-is globally outstanding for its biodiversity. The intact forests of the ecoregion are little explored. It includes a broad topographic range from lowlands with wet evergreen forests to montane habitats with evergreen hardwood and conifer forests. As expected from the complex geological, topographic, and climatic gradients present in the Southern Annamites Montane Rain Forests ecoregion, forest structure and composition are highly variable.[43]

The great lake ecosystem[edit]

Many of the Mekong’s key ecosystems have developed as a result of seasonal flow fluctuations.[44]

The Tonle Sap, also known as the Great Lake in central Cambodia, is the heart of Cambodia's freshwater fisheries. It is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and one of the richest inland fishing grounds in the world. A belt of freshwater mangroves known as the “flooded forest” surrounds the lake. This gradually changes to bushes and finally grassland with increasing distance from the lake. The floodplains are surrounded by low hills, which are naturally covered with evergreen or deciduous dry Dipterocarp forest. The lake’s flooded forest and the surrounding floodplain are of great importance for Cambodia's freshwater fisheries.[45]


Wetlands cover more than 30 per cent of Cambodia. In addition to the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap and its floodplain, there are the Stung Sen River and the coastal estuaries of Stung Koh Pao and Stung Kep. Freshwater wetlands in Cambodia represent one of the most diverse ecosystems. The area’s extensive wetland habitats would not exist without the annual flood. Likewise, the life-cycles of many Mekong fish species depend on it. The numerous and varied wetlands support productive environments for rice cultivation, freshwater capture fisheries, other forms of agriculture and aquaculture and tourism.[46]

Mangrove marshes[edit]

The Cambodian coastline consists of 60 000 ha of some 30 species of mangroves. The most pristine mangrove forests are found in Koh Kong Province. In addition to mangroves, sea-grass beds extend throughout the coastal areas, especially in Kampot Province, the Prek Kompong Saom Bay Delta and Kep municipal waters.[47]

Land Use[edit]

Cambodia has experienced major changes in land use and land cover over the last two decades. Recent major economic reforms, result in a shift from subsistence agrarian modes of production to market-based agricultural production and industrialisation. In the case of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the emergence from cold war rivalries has resulted in a shift to economic systems which are heavily integrated into regional and global trade systems.[48]

Land Use in Cambodia[49]
1990 2000 2002 2010
Agricultural land (km2) in Cambodia 44550.0 47700.0
Agricultural land (% of land area) in Cambodia 25.2 27.0 23.0
Arable land (hectares) in Cambodia 3695000.0 3700000.0
Arable land (hectares per person) in Cambodia 0.4 0.3
Arable land (% of land area) in Cambodia 20.9 21.0
Permanent cropland (% of land area) in Cambodia 0.6 0.8
Forest area (km2) in Cambodia 129460.0 115460.0 100940.0
Forest area (% of land area) in Cambodia 73.3 65.4 54.0 57.2

Sources: World Bank,[49] FAO[50] UN[51]

Political and human geography[edit]

Cambodia borders Vietnam over a length of 1,228 km, Thailand over a length of 803 km and Laos over a length of 541 km, with 2,572 km in total and an additional 443 km of coastline. Cambodia is divided into 25 provinces and subdivided into 159 districts.[52]

Regional divisions[edit]

Cambodia's boundaries were for the most part based upon those recognized by France and by neighboring countries during the colonial period. The 800-kilometer boundary with Thailand runs along the watershed of the Dangrek Mountains, although only in its northern sector. The 541-kilometer border with Laos and the 1,228-kilometer border with Vietnam result from French administrative decisions and do not follow major natural features. Border disputes have broken out in the past between Cambodia and Thailand as well as between Cambodia and Vietnam.[53][54]

Map of Cambodia's provinces Kingdom of Cambodia
  1. Phnom Penh
  2. Banteay Meanchey Province
  3. Battambang Province
  4. Kampong Cham Province
  5. Kampong Chhnang Province
  6. Kampong Speu Province
  7. Kampong Thom Province
  8. Kampot Province
  9. Kandal Province
  10. Koh Kong Province
  11. Kep Province
  12. Kratié Province
  13. Mondulkiri Province
  1. Oddar Meanchey Province
  2. Pailin Province
  3. Preah Sihanouk Province
  4. Preah Vihear Province
  5. Pursat Province
  6. Prey Veng Province
  7. Ratanakiri Province
  8. Siem Reap Province
  9. Stung Treng Province
  10. Svay Rieng Province
  11. Takéo Province
  12. Tbong Khmum Province

Area and boundaries[edit]

total: 181,035 km²
land: 176,515 km²
water: 4,520 km²

Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 12 nmi (13.8 mi; 22.2 km)
contiguous zone: 24 nmi (27.6 mi; 44.4 km)
exclusive economic zone: 200 nmi (230.2 mi; 370.4 km)
continental shelf: 200 nmi (230.2 mi; 370.4 km)

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Gulf of Thailand 0 m
highest point: Phnum Aoral 1,810 m

Resources and land use[edit]

Natural resources: oil and natural gas, timber, gemstones, iron ore, manganese, phosphates, hydropower potential, arable land

Land use:
arable land: 23.23%
permanent crops: 0.88%
other: 75.90% (2012)

Irrigated land: 3,536 km2 (1,365.26 sq mi) (2006)

'Total renewable water resources: 476.1 km3 (114.22 cu mi) (2011)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):
total: 2.18 km3 or 0.523 cu mi/yr (4%/2%/94%)
per capita: 159.8 km3 or 38.3 cu mi/yr (2006)

Environmental concerns[edit]

Natural hazards: monsoonal rains (June to November); flooding; occasional droughts

Environment - current issues: illegal logging activities throughout the country and strip mining for gems in the western region along the border with Thailand have resulted in habitat loss and declining biodiversity (in particular, destruction of mangrove swamps threatens natural fisheries); soil erosion; in rural areas, most of the population does not have access to potable water; declining fish stocks because of illegal fishing and overfishing.[21][55]

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution (MARPOL 73/78), Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea


See also[edit]


  1. ^
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  4. ^,+when,+and+how?&source=bl&ots=FO3QtQr093&sig=SdbaC8VumCVLNWC7RVqEbkCKMNo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8pt9VIKkLYPl8gWBkYK4Dg&ved=0CFMQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=The%20South%20China%20Block-Indochina%20collision%3A%20where%2C%20when%2C%20and%20how%3F&f=false
  5. ^
  6. ^!{"content":["GM_000021_005_e0000032",false,""]}
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  36. ^ "Climatological Information for Sihanoukville, Cambodia", Hong Kong Observatory, 2003. Web: KOS-Airport.
  37. ^ a b "Climatological Information for Phnom Penh, Cambodia", Hong Kong Observatory, 2003. Web: [1].
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External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]