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Cambodia - Geography

The total area of Cambodia is some 181,040 square kilometers, about size of the US state of Missouri. The country shares an 800-kilometer border with Thailand to the north and west, a 541-kilometer border with Laos to the northeast, and a 1,228- kilometer border with Vietnam to the east and southeast. The country's coastline along Gulf of Thailand is about 443 kilometers.

The country's most salient topographical feature is a lacustrine plain formed by inundations of Tonle Sap (Great Lake), measuring about 2,590 square kilometers during dry season to about 24,605 square kilometers during rainy season. This densely populated plain devoted to wet rice cultivation constitutes heartland of Cambodia. Most (about 75 percent) of country lies at elevations of less than 100 meters above sea level, except for the Cardamon Mountains (highest elevation 1,771 meters), their north-south extension to the east, the Elephant Range (elevation range 500-1,000 meters) and steep escarpment of the Dangrek Mountains (average elevation 500 meters) along the northern border with Thailand.

Cambodia falls within several well-defined geographic regions. The largest part of the country--about 75 percent of the total-- consists of the Tonle Sap Basin and the Mekong Lowlands. To the southeast of this great basin is the Mekong Delta, which extends through Vietnam to the South China Sea. The basin and delta regions are rimmed with mountain ranges to the southwest (the Cardamom Mountains the Elephant Range) and to the north (Dangrek Mountains). Higher land to the northeast and to the east merges into the Central Highlands of southern Vietnam.

The Tonle Sap Basin-Mekong Lowlands region consists chiefly of plains with elevations generally of less than 100 meters. As the elevation increases, the terrain becomes more rolling and dissected.

The Cardamom Mountains in the southwest, oriented generally in a northwest-southeast direction, rise to more than 1,500 meters. The highest mountain in Cambodia--Phnom Aural, at 1,771 meters--is in the eastern part of this range. The Elephant Range, an extension running toward the south and the southeast from the Cardamom Mountains, rises to elevations of between 500 and 1,000 meters. These two ranges are bordered on the west by a narrow coastal plain that contains Kampong Saom Bay, which faces the Gulf of Thailand. This area was largely isolated until the opening of the port of Kampong Saom (formerly called Sihanoukville) and the construction of a road and railroad connecting Kampong Saom, Kampot, Takev, and Phnom Penh in the 1960s.

The Dangrek Mountains at the northern rim of the Tonle Sap Basin consist of a steep escarpment with an average elevation of about 500 meters, the highest points of which reach more than 700 meters. The escarpment faces southward and is the southern edge of the Korat Plateau in Thailand. The watershed along the escarpment marks the boundary between Thailand and Cambodia. The main road through a pass in the Dangrek Mountains at O Smach connects northwestern Cambodia with Thailand. Despite this road and those running through a few other passes, in general the escarpment impedes easy communication between the two countries. Between the western part of the Dangrek and the northern part of the Cardamom ranges, however, lies an extension of the Tonle Sap Basin that merges into lowlands in Thailand, which allows easy access from the border to Bangkok.

The Mekong Valley, which offers a communication route between Cambodia and Laos, separates the eastern end of the Dangrek Mountains and the northeastern highlands. To the southeast, the basin joins the Mekong Delta, which, extending into Vietnam, provides both water and land communications between the two countries.

Cambodia's boundaries in 1987 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, coincides with a natural feature, the watershed of the Dangrek Mountains, only in its northern sector. The 541-kilometer border with Laos and the 1,228-kilometer border with Vietnam result largely 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.



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Page last modified: 28-05-2012 13:27:15 ZULU