Shocking Cambodia statistics: Average salaries $1/day, one-fifth of the population killed in the 70s, and more

When I was researching these statistics for Cambodia, I WAS ABSOLUTELY BLOWN AWAY! Most people in Cambodia only earn $1 per day salary, only 45% of Cambodian kids actually finish elementary school, men’s life expectancy is only 60 years old, and over one-fifth of Cambodia’s population was killed in a matter of three years (1975-78) in what is considered one of the worst genocides in world history!

When we crossed the border into Cambodia from our tour in Vietnam, the poverty was definitely apparent. But once you are in the cities, you don’t really see it as much. I also had NO CLUE about the lack of education or just how little money the people made. And in Phnom Penh, we soon found out, in great detail, just how awful the genocide from only 35 years ago was (details coming in a future post).

The statistics below are a prime example of how interesting and important it really is to research a country you are traveling to BEFORE you arrive. It is heartbreaking to me to read some of these statistics NOW, after we have already left. I think I may have looked at things quite differently if I had known some of these things.

First of all, geographically, Cambodia is part of an area of the world called “Southeast Asia,” and more specifically part of  “IndoChina,” which is comprised of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, and Peninsular Malaysia. Cambodia is “sandwiched” between several other countries: Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, and Vietnam to the east.

Here are some facts about Cambodia (many surprising!):

Capital: Phnom Penh

Currency: Riel. However, Cambodia uses US currency for most items you purchase and the change is tendered in Riels.

Language: Khmer

Population: 15 million people (2010). The population is made up of the following demographics: Khmer (ethnic Cambodian people): 86%, Vietnamese: 5%, Chinese: 5%, other: 4%.

Government: The government is a constitutional monarchy operated as a representative democracy, and the Prime Minister of Cambodia is the head of government. The current Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has held office since 1985!! Cambodia also has a king (currently Norodom Sihamoni), who is the head of state.

Economy: GDP: $36 billion, GDP Per capita: $2,361. Cambodia is a very poor country, with approximately one third of the population living on less than $1.00 per day.

We saw many Buddhist monks all over Cambodia

Religion: Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, which is practiced by more than 95 percent of the population. The only other religions recognized in Cambodia are Islam 2.1% and Christianity 1.3% (2008). Adherence to Buddhism generally is considered essential to the country’s ethnic and cultural identity.

Literacy Rate: 77.6% (2008) As a comparison, the overall world literacy rate is 84%, and the nearby countries of Vietnam and Thailand have 94% and 93% literacy rates respectively.

Climate/Seasons: Cambodia has a temperature range from 70 to 95 °F and the climate is dominated by monsoons. There are two distinct seasons: The rainy season, May to October, can see temperatures drop to 71.6 °F and is generally accompanied with high humidity. The dry season lasts from November to April when temperatures can rise up to 104 °F around April.

Foods: Rice is the staple grain, and fish from the local rivers is also an important part of the diet. The cuisine of Cambodia contains tropical fruits, soups and noodles. Key ingredients are kaffir lime, lemon grass, garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce, curry, tamarind, ginger, oyster sauce, coconut milk and black pepper.

Tuk tuk drivers make a lot of money in Cambodia, compared to other workers around the country

Work environment: In Cambodia, a person’s average income is about $750 per year. Most people only make $1/day, while tuk tuk drivers and tour guides can make up to $300/month, which is considered A LOT! Cambodia’s per capita income is rapidly increasing but is low compared to other countries in the region. Most rural households depend on agriculture and its related sub-sectors. Rice, fish, timber, garments and rubber are Cambodia’s major exports. Travel & tourism also brings in a considerable amount of revenue for the country, contributing approximately 20% to the overall GDP, and that number is continually growing. [For a thorough report on Cambodia’s tourism and the economic impact it has, click here.]

Unemployment Rate: Approximately 1%! (2012)

Education: During the Khmer Rouge regime, education was dealt a severe setback as schools were closed, and educated people and teachers were subjected to suspicion, harsh treatment, and possibly execution. At the beginning of the 1970s, more than 20,000 teachers lived in Cambodia; only about 5,000 of the teachers remained 10 years later. Soviet sources report that 90 percent of all teachers were killed under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Currently, the severe scarcity of schools and classrooms, particularly in the rural areas, limit the number of children who have access to education. Most Cambodian villages have a primary school but they are not complete and do not offer a full 1-6 grade curriculum. Cambodian kids face greater difficulty in the pursuit of a higher level of education, as secondary schools are built in less than 10% of the villages. Only 5.4% of Cambodian villages have a lower secondary school and only 2% of them have an upper secondary school.

Due to poverty, children in Cambodia are forced to give up the chance of receiving education to work and supplement the family’s income. The opportunity cost of sending their children to school are very high in some families, making it almost impossible for the children in the families to receive education. Based on the data from the International Labor Organization, close to 20% of children ages 5–9 are employed as child labor. The figures then rise to 47% for children between age 10-14 and 34% for ages 15–17.

Formal administrative data suggests that only a mere 43 percent has actually completed primary education.

Life expectancy: 62.5 years old: 60 years for males and 65 years for females (2010)

Drinking/Smoking age: There is no legal drinking age or smoking age in Cambodia.

Driving: People drive on the RIGHT side of the road, just like the US. Most cars have the drivers wheel on the left side of the car, however, you will see some cars with steering wheels on the RIGHT side!—as Cambodia shares a border with Thailand, where people drive on the other side of the road and car. The legal driving age is 18.


Interesting Cambodia facts:

  • When referring to people from Cambodia, you do not say they are “Cambodian,” you instead say they are Khmer (kah-mair.) This term, Khmer, also refers to the language they speak.
  • Would you like a crunchy snack?

    You will often see people on the streets in Cambodia selling fried cockroaches, grasshoppers, locusts, spiders, and baby roasted chickens as food.

  • Only about 45% of Cambodian kids finish elementary school. The figure is much lower for children who live in rural villages.
  • Half of Cambodia’s current population is younger than 15 years old.
  • Traditionally, birthdays are not celebrated in Cambodia. Older people might not even know their birthdays.
  • UNICEF has designated Cambodia the third most landmined country in the world, attributing over 60,000 civilian deaths and thousands more maimed or injured since 1970 because of the unexploded land mines left behind in rural areas. The majority of the victims are children herding animals or playing in the fields
  • During the genocide in the 1970s, approximately two million people were killed! Visiting the “killing fields” in Cambodia for us was a very somber experience.

    During the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge, one-fifth of Cambodia’s population was killed. They were mostly educated people, priests, and monks. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot wanted all educated Cambodians dead so that nobody would oppose their rule.

  • Angelina Jolie adopted a boy, who she named Maddox, from a small town in Cambodia in 2002. Brad Pitt later legally adopted Maddox as well, and they changed his last name to Jolie-Pitt. The couple would go on to pour millions of dollars into Cambodia: An estimated 5000 people living in 10 villages owe their livelihoods (or at least part of them) to the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, or MJP as it is known, created by Angelina in 2003.  The foundation has made a lasting difference to some of the world’s poorest people.


What is most surprising to you from these statistics?  Has anything specific in this post affected you in any way?  Let us know by commenting below!



Families in China are limited to having one child!— And other interesting China facts

I’m always fascinated and intrigued when I research facts and statistics about all these countries we are visiting, and China has been one of the most interesting and different so far. Between their one-child policy, socialist/communist government, and even silly things like, “Why do many of the children wear open crotch pants in public?,” there have been some really interesting things I’ve learned!

Read ahead . . .


Capital: Beijing (Shanghai is the largest city, however.)

Currency: Chinese Renminbi (Yuan) CNY/RMB

Language: 70% of people speak Chinese Mandarin, and others speak several major linguistic groups within the Chinese language itself, including Chinese Cantonese, Shanghainese, and others.

Climate/Seasons: China is a massive country that spans so much land that different regions of the country can experience vastly different temperature and weather conditions at the same time—much like that of the US. The weather in Southern China doesn’t experience much of a winter and may have an average low temperature in January of 58 degrees Fahrenheit, while cities in the Northeast of China may only reach an average high temperature in July of 82 degrees.

Government: Single-party socialist state, governed by the Communist Party. The country is known as “The People’s Republic of China.”  China is only one of the world’s four remaining socialist states supporting communism, along with Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba.

Communism, in case you didn’t know, is a system where everything belongs to “the community”—aka the government—so people don’t own much more than the clothes on their back. It can be defined as, “a classless, moneyless, and stateless society” and can be characterized as “one in which decisions on what to produce and what policies to pursue are made in the best interests of the whole of society, a society ‘of, by, and for the working class’, rather than one in which a rich class controls the wealth and everyone else works for the rich on a wage basis.”

Economy: Total GDP: $12.405 trillion, Nominal GDP: $8.227 trillion. As of 2013, China has the world’s second-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP, behind the US.

Lots and lots and lots of people everywhere!!

Population: 1.3+ BILLION people! (2012 census), which makes China the country with the LARGEST population in the world. In comparison, next in order is India with 1.2 billion people, and third in the world is the US with “only” 316 million people. It is estimated that China’s urban population will increase by 400 million people by 2025 (that number alone is more than the entire population of the US!)

In China, 91.51% of the population is of the Han Chinese descent, the rest being minorities.

Population control: Since 1979 the government has advocated a one-child limit for residents in China and set a maximum of two children in special circumstances. The goal of the one-child policy was to keep the total population within 1.2 billion through the year 2000, as the Chinese population had been growing at an excessive rate. Some of the “special circumstances” that allow a family to have more than one child include: if both spouses themselves come from one-child families, if their first child has a non-inherited disease, if a previous child has died, or in some rural provinces where residents still rely on traditional farming practices, couples are permitted to have a second child if their first is a girl.

The policy employs a combination of public education, social pressure, and in some cases coercion. Under the one-child program, a sophisticated system rewards those who observe the policy and penalizes those who do not. Couples with only one child are given a “one-child certificate” entitling them to such benefits as cash bonuses, longer maternity leave, better child care, and preferential housing assignments. In return, they are required to pledge that they will not have more children.

Unmarried young people are persuaded to postpone marriage, couples without children are advised to “wait their turn,” women with unauthorized pregnancies are pressured to have abortions, and those who already have children are urged to use contraception or undergo sterilization. Couples with more than one child are strongly urged to be sterilized.

We saw this “prayer room” in an airport… very different!

Religion: China’s constitution supposedly allows for freedom of religion, however religious organizations that do not have official approval can be subject to persecution. It is estimated around 30-60% of the population do not practice any religion at all, around 30% practice Taoism, 11-18% Buddhism, 3-5% Christianity, 2% Islam, and the rest are many other indigenous religions.

Literacy Rate: 93.3% (2007)

Unemployment Rate: Approximately 4.1% (2013)

Work environment: China is criticized a lot in the public for the huge amount of factory workers it employs and the long working hours, bad conditions, and little pay the employees receive. The average wage at a Chinese factory in 2009 was around $200 USD per month! This may be why the overall salaries in China are extremely low compared to the US. Beijing tops the list of employees’ salary with an average monthly pay of $750 USD, which comes to $9,000 USD per year. Depending on the province, the average salary of all workers is from $5,000 to $9,000 PER YEAR, although there are many office, IT, and management jobs in the cities that pay around $32,000-$50,000 USD annually, and a General/Operations Manager can make up to $94,000 per year.

One of China’s problems is that while it produces lots of low skill factory jobs, it isn’t creating enough good job for college graduates.

Education: All citizens must attend school for at least nine years. Starting at age six or seven, the child attends primary school for six grades (grades 1-6) which is compulsory, followed by junior middle school for three years (grades 7-9) which is also compulsory. The child then may or may not attend “senior high school” at age 15 or so for grades 10-12, or may choose to go to vocational school instead.

The school system is based on a two semester system: one from September to January, and the other beginning around February or March (depending on that year’s date of the Chinese New Year) and ending in June or July.

Life expectancy: The national average life expectancy is 74.8 years (2012). The life expectancy rate is expected to go down in future years, due to horrible pollution in many large Chinese cities and a huge percentage of the population who are cigarette smokers.

Drinking/Smoking age: Legal drinking age is 18 years old, which was only just implemented in 2006. There actually is no legal smoking age in china! But there are certain places (such as hospitals and schools) you cannot smoke in.

Driving: Cars drive on the right side of the road (just like in the US). Legal driving age is 18 years old.


Interesting China facts:

  • China possesses about 6% of the world’s total land area… on which it must sustain 20% of the world’s population.
  • Traditionally, Chinese babies wear “kaidangku” (literally “open-crotch pants”) instead of diapers. However, disposable diapers sales continue to rise dramatically. Good!—we kept seeing these babies everywhere with their butts hanging out, and were curious to HOW in the world the kids “tell” their parents when they have to “go potty”??
  • Chinese entrepreneurs rent out “traffic jam” stand-ins to wait in traffic for busy motorists who are whisked away by motorcyclists. Another employee drives their cars driven to their destination.
  • Typically, people from northern China tend to be the tallest and of larger stature than most of all other Asian countries.
  • In an effort to usher in an era of modern “civility”, the city of Shanghai launched a “Seven Nos” campaign, urging citizens to refrain from littering, smoking, spitting, cursing, jaywalking, vandalism, and destroying greenery. Heh… interesting, as I don’t think anybody follows these rules in all the other cities we visited! (we didn’t visit Shanghai, so I wonder if these rules actually work there!!)
  • China has the world’s biggest mall, but it’s been 99% vacant since opening in 2005. The New South China Mall in Dongguan –spearheaded by an instant noodle billionaire– has seven zones modeled on international regions (Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Venice, California, Egypt, and the Caribbean). It includes a 80-foot replica of the Arc de Triomphe, a 1.3 mile canal with gondolas, and an indoor-outdoor roller coaster.
  • China will have an estimated 221 cities with a population of a million or more by 2025. Today, Europe only has 35 such cities.
  • Starbucks dominates the Chinese market with around 70% percent market share. China is “poised to become Starbucks’ second-largest market behind the U.S., overtaking Canada, Japan and the U.K.”
  • Amongst urbanites (city dwelling families) in China and the US: The average annual household income in China, is $10,220, compared with $84,300 in the United States. In this group study, 73% of the Chinese were married, compared with 59% in the Unites States. Less than 1% of urban Chinese people use consumer loans to purchase consumer goods, while 47% of all US families have installment loans and 46% carry a credit card balance. The average US household debt is 136% of household income, compared to 17% for the Chinese.


Yayyyyy, China!