50 things about Asean countries you probably didn't know - Asean's golden jubilee

Asean's golden jubilee: 5 interesting things about Cambodia

21. Khmer architecture is modern

French-educated Cambodian architect Van Molyvann led a profound period of architectural change between Cambodia's independence in 1953 and 1975, during which he combined elements of the modernism of the 1950s and 1960s with traditional Khmer elements to create Khmer architecture. These elements included the use of new construction material or reinforced concrete and the elevation of buildings on stilts.

The monuments, commissioned under King Norodom Sihanouk's patronage, celebrate independence and symbolise hopes for a modern future. While many have been torn down, some New Khmer Architecture masterpieces remain, including Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium, the Chaktomuk Conference Hall, the Royal University of Phnom Penh and the Cambodiana Hotel.

22. Global leader in gourmet pepper

On Cambodia's southern coast, Kampot province's mineral-rich red earth and salty coastal winds create exceptional growing conditions for pepper. The red, green and white varieties are the favourite of chefs worldwide, particularly red, which is used in France for pastry.

Cambodia, famed for its Angkor temple sites in Siem Reap, also boasts New Khmer Architecture masterpieces that still remain today, including Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium and Chaktomuk Conference Hall. PHOTO: ANIL MATHEW

Last year, the European Union gave pepper from Kampot province its seal of approval with the "protected geographical indication" status, putting it in the same ranks as champagne, Parma ham, Gorgonzola cheese and more.

23. Once Asean's rock 'n' roll capital

In the 1960s, Phnom Penh was the swinging centre of South-east Asia thanks to home-grown rock bands and pop singers who embraced the era's surfer and psychedelic sounds. Many artists were later killed under the Khmer Rouge, but musicians and film-makers in recent years have renewed interest in the era, with the 2015 documentary Don't Think I've Forgotten, for instance.

24. The reversing river

A lake named Tonle Sap in Cambodia has a reversing river every monsoon season, with waters flowing upstream back into it. This is caused by an increase in water volume from the Mekong river in the monsoon season, which exceeds the river's ability to empty into the sea. This water then flows into adjacent tributaries, resulting in the reversed flow of the river. Residents have made this annual flooding a part of life, harvesting carp and catfish stranded in small pools of water.

25. Pangolin rehab centre

The rare and shy pangolin is the only known mammal with scales. These nocturnal animals live off a diet of ants and termites, which they catch with tongues that can be longer than their bodies. They are one of the most trafficked animals in the world. An estimated 100,000 pangolins are captured every year, and they are killed for their meat and scales. The Pangolin Rehabilitation Centre was opened near Phnom Penh in 2012 to protect those no longer able to get by in the wild.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Cambodia'. Print Edition | Subscribe