Coming from India along the coast, the first people probably got to Cambodia around 45,000 BC. They
With the rise of the Silk Road sea trade, India’s traders sold things to people in Cambodia and nearby Vietnam, and the people of Cambodia picked up a lot of Indian culture. For one thing, many of them became Hindus. In the 500s AD, a new group called Zhenla replaced Funan. Chinese writers from the T’ang Dynasty mention Zhenla.
Soon after 800 AD, Cambodian rulers started the Khmer Empire. Like Funan and Zhenla, the Khmer Empire was still Hindu. The empire was strong and powerful. The government built irrigation canals, big stone temples, and planned cities. Around 1000 AD, the Khmer rulers converted to Buddhism, like the Pagan Kingdom in Burma. In the 1100s and 1200s, the Pagan Kingdom and the Khmer Empire were the two main powers in Southeast Asia. But then in the 1300s, the Khmer Empire collapsed – could this be because of the Black Death? Or indirectly because trade was disrupted? In any case, Cambodia fell into a dark age in the 1400s.
Things picked up again in the 1500s as Cambodia got more involved in the international ocean trade. Ships going from China to India stopped in Cambodia (and in Vietnam). But all this trade also brought a lot of new ideas. European missionaries encouraged Cambodian people to become Christians. Malaysian traders encouraged them to convert to Islam, instead. Cham people moved into Cambodia.