History of Cambodia : Post Angkor Period
Post Angkor covers a part of history referred to as the Dark Ages. The Khmer empire started to decline in the 13th century in the face of aggressive Thai expansion. However, some of argued that their resources had been over exploited by massive building and that the reservoirs had started to silt up from the rampant deforestation. Construction came to a halt after the death of King Jayavarman VII, he no doubt having exhausted the population, the natural resources and local sandstone.
Angkor, rediscovered in 19th century – by Alessandro
The later kings struggled with religious conflict and lost control over the outer boundaries of the empire. A rising Thailand, at the beginning of its golden age, warred ceaselessly with the Khmers, finally sacking the city in 1431, purportedly through the treachery of two Buddhist monks. The Thais are said to have made off with as many as 90,000 prisoners, most of them dancers, musicians, craftsmen and intellectuals from the royal court.
Bereft of their culture and treasures, the Khmer Kingdom went into rapid decline and in 1434, the Khmers moved south to establish a new capital in Phnom Penh, attracted by the flourishing trade with the Chinese. At that point, Angkor was abandoned to the jungle, in spite of a brief attempt to revitalize it as the capital; Angkor Wat however was occupied by the monks and became an active monastery.
Twilight Years of the Khmers
A later king transferred the Khmer capital to Lovek on the banks of Tonle Sap Lake but it was overrun by the Thais in 1594 in a final blow to Cambodian independence. Lovek however continued to prosper as a trading center and in the 15th and 16th centuries were inhabited by communities of Chinese, Indonesians, Malays, Japanese, Arabs, Spanish, and Portuguese, to be later joined by the English and the Dutch.
The twilight years of the Khmer kingdom were undistinguished and characterized by shuffling between Thailand and Vietnam for protection. At the end of the 17th century, in exchange for protection from the Thais, Vietnam gained land rights in the Mekong delta, and Cambodia was cut off from the outside world, with access requiring Vietnamese permission. As an aside, this area in Southern Vietnam is still referred to by the Khmers as Kampuchea Krom (Lower Cambodia) even though it is without doubt Vietnamese territory.
Thai and Vietnamese Rulers
The expansionist Thais held power in the west, controlling Battambang and Siem Reap and exerted much influence over the Cambodian royal family. The struggle between the two aggressors to wrest control of Cambodia from the other stepped up in the 19th century. Vietnam, which ruled the central part of the country, had to cope with several rebellions from the Cambodians, the most important of which took place in 1840-41, finally resulting in Thailand and Vietnam agreeing to jointly rule Cambodia.
Ultimately, the Khmers turned to the French, who had gained a foothold in Saigon in the late 1850’s, for protection and in 1864, King Norodom signed a treaty making Cambodia a French protectorate, and a colony 20 years later.