Krong Preah Sihanouk history

Krong Preah Sihanouk – Sihanoukville  history

Prior to the ports’ and city’s foundation works of 1955, the port of Kompong Som must have been only of regional significance – due to the absence of navigable waterways that connect the port with the kingdom’s settlement centers.

The chronicle of Samtec Cauva Vamn Juon – one of the 18th and 19th century Cambodian Royal Chronicles – briefly mentions the region as the country was split into 3 parts during a 9 year civil war from 1476 to 1485:

In 1479, Dhammaraja took on the throne at Catumukh (Phnom Penh) and controlled
the provinces of Samrong Tong, Thpong, Kompong Saom, Kampot up to the Bassak, Preah Trapeang,Kramuon Sar, Koh Slaket and Peam (mouth of the Mekong).


During the Nguyen-Siamese War (1717 – 18) a Siamese fleet burned the port of Kompong Som in 1717 but was defeated by the Vietnamese at Banteay Meas/Ha Tien.

In 1714 the Nguyễn sent an army into Cambodia to support Keo Fa’s claim the throne against Prea Srey Thomea (see also the article on the Dark ages of Cambodia). Siam joined in siding with the Prea Srey Thomea against the Vietnamese claimant. At Bantea Meas the Vietnamese routed the Siamese armies but by 1717 the Siamese had gained the upper hand.


Prior to the ports’ foundation works between 1955 and 1960, no recorded settlement ever existed in the provincial area, that out-sized a traditional fishing community. The city’s and province’s alternative name Kompong Saom has been borrowed from the indigenous local community. In post-Angkor sources, such as the Cambodian Chronicles, the coastal region appears in records starting from the seventeenth century. During the many centuries of documented history – from [[Funan]] to [[Chenla]] and the Khmer Kingdom, regional trade was centered at O-Keo (Vietnamese: Oc Eo) in the [[Mekong Delta]], now the province of Rach Gia (Vietnam). The township of Prei Nokor(Saigon) was a commercial center for the Khmer Empire.

Quotes, that highlight the region’s turbulent and disputed situation during the 18th and 19th century:

“According to a French geographer Jean Delvert, the author of “Le Paysan Cambodgien” (1958) and “Le Cambodge” (1983), Cambodia is a continental country and the role of the coastal region was very limited in Cambodia’s history and economy before 1955 [6: 13]. However, this idea was not entirely true. Cambodian kings sought an outlet located on the Gulf of Thailand. The oldest cases involved the Pre-Angkor Kings, Isanavarman, Bhavavarman, and Jayavarman I, who tried to control the Chanthaburi region [30: 131–132, 338, 342, 350]. There remain many monuments around Chanthaburi and the Banteay-Meas District.”
…and: “Alexander Hamilton who traveled on the Gulf of Thailand in 1720 wrote that two ports, Cupangsoap (Kompong-Som) and Ponteamass (Banteay- Meas, later Ha-Tien) belonged to Cambodia, and Cochin-China was divided from Cambodia by a river of three leagues broad [10: 193–208].”
…and further: “From the end of the seventeenth century, Cambodia lost control of the Mekong River route as Vietnamese power expanded into the lower Mekong. A Cambodian king in the late eighteenth century, Outey-Reachea III (who reigned from 1758 to 1775) allied with a Chinese, Mac-Thien-Tu, who had established an autonomous polity based in Ha-Tien and controlled the maritime network on the eastern part of the Gulf of Thailand. Ha-Tien was located at a point where a river linking to the Bassac River flows into the Gulf of Thailand. Landlocked Cambodia tried to keep its access to maritime trade through Ha-Tien [26]”  In 1757 Ha Tien acquired the ports of  Kampot and Kompong Som as a reward for  Mac’s military support  to the King of Cambodia. Until its destruction in 1771 the port developed into an independent duty-free entrepot  – linked with several Chinese trading networks.
….more: “A French Résident of Kampot, Adhemard Leclère, could get some historical information from an old Malay man in late 1880s [13: 6–8]. Until 1840s, the Vietnamese governed Kampot and Péam, but Kompong-Som belonged to Cambodia. The Vietnamese constructed a road from Ha-Tien to Svai village (on the border with Kompong-Som) via Kampot.”
….and: “King Ang-Duong constructed a road from his capital of Oudong, to Kampot, and opened Kampot as the only international seaport of Cambodia. The traveling time between Oudong and Kampot was eight days by oxcart and four days by elephants [16: 121–122].”
.The British Empire followed a distinct policy by the mid- 1850ies, seeking to consolidate its influence.
Eye witness reports give rare insights, as Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston’s agent John Crawfurd reports:
Cambodia was…the Keystone of our policy in these countries, – the King of that ancient Kingdom is ready to throw himself under the protection of any European nation…The Vietnamese were interfering with the trade at Kampot, and this would be the basis of an approach…
Palmerston concluded:
The trade at Kampot – one of the few remaining ports-could “never be considerable, in consequence of the main entrance to the country, the Mekong, with all its feeders flowing into the Sea through the territory of Cochin China” The country, too, had been devastated by recent Siam- Vietnam wars. Thus, “without the aid of Great Britain, Kampot or any other port in Cambodia, can never become a commercial Emporium.”
John Crawfurd later wrote:
The Cambodians… sought to use intervals of peace in the Siam-Vietnam wars to develop intercourse with outside nations. The trade at Kampot which they sought to foster was imperilled by pirates. “Here is a point where the wedge might be inserted, that would open the interior of the Indo-Chinese Peninsula to British Commerce, as the great River of the Cambodians traverses its entire length and even affords communication into the heart of Siam

Under French rule and jurisdiction Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia formed a single unit, economic development of Cambodia’s coasts was not on the colonizer’s agenda. Only after the dissolution of French Indochina in 1954 it became apparent that – once again – the steadily tightening control of the Mekong Delta by Vietnam required a radical solution in order to gain unrestricted access to the ocean. Plans were made to construct an entirely new deep-water port. Kompong Saom was selected for water depth and ease of access. In August of 1955, a French/Cambodian construction team cut a base camp into the unoccupied jungle in the area that is now known as ‘Hawaii Beach’.

During the [[Vietnam War]] the port served as a weapons transport hub in the service of [[National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam]] and after 1970, under the government of [[Lon Nol]], in the service of the [[United States]].

The port was the last place to be evacuated by the US Army, only days before the [[Khmer Rouge]] guerrillas took control of the government in April 1975. The events surrounding the taking of the US container ship [[Mayaguez incident|SS ”Mayaguez”]] and its crew on 12 May by the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent rescue operation by [[United States Marine Corps|US Marines]] played out on the waters of [[Koh Tang|islands]] and off the coast of Sihanoukville province. During the two days of action, the US commenced air strikes on targets on the mainland of Sihanoukville including the port, the [[Ream Naval Base]] and airfield, the railroad yard and the petroleum refinery in addition to strikes and naval gun fire on the islands. During the recovery of the SSMayaguez from the Khmer Rouge in May 1975, a wing aircraft dropped a 15,000-lb bomb on Koh Tang Island.<ref name=DOD>US Department of Defense document [ “History of the Pacific Air Forces 1 July 1974-31 Dec 1975”]. p 426. accessed 24 Nov 2013</ref>

After the [[Khmer Rouge rule of Cambodia#The fall of Democratic Kampuchea|fall of the Khmer Rouge regime]] in 1979 and the subsequent opening of the economy, the port of Sihanoukville resumed its importance in the development and recovery of the country. With the further opening of new markets in 1999, the province became one of the leaders of economic growth of Cambodia.

The [[Ream National Park]] was established in 1993 per royal decree of former King Sihanouk.<ref></ref>

On 26 May 2011 the province joined the Paris-based club Les Plus Belles Baies Du Monde (The most Beautiful Bays in the World). The organisation officially accepts the Bay of Cambodia as one of its members at the 7th General Assembly. 

The Cambodian Royal Chronicles – Rajabansavatar

The Cambodian Royal Chronicles or Cambodian Chronicles (Rajabansavatar or Rapa Ksatr) are a collection of 18th and 19th century historical manuscripts that focus on the time from around the year 1430 to the beginning of the 16th century. This stage in Cambodian history is being considered by scholars to be an “obscure period”, as written sources such as Sanskrit epigraphy become obsolete, beginning in the first half of the 14th century. Even old-Khmer inscriptions are absent until the middle of the 16th century. The last king mentioned in the ancient inscriptions of Angkor is King Jayavarmadiparamesvara (or Jayavarma-Paramesvara).

The manuscripts (Sastra Slek Rit) on palm leaves and bound together in bundles are only short-lived. Surviving texts are copies and in many cases only fragments remain. The chronicles begin in 1796 and last far into the 19th century. Records tackle with the chronology of the kings, foreign affairs, relations to neighboring countries, internal conflicts among the Khmer kings, civil wars, controversies over royal succession and marriage, leadership issues, etc.

The study of these texts is said to have been time-consuming “and requires a great deal of scholarship to properly organize and interpret the valuable information to be found within” with respect to the ongoing debate on the reasons and events of the abandonment of Angkor, the shifting of the Khmer capital and the general cultural decline.


Rajabansavatar consists of: raja = “king or royal”;
bansa, vamça = “ancestry, lines”; and avatara = “descendant, incarnation”,
or savatar is derived from bansavatar or sauvatar which means “history”.
In Khmer, the roots combine into rajabansavatar , meaning “history of the royal ancestries” or “history of the kings”.

Rapa Ksatr is also called rapal ksatr or lpar ksatr (derivative of rapa ksatr) or sometimes ampal ksatr , “all the kings”.
It can be divided as follows: rapa = jumbuor, juor, “lines” and ksatr = “prince, king”; therefore, rapa ksatr or rioen rapa ksatr means “history of the lines or ancestries of the kings”.
The meaning of rajabansavatar or rapa ksatr can be translated as “annals” or “royal chronicles”, writings which are related to the history of the kings.


There exist around thirty-four chronicles in Khmer language, along with three texts transcribed in Latin. The oldest chronicle, ‘The Fragment of Ang Eng’ dating to 1796, was also translated into Thai language. It only describes the reign of Param Nibbanapad (or Maha Nibbanapad) (1346-1351) to the reign of Paramaraja I (Cau Bana Yat) (1434-1438).

Further works are the complete chronicle of Ukana Vansa Sarbejn Nan (or Nan in short), the complete chronicle of Samtec Cauva Vamn Juon (or VJ, or Juon in short), the chronicle of Vatt Kok Kak(KK) and the Ampal Ksatr.

The chronicle of Nan was ordered by King Ang Cand (1797-1835), written in 1818. It was copied and revised into at least 4 versions.
Another version of Nan’s chronicle was copied and revised by prince Nopparat in 1878 (son of King Ang Tuon), called “Chronicle of Nopparat”. However, he added new information and changed some of the dates of the events.

The “Middle Period”

Most chronicles call the era from around the middle of the 14th century to the beginning of the 16th century the “Middle Period” of Cambodian history; as to be post-Angkorean and pre-modern.

According to the chronicle of Nan this period began in 1346 under the reign of King Param Nibbanapad. The chronicle of VJ starts in 1340, roughly 6 years earlier than the Nan records.

King Param Nibbanapad reigned from the year 1346 to 1351 (Nan chronicle). No information is given on how he relates to the last King of the Khmer Empire – Jayavarmadiparamesvara.

Historical Accuracy

It is obvious that the manuscripts fail modern chronological standards.
In cross-reference with external sources – Thai, Laos and China – and applying the degree of precision of these sources – conflicts with dating emerge, in particular during the 14th and the 15th century, significant regional military and political events remain unrecorded. On the other hand many texts give unusually detailed accounts of controversies and conflicts among the royal families, to the point of explicit evaluation of leadership and blaming weak monarchs for national misfortunes. Some scholars dismiss these recordings as to be unhistorical – as facts are obviously missing, authors tend to create stories and adopt legends in order to fill gaps.
Dates, length and degree of Thai incursions and occupation vary among the chronicles. Events surrounding the fall of Angkor, the role and the actions of the king and the elite are obscure.

As the chronicles are the prime national source of the immediate post-Angkorean period many historians give only vague statements on the events that accompany the decline of Angkor as a capital.

However, the evaluation and careful consideration of the chronicles, other external sources and secondary scholarship will help to clarify its position as a transitional feature of Cambodian history, and a significant source of study.