Phnom Penh (/pəˌnɒm ˈpɛn, ˌpnɒm -/; Khmer: ភ្នំពេញ, Phnum Pénh [pʰnomˈpɨɲ]) is the capital and most populous city of Cambodia. It has been the national capital since the French protectorate of Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation’s economic, industrial, and cultural centre.
Phnom Penh was founded in 1434 to succeed Angkor Thom as the capital of the Khmer nation but was abandoned several times before being reestablished in 1865 by King Norodom. The city formerly functioned as a processing center, with textiles, pharmaceuticals, machine manufacturing, and rice milling. Its chief assets, however, were cultural. Institutions of higher learning included the Royal University of Phnom Penh (established in 1960 as Royal Khmer University), with schools of engineering, fine arts, technology, and agricultural sciences, the latter at Chamkar Daung, a suburb. Also located in Phnom Penh were the Royal University of Agronomic Sciences and the Agricultural School of Prek Leap.
Once known as the “Pearl of Asia”, it was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina in the 1920s. Phnom Penh, along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, are significant global and domestic tourist destinations for Cambodia. Founded in 1372, the city is noted for its historical architecture and attractions. It became the national capital in 1434 following the fall of Angkor, and remained so until 1497. It regained its capital status during the French colonial era in 1865. There are a number of surviving colonial-era buildings scattered along the grand boulevards.
On the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong, and Bassac Rivers, Phnom Penh is home to more than 2 million people, approximately 14% of the Cambodian population. The Greater Phnom Penh area includes the nearby Ta Khmau city and some districts of Kandal province.
Phnom Penh (lit. ‘Penh’s Hill’) takes its name from the present Wat Phnom (lit. ‘Hill Temple’) or from the former Funan Kingdom, an ancient kingdom that existed from 1st to 7th century AD in Southeast Asia and the forerunner of the current Cambodian monarchy. Legend has it that in 1372, a wealthy widow named Penh found a Koki tree floating down the Tonlé Sap river after a storm. Inside the tree were four bronze Buddha statues and a stone statue of Vishnu. Penh ordered villagers to raise the height of the hill northeast of her house and used the Koki wood to build a temple on the hill to house the four Buddha statues, and a shrine for the Vishnu image slightly lower down. The temple became known as Wat Phnom Daun Penh, which is now known as Wat Phnom, a small hill 27 metres (89 ft) in height.
Phnom Penh’s former official name is Krong Chaktomuk Serei Mongkol (Khmer: ក្រុងចតុមុខសិរីមង្គល, lit. ‘City of the Brahma’s Faces’), in its short form as Krong Chaktomuk (lit. “City of Four Faces”). Krong Chaktomuk is an abbreviation of the full name which was given by King Ponhea Yat, Krong Chaktomuk Mongkol Sakal Kampuchea Thipadei Serei Theakreak Bavar Intabat Borei Roat Reach Seima Moha Nokor (Khmer: ក្រុងចតុមុខមង្គលសកលកម្ពុជាធិបតី សិរីធរបវរ ឥន្ទបត្តបុរី រដ្ឋរាជសីមាមហានគរ [kɾoŋ catomuk mɔŋkɔl sakɑl kampuciətʰəpaɗəj serəj tʰeareaɓɑːʋɑː ʔenteapat ɓorəj rɔətʰariəcsəjmaː mɔhaːnɔkɔː]). This loosely translates as “The place of four rivers that gives the happiness and success of Khmer Kingdom, the highest leader as well as impregnable city of the God Indra of the great kingdom”.
The initial settlement of Phnom Penh is believed to have been established since the 5th century AD, according to the discovery of ancient kiln site in Choeung Ek commune of Dangkao district, southern part of central Phnom Penh in the early 2000s. Choeung Ek archaeological site was one of the largest kiln pottery center in Cambodia and the earliest known kiln sites in Southeast Asia to produced the ceremonial vessels known as kendi from 5th to 13th century. Archaeologist stated that a large community is surrounded by a circular earthwork structure that is 740 metres in diameter and 4 metres high, built in the 11th century. In addition, there are remnants of other ancient village infrastructure, irrigation system, inscription, Shiva linga as well as an ancient brick temple foundation and its ornate remains which dated back to Funan era.
First recorded a century after it is said to have taken place, the legend of the founding of Phnom Penh tells of a local woman, Penh (commonly referred to as Daun Penh (Lady Penh in Khmer), living at Chaktomuk, the future Phnom Penh. It was the late 14th century, and the Khmer capital was still at Angkor near Siem Reap 350 km (217 mi) to the north. Gathering firewood along the banks of the river, Lady Penh spied a floating koki tree in the river and fished it from the water. Inside the tree she found four Buddha statues and one of Vishnu.
The discovery was taken as a divine blessing, and to some a sign that the Khmer capital was to be brought to Phnom Penh from Angkor. To house the new-found sacred objects, Penh raised a small hill on the west bank of the Tonle Sap River and crowned it with a shrine, now known as Wat Phnom at the north end of central Phnom Penh. “Phnom” is Khmer for “hill” and Penh’s hill took on the name of the founder, and the area around it became known after the hill.
Phnom Penh first became the capital of Cambodia after Ponhea Yat, king of the Khmer Empire, moved the capital from Angkor Thom after it was captured and destroyed by Siam a few years earlier. There is a stupa behind Wat Phnom that houses the remains of Ponhea Yat and the royal family as well as the remaining Buddhist statues from the Angkorean era. In the 17th century, Japanese immigrants also settled on the outskirts of present-day Phnom Penh. A small Portuguese community survived in Phnom Penh until the 17th century, undertaking commercial and religious activity in the country.
Phnom Penh remained the royal capital for 73 years, from 1432 to 1505. It was abandoned for 360 years (from 1505 to 1865) by subsequent kings due to internal fighting between the royal pretenders. Later kings moved the capital several times and established their royal capitals at various locations in Tuol Basan (Srey Santhor), Pursat, Longvek, Lavear Em and Oudong.
It was not until 1866, under the reign of King Norodom I (1860–1904), the eldest son of King Ang Duong, who ruled on behalf of Siam, that Phnom Penh became the permanent seat of government and capital of Cambodia, and also where the current Royal Palace was built. Beginning in 1870, the French colonial authorities turned a riverside village into a city where they built hotels, schools, prisons, barracks, banks, public works offices, telegraph offices, law courts, and health services buildings. In 1872, the first glimpse of a modern city took shape when the colonial administration employed the services of French contractor Le Faucheur to construct the first 300 concrete houses for sale and rental to Chinese traders.
By the 1920s, Phnom Penh was known as the “Pearl of Asia”, and over the next four decades, Phnom Penh continued to experience rapid growth with the building of railways to Sihanoukville and Pochentong International Airport (now Phnom Penh International Airport). Phnom Penh’s infrastructure saw major modernisation under the rule of Sihanouk.
During the Vietnam War, Cambodia was used as a base by the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong, and thousands of refugees from across the country flooded the city to escape the fighting between their own government troops, the People’s Army of Vietnam, the Viet Cong, the South Vietnamese and their allies, the Khmer Rouge, and American air strikes. By 1975, the population was 2–3 million, the bulk of whom were refugees from the fighting. The Khmer Rouge cut off supplies to the city for more than a year before it fell on April 17, 1975. Reports from journalists stated that the Khmer Rouge shelling “tortured the capital almost continuously”, inflicting “random death and mutilation” on millions of trapped civilians. The Khmer Rouge forcibly evacuated the entire city after taking it, in what has been described as a death march: François Ponchaud wrote that “I shall never forget one cripple who had neither hands nor feet, writhing along the ground like a severed worm, or a weeping father carrying his ten-year old daughter wrapped in a sheet tied around his neck like a sling, or the man with his foot dangling at the end of a leg to which it was attached by nothing but skin”; Jon Swain recalled that the Khmer Rouge were “tipping out patients from the hospitals like garbage into the streets.…In five years of war, this is the greatest caravan of human misery I have seen”. All of its residents, including the wealthy and educated, were evacuated from the city and forced to do difficult labour on rural farms as “new people”. Tuol Sleng High School was taken over by Pol Pot’s forces and was turned into the S‑21 prison camp, where people were detained and tortured. Pol Pot sought a return to an agrarian economy and therefore killed many people perceived as educated, “lazy”, spies, or political enemies. Many others starved to death as a result of failure of the agrarian society and the sale of Cambodia’s rice to China in exchange for bullets and weaponry. The former high school is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where Khmer Rouge torture devices and photos of their victims are displayed. Choeung Ek (the Killing Fields), 15 kilometers (9 mi) away, where the Khmer Rouge marched prisoners from Tuol Sleng to be murdered and buried in shallow pits, is also now a memorial to those who were killed by the regime.
The Khmer Rouge were driven out of Phnom Penh by the People’s Army of Vietnam in 1979, and people began to return to the city. Vietnam is historically a state with which Cambodia has had many conflicts, therefore this liberation was and is viewed with mixed emotions by the Cambodians. A period of reconstruction began, spurred by the continuing stability of government, attracting new foreign investment and aid by countries including France, Australia, and Japan. Loans were made from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank to reinstate a clean water supply, roads and other infrastructure. The 1998 Census put Phnom Penh’s population at 862,000; and the 2008 census was 1.3 million. By 2019, its population reached over 2.2 million, based on general population census.
Phnom Penh is in the south-central region of Cambodia, and is fully surrounded by the Kandal province. The municipality is on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong, and Bassac Rivers. These rivers provide freshwater and other natural resources to the city. Phnom Penh and the surrounding areas consist of a typical flood plain area for Cambodia. Although Phnom Penh is at 11.89 metres (39 ft) above the river, monsoon season flooding is a problem, and the river sometimes overflows its banks.
The city, at  covers an area of 678.46 square kilometres (262 sq mi), with some 11,401 hectares (28,172 acres) in the municipality and 26,106 ha (64,509 acres) of roads. The agricultural land in the municipality amounts to 34.685 km2 (13 sq mi) with some 1.476 km2 (365 acres) under irrigation.(11°33′ North, 104°55′ East),
Phnom Penh has a tropical wet and dry climate (Köppen climate classification Aw). The climate is hot year-round with only minor variations. Temperatures typically range from 22 to 35 °C (72 to 95 °F) and weather is subject to the tropical monsoons. The southwest monsoon blows inland bringing moisture-laden winds from the Gulf of Thailand and Indian Ocean from May to November. The northeast monsoon ushers in the dry season, which lasts from December to April. The city experiences the heaviest precipitation from September to October with the driest period in January and February.
The city has two distinct seasons. The rainy season, which runs from May to November, sees high temperatures accompanied by high humidity. The dry season lasts from December to April; when overnight temperatures can drop to 22 °C (72 °F).
Phnom Penh is an autonomous municipality of area 678.46 square kilometres (261.95 sq mi) with a government status equal to that of the provinces. The autonomous municipality is subdivided into 14 administrative divisions called khans (sections). The district s are subdivided into 105 sangkats (quarters), and further subdivided into 953 phums (villages). All khans are under the governance of Phnom Penh. Dangkao, Meanchey, Porsenchey, Sen Sok and Russey Keo are considered the outskirts of the city.
Phnom Penh is governed by the governor who acts as the top executive of the city as well as overseeing the Municipal Military Police, Municipal Police, and Bureau of Urban Affairs. Below the governor is the first vice governor and five vice governors. The chief of cabinet, who holds the same status as the vice governors, heads the cabinet consisting of eight deputy chiefs of cabinet who in turn are in charge of the 27 administrative departments. Every khans also has a chief.
|Phnom Penh administrative sections|
|1213||Boeng Keng Kang||ខណ្ឌបឹងកេងកង||7||55||66,658|
As of 2019, Phnom Penh had a population of 2,129,371 people, with a total population density of 3,136 inhabitants per square kilometre in a 679 square kilometres (262 sq mi) city area. The population growth rate of the city is 3.92%. The city area has grown fourfold since 1979, and the metro area will continue to expand in order to support the city’s growing population and economy.
A survey by the National Institute of Statistics in 2017 showed that 95.3% of the population in Phnom Penh are Khmer, 4% Chams, and 0.7% others, predominantly Chinese, Vietnamese, and other small ethnic groups who are Thai, Budong, Mnong Preh, Kuy and Chong.
Note: As stated in the “History” paragraph (The 1998 Census put Phnom Penh’s population at 862,000; and the 2008 census was 1.3 million.) the information collides with the information provided in the “Historical population” table. Needs editing.
Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s economic centre as it accounts for a large portion of the Cambodian economy. Double-digit economic growth rates in recent years have triggered an economic boom in Phnom Penh, with new hotels, restaurants, schools, bars, high rises and residential buildings springing up in the city.
The economy is based on commercial interests such as garments, trading, and small and medium enterprises. In the past few years the property business has been booming, with rapidly increasing real estate prices. Tourism is also a major contributor in the capital as more shopping and commercial centres open, making Phnom Penh one of the major tourist destinations in South East Asia along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism made up 19.2 percent (US$2,053 million) of Cambodia’s GDP in 2009 and accounts for 13.7 percent of total employment. One of the most popular areas in Phnom Penh for tourists is Sisowath Quay, alongside the Tonle Sap River. Sisowath Quay is a five kilometre strip of road that includes restaurants, bars, and hotels.
The US$2.6 billion new urban development, Camko City, is meant to bolster the city landscape. The Bureau of Urban Affairs of Phnom Penh Municipality has plans to expand and construct new infrastructure to accommodate the growing population and economy. High rise buildings will be constructed at the entrance of the city and near the lakes and riverbanks. Furthermore, new roads, canals, and a railway system will be used to connect Camko City and Phnom Penh.
Other projects include:
With booming economic growth seen since the 1990s, new shopping venues have opened, such as Sorya Center Point, Aeon Mall Phnom Penh, Aeon Mall Sen Sok City and Olympia Mall. Many international brands have opened such as Mango, Salvatore Ferragamo, Hugo Boss, Padini Concept Store, Lily, Timberland, Jimmy Choo, CC Double O, MO, Brands Outlet, Nike, Converse, Pony, Armani Exchange, and Super Dry.
The tallest skyscraper in Phnom Penh is Vattanac Capital Tower at a height of 188 metres (617 ft), dominating Phnom Penh’s skyline with its neighbour skyscraper Canadia Tower (OCIC Tower). The tower was completed in December 2014. Modern high rises have been constructed all around the city, not concentrated in any one particular area.
The Central Market Phsar Thmei is a tourist attraction. The four wings of the yellow colored market are teeming with numerous stalls selling gold and silver jewelry, antique coins, clothing, clocks, flowers, food, fabrics and shoes. Phsar Thmei is undergoing under a major renovation, along with the creation of newer stalls.