As a province, the municipality of Phnom Penh is a thriving, vibrant, cosmopolitan urban centre. Arts and industry, commerce and politics – everything can be found within the city. Phnom Penh never fails to impress or intrigue the visitors discovering her streets. The city is growing rapidly and visitors will see construction sites across the city.
Historically Phnom Penh has been a fishing village for centuries, written about as a stopover on the way to visit Angkor Wat by Chinese and Portuguese explorers. The monarchy finally settled down here at the current Royal Palace compound in 1866, after King Norodom agreed to the French Protectorate. Since that time, the city has steadily become the hub of the Kingdom’s activities.
The legend behind the founding of Phnom Penh tells of Lady Penh who was a wealthy lady living on the outskirts of a village which would form part of present-day Phnom Penh. During the flood of the Mekong River, a hollow tree floated up to her lawn, and in the tree were four bronze statues of the Buddha. She saw this as a sign that the Buddha wanted a new home, so she built a temple for the Buddha. This temple is now believed to be the one at the highest point of the city; the man-made mountain of Wat Phnom. Today Wat Phnom is a gathering point for people to visit its eclectic shrines, stupas and temples.
Surrounding Wat Phnom is some of the best French colonial architecture in the capital. The area around the main post office was once the domain of French architects and can be viewed during a leisurely tour by cyclo to recapture the full magic of the capital nearly a century ago.
Wat Botum’s sanctuary offers great photographic opportunities. Saffron robed monks are a common site in this devout capital, especially in the mornings when they walk the streets seeking alms. They welcome respectful and appropriately dressed visitors to their pagodas and are often eager to practice their English.
Phnom Penh mixes heritage with a fresh vibe. Any cuisine from classic Khmer to Chinese to Italian to Mexican to fusion European is available. Phnom Penh is nothing if not multi-cultural.
The city is located in an area long known as Chaktomuk – which means a convergence of rivers – the Mekong and Tonle Sap entering while the Bassac and Mekong continue on to the sea. Considered a spiritual place, the Royal Palace was built on its banks in 1866 and now houses the Silver Pagoda.
The Palace and the nearby National Museum are worth spending a day to truly take in the magnificent collections of ancient art and relics as well as their unique and brilliant designs.
Independence Monument is credited to Cambodia’s foremost architect, Vann Molyvann, also responsible for the Olympic Stadium and Chaktomuk Conference Hall. It was built in 1958 but inaugurated in 1962 to commemorate the end of the French protectorate. The Khmer Modern style came out of Cambodia’s “golden era” under the rule of then Prince Norodom Sihanouk in the late 1950s and 60s.
The capital is the seat of the Royal Ballet, famous for Khmer classical dance, which was recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Heritage object in 2003. Khmer dance is more than 1,000 years old and is known for its elaborate, graceful hand gestures and its stunning costumes.
The Kingdom’s oldest pagodas, including Wat Lanka, Wat Botum and Wat Ounalom reside in the capital. Wat Lanka was first established in 1422 as a meeting place for Cambodians and Sri Lankan monks and is considered one of the birthplaces of Cambodian Buddhism.
Phnom Penh has a dazzling array of markets which can provide almost anything conceivable. Psar Kandal near the river is one of the best wet markets in the country where women arrive in boats early in the morning with fish so fresh they are still jumping.
The Russian Market (Psar Toul Tom Pong), is a centre for handicrafts, including intricate silverwork, stone carvings and world-famous Khmer silk. It is also a great place to pick up packaged products such as the world-famous Kampot Pepper or a special souvenir.
The local community often starts their nights enjoying the cool breeze on the riverside. Families and friends gather together to practice aerobics, sports, or simply to enjoy some of the amazing street food on offer. Many bars in this part of town offer generous happy hours. As the night wears on, there are many activity options to choose from, including Khmer karaoke clubs, casinos, and beer gardens, or activities at AEON Mall such as ice skating, bowling, arcade games and a modern cinema.
Pharmaceuticals, beverages, food manufacturing, cockle shells, construction materials, retail garments, artwork, and music and media production
Phnom Penh consists of wet plains, covering rice fields and other agricultural plantations. The province also features three of the biggest rivers of the country the Bassac, the Tonle Sap and the mighty Mekong.
Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. Often done along with a trip to the killing fields at Choeung Ek – 17 kilometres from the capital – Toul Sleng is a former high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979. Tuol Sleng was only one of at least 150 execution centres in the country and as many as 20,000 prisoners there were later killed. While a rather grim experience, many see it as a must-do trip to get an insight into what this wonderful country suffered in the 1970s.
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