- Category: Phnom Penh
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Phnom Penh (Khmer: ភ្នំពេញ, pronounced [pʰnum peːɲ] in Khmer and /pəˈnɒm ˈpɛn/ or /ˈnɒm ˈpɛn/ in English) is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Phnom Penh has been the national capital since the French colonized Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation's center of economic and industrial activities, as well as the center of security, politics, economics, cultural heritage, and diplomacy of Cambodia.
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 1434, the city is noted for its beautiful and historical architecture and attractions. There are a number of surviving French colonial buildings scattered along the grand boulevards.
Situated on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac rivers, the Phnom Penh metropolitan area is home to more than 2 million of Cambodia’s population of over 14 million. The city is the wealthiest and most populous city in Cambodia and is home to the country’s political hub.
Phnom Penh takes its name from the present Wat Phnom (“Hill Temple”). Legend has it that in 1372, an old nun named Lady Penh went to fetch water in the Mekong and found a dead Kukui tree floating down the stream. Inside a hole of the Koki tree were four bronze and one stone Buddha statues.
Wat Phnom gave the city its name
Daun (Grandma) Penh brought the statues ashore and ordered people to pile up earth northeast of her house; she then used the Koki trunks to build a temple on the hill to house the five Buddha statues, and then named the temple after herself as Wat Phnom Daun Penh, which is now known as Wat Phnom, a small hill of 27 metres (89 ft) in height.
Phnom Penh was also previously known as Krong Chaktomuk (Khmer: ក្រុងចតុម្មុខ) meaning "City of Four Faces". This name refers to the junction where the Mekong, Bassac, and Tonle Sap rivers cross to form an “X” where the capital is situated. Krong Chaktomuk is an abbreviation of its ceremonial name which was given by King Ponhea Yat, which in full is Krong Chaktomuk Mongkol Sakal Kampuchea Thipadei Sereythor Inthabot Borei Roth Reach Seima Maha Nokor.
This ceremonial name is composed from Pali, and loosely translates as "The place of four rivers that gives the happiness and success of Kampuja Kingdom, the highest leader as well as impregnable city of the God Indra of the enormous Kingdom".
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 house the remains of Ponhea Yat and the royal family as well as the remaining Buddhist statues from the Angkorean era. There are also legends that tell how Phnom Penh was created in the 17th century by Japanese immigrants who settled on the outskirts of present-day Phnom Penh.
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, 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 Colonialists 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 contracted a French contractor, Le Faucheur, to construct the first 300 concrete houses for sales and rentals to the Chinese traders. A commonly known building built by the French is Phsah Thmei.
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 the 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 North Vietnamese Army 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 NVA/NLF, the South Vietnamese and its allies, and the Khmer Rouge. By 1975, the population was 3 million, the bulk of whom were refugees from the fighting. The city fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975. Most of its residents, including those who were wealthy and educated, were evacuated from the city and forced to do labour on rural farms as "new people". Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot's forces and was turned into the S-21 prison camp, where Cambodians were detained and tortured. Pol Pot sought a return to an agrarian economy and therefore killed many people perceived as educated, "lazy", 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 kilometres (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 Vietnamese 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.
Boeng Kak Lake in the northern part of Phnom Penh
Kingfishers located at Boeng Kak Lake
Phnom Penh is located in the south-central region of Cambodia, and is fully surrounded by the Kandal Province. The municipality is situated on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong, and Bassac rivers. These rivers provide potential freshwater and other natural resources to the city. Phnom Penh and the surrounding areas consists of the typical wet plain area for Cambodia. Phnom Penh rises 11.89m or (39 ft) which causes problems for the city of potential flooding by the monsoon season which sometimes over flow the banks of the river.
The city, located at 11.55°N 104.91667°E (11°33' North, 104°55' East,), 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 hectares (64,509 acres) of roads. The agricultural land in the municipality amounts to 34.685 square kilometres (13 sq mi) with some 1.476 square kilometres (365 acres) under irrigation.
Phnom Penh has a tropical wet and dry climate. The climate is hot year-round with only minor variations. City temperatures range from 18° to 38 °C (64° to 100 °F) and experiences tropical monsoons. Southwest monsoons blow inland bringing moisture-laden winds from the Gulf of Thailand and Indian Ocean from May to October. The northeast monsoon ushers in the dry season, which lasts from November to March. The city experiences the heaviest precipitation from September to October with the driest period occurring from January to February.
The city has two distinct seasons. The rainy season, which runs from May to October, which temperatures can rise up to 40 °C (104 °F) around April and is generally accompanied with high humidity. The dry season lasts from November to April when temperatures can drop to 22 °C (72 °F). The best months to visit the city are November to January when temperatures and humidity are lower.