The Capital City of Cambodia Is Truly a Remarkable Place
The capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, is a truly amazing city to visit for your next Holidays in Cambodia with our complete Travel Guide, Cheap Hotels, Places to Visit and Things To Do! The city is an amazing blend of modern culture and rustic history that makes it one of the most unique places to visit on earth. While there are many places that you can visit on earth that have buildings and artifacts that date back thousands and years, there are few places like Phnom Penh where the feel of parts of the city are much like you have stepped off a time machine and are back 1000 years ago or longer.
This is a city that is surrounded by incredible foliage and buildings that are remarkable on every level. Despite being antiquated in some areas, this is a modern tourist land that has all the amenities and perks that tourists love when they are on vacation. It is a true marvel that few places can capture.
Before 1970, Phnom Penh was referred to as the “Paris of the East,” primarily because of the French influence that dominated the land for centuries. You will find many French colonial homes and structures throughout the city, and there is even a replica of the famous arch in Paris that was built by the Romans thousands of years ago.
With first-class hotel accommodations and restaurants and cafes that offer virtually any kind of cuisines your palette desires, this is a place that has something for everyone. The temples you will see are some of the oldest Buddhist structures on the planet, and there is an amazing nightlife that will offer you great places to mingle with people from all over the world, and to do it at a price that cannot be beat. It is an adventure you simply need to try to truly appreciate.
The History of Phnom Penh
The Khmer people are the dominate ethnic group of this city, and so their history and the history of Phnom Penh are almost one at many points in time. For centuries the Khmer people, known also as the Angkor Empire dominated the land, but last century saw some troubling times that changed their course in a very negative way.
The first recorded history of people in the city dates back to the 14th century. While there were people living there prior to that point, it was at that time that it became a land where a much larger group of people decided to settle and make the area of Phnom Penh their home.
Prior to that point, the Angkor Empire had its capital in Siem Reap, which is about 225 to the west of Phnom Penh. The legend holds that in the later 1300s, a woman known as Penh (commonly referred to as Daun Penh, or grandmother Penhl Old Lady Pehn) was walking along the banks of the river gathering fire wood, when she saw a koki tree in the river.
The legend holds that she pulled the tree from the water and inside she found four statues of Buddha and one of Vishnu. To her, this was seen as a sort of sign that the gods had blessed the area and that the Khmer capital should be moved to the location. On the west bank of the Koh Rong River, Penh built a shrine on the top of a small hill, in what is now called Wat Phnom. The hill became known as Phnom Duan Penh after her, and soon the entire area surrounding the hill became known as Phnom Penh.
This became the capital of the Angkor Empire when King Ponhea Yat moved from Siem Reap. The capital of the Angkor had been captured by the Siamese a few years earlier, and so a move became a necessary and logical alternative. The omen that Penh received made it so that the king felt that the gods were with the move, and it did not take much coaxing to make the long journey to their new capital. Many of the statues that Ponhea Yat and his family used to worship are still found in the area, as are his home.
This was an area that was dominated by the Khmer people for the next three centuries, but in the 17th century, the Japanese began to settle here as well. A short time later a small Portuguese settlement emerged as well, and the outside influences quickly began to emerge.
From 1432 to 1505, Phnom Penh was the capital of the Angkor Empire, but after 1505 it was abandoned. Internal strife and royal intrigues led to a series of coups and rebellions that left the area in ruins for the most part. Those who were able to hang onto their throne realized it was much safer to move their capital to a location where they were able to much better control and so Phnom Penh became a city without many people to it.
In 1866 that all changed. King Norodom I, the son of the Siamese King, set Phnom Penh as the location for the capital of Cambodia. He had a royal palace built there and the city began to thrive again. In 1870, a large number of French colonists began to settle in the city, building hotels, schools, a prison, a set of offices, courts, banks, and much more. In 1872, the city looked much more French than it did Cambodian, or Siamese for that matter, and it was not long before the city became a French protectorate. Over 300 homes were built which many French inhabited or rented to Chinese traders.
By the time that the Great Depression rolled around, Phnom Penh was known as the Pearl of Asia, as the city flourished and saw a rise in power and prestige. An airport was built in the 1950s and railways began to expand out from the city to parts all over the country. It was rapidly becoming one of the most modern cities in all the world.
The Vietnam War was the beginning of the end for its prestige. The North Vietnamese Army used the city as a staging point, as did the Viet Cong, and soon thousands were fleeing toward the city hoping it would be a refuge from the war. This saw the population rise to three million by 1975, most of which were refugees who were fleeing the areas that were near the Vietnamese border.
The city saw its darkest days with the rise of the Khmer Rouge. The oppressive regime seized the opportunity presented by the Vietnam War to rise to power, and began to lay siege to the city in 1975. They were eventually able to cut off supplies to the city and it fell under their control in April of 1975. After taking the city, the new government forcefully removed the vast majority of those who were living there, in what became known as the Khmer Death March. The images that were sent back to the world were horrific. One in particular, a man with no hands or feet who was crawling on the ground to try to keep up with those being forcibly removed, was one that horrified the nations of the world against the oppressive regime.
The people who were forced from the city were moved to forced labor camps, where the work and conditions were beyond inhuman. Tuol Sleng High School was turned into the famous S-21 prison camp, where hundreds of thousands were held captive and tortured, many of whom died and were dumped in mass graves. The ruler of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, sought to create a strict agrarian society and those who did not follow his guidelines were tortured and killed. There is a museum that commemorates the location.
In 1979, the Khmer Rouge was forced out by the Vietnamese, and the people began to return to the city. The late 1990s saw a change in the governmental structure, and since then the city is thriving again. Several countries provided aid to help in developing clean water, roads, and a modern infrastructure and, over the last 20 years, the population has doubled from about 850,000 in 1995 to over 1.7 million today.
Sadly, it is the images of the times of the Khmer Rouge that most still associate with Phnom Penh. This is not the same city, however. While there are many museums and monuments that address this tragic period in the country’s history, this is a Cambodia that was the Pearl of Asia at one point, and offers some of the most magnificent attractions the world has to offer.
The Geography of Phnom Penh
Located in the south-central area of Cambodia, Phnom Penh is in the Kandal Province of the country. The city has three different rivers that converge in it, the Tonle Sap, Mekong, and Bassac Rivers. They provide fresh water for the people to drink, and there is a large amount of fish that people use for food and for employment.
The city is located about 40 feet above sea level, but it still resides on a flood plain. During monsoon season, it is common for the banks of these rivers to overflow and cause flooding in the city.
The Climate of Phnom Penh
This is your typical wet and dry climate that is found in many areas of Southeast Asia. It is hot almost year round, and there are many points in the year when it rains quite extensively. The average temperature ranges from 72 to 95 degrees.
During the year there are many topical monsoons that come ashore. Most begin in the Gulf of Thailand or in the Indian Ocean, and occur from May to October. This can bring rain amounts that exceed 10 inches, to include a high of nearly 13 in October on average. The large amount of rain in such a short period of time, especially after already receiving more than six inches on average the previous three months, easily leads to flooding as more than 43 inches of rain will fall during that five-month period of time. Few places can handle such a deluge.
While called the dry season, December to May, it is still not very dry. The lowest amount of rainfall is in February when the average is about half an inch for the whole month, but most months during this time still have two to four inches fall. It is during these times that it is best to visit Cambodia to avoid potential flooding issues.
The Demographics of Phnom Penh
The population of Phnom Penh is over 2.2 million people, an amazing rise after the horrific times of the 1970s. The city’s population has increased 300 percent since 1979, and continues to rise. Because of the rise of technology, industry, and tourism in Phnom Penh, the population is expected to rise by more than four percent each year for the next 15 years.
Most of the people who live in the area are Cambodians, or those who trace their lineage back to the Khmers. They are 90 percent of the overall population and continue to flourish, despite the terrible things that occurred to these people during World War II and the Vietnam War. The other commonly seen inhabitants of the city include Mnong, Vietnames, Chinese, Thai, and a few others, including French and Portuguese.
The primary religion is that of Buddhism, but there are Catholic churches in the area as well. Islam is becoming a popular option as well since its introduction to the area in 1993. Most of the Christian faiths were wiped out during the 1975 taking of the city, but a few still survive. The three primary languages that are spoken in the city are Khmer, English and French.
How to Get to Phnom Penh
The most popular way for people to reach the city is by coming to Phnom Penh International Airport. Several airlines fly through Cambodia’s capital, and this airport also allows tourists to take flights to other cities within the country as well as those that are around the region. Nearly 20 different airlines offer service to the airport.
Once at the airport, a person has several options to reach the downtown area of the city. There are usually numerous cabs that are available to help get you to your location. It usually costs no more than a few dollars to get to the hotel or other destination.
There is also a great bus system that costs about one dollar to reach many of the most popular destinations. The buses run from 5:30 in the morning to 8:30 at night. There is room for luggage on these buses, but you cannot be excessive and still be able to take it with you on the public transportation.
There are also private transportation companies that offer limo or a tuktuk to get to the hotel or business you need to reach. You can easily fit luggage on these private options and the cost is no more than $12.
If you are coming from another city in the area, you can reach Phnom Penh by bus, boat or train. All of these come with first rate accommodations, and usually cost no more than $22, but it depends on where you are coming from. For example, if you are taking a boat or train to Phnom Penh from another Cambodian city, the cost is about $10.
Getting Around the City
The buses are not only a great way to get from the airport. They are also available to get you from your hotel to any site you wish to see in the city. The buses are clean and well maintained, offering a safe drive.
There are also a series of bike and walking trails. Most attractions are within walking distance to the local hotels and shops. You can also rent a bicycle to get around, as do many of the people who live in the city Motorbikes are also available for rental. For those who want more of a private ride, there are taxis and tuktuks that you can rent to get around.
You can also rent a car at the airport or at local businesses in Phnom Penh, but you should beware. While the cars are well maintained, the roads in the city are practically always packed, meaning you are going to be doing a lot of sitting in traffic jams. This is why most people opt to use bicycles. While they may seem slower to get around, they actually get you to your location a lot faster.
Things to See in Phnom Penh
The Royal Palace – Much of the Royal Palace was built in the late 19th century by the French, so there is a very French feel to the palace. However, you will find the Temple of the Emerald Buddha here as well as other pagodas in the Palace Grounds, including the world famous Silver Pagoda. It is just a couple of dollars to join a tour or to look around on your own tour, but be aware that you must dress appropriately. Women are expected to be covered from knees to shoulders, and not man can wear tank tops. There are many things to see in this structure and it is totally worth spending the day here.
The National Museum of Cambodia – This museum has incredible artifacts and treasures that date back to the Angkor Empire. In fact, this is the museum that has the largest number of these artifacts. The main attraction in the museum is the statute of King Jayavarman VII as he sits in a pose of meditation. He lived from 1181-1219, and is probably the most famous of the all the kings in the Khmer Empire. There are also amazing statues of Hindu and Buddhists gods, and there is a great park in front of the museum where you can see ceremonies enacted on a regular basis. The museum underwent a massive renovation in 2002, and is even more spectacular.
Wat Phnom – This is the site where Penh had the sign that got the capital city of the Khmer Empire moved to Phnom Penh. This is one of the most important historical sites in Cambodia and is well worth a little stop by to see this important site.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – While being from one of the darkest periods in the country’s history, it is still a key piece of Cambodia’s history. Much like Auschwitz is a place you must visit in Poland, Tuol Sleng is one you have to see in Cambodia. The notorious high school turned torture chamber saw more than 14,000 people tortured and murdered here. Only eight who stepped inside the doors as prisoners ever made it out alive. There you can see areas where skulls lined the death camp, and there are many other sites that will give you a grim reminder of how cruel mankind can be when he wants to be. The cost is $3.
The Killing Fields – Working hand-in-hand with Tuol Sleng, this is the location where thousands were summarily executed by the Khmer Rouge. Mass graves have been unearthed here, and there are many remnants of the atrocities that were committed here. Just so you are aware, much like the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, if you have a squeamish stomach, this is not the place to visit. Reverence and respect are demanded here, as it should be, so men must wear long pants and a shirt, and women are encouraged to wear pants or a long skirt. The cost is $6.
Wat Botum – This is the Wat that most of the royalty of the country went to visit. One of the interesting aspects of this Wat is that it once housed a young man who later changed his name to Pol Pot and became one of the most evil men the planet has ever seen.
Independence and Liberation Memorials – Independence Memorial is a very impressive Museum that is built much like in the Buddhist style. It commemorates when the French left Cambodia in 1953 and is the dominant attraction in the city center. Very close to the Independence Memorial is the Soviet-style Liberation Memorial, that marks the Vietnamese liberation of the city from the Khmer Rouge. During the weekends multi-colored fountains light up the area and music is played. Thousands gather for these weekend events.
Olympic Stadium – This arena was built in the 1960s so Cambodia could host the Asian Games. The event never happened however, and was later sold to a Taiwanese company. Its facilities are first rate and you can see a wide spectacle of events here that are a lot of fun.
What Things You Should Do in Phnom Penh
Bicycle Tours – the traffic jams in are quite notorious Phnom Penh, and this is why so many are for riding a bicycle for the day. Not only does renting a bicycle afford you the opportunity to get around much more easily, but there are several tours that you can join that will show you the beautiful attractions and sites of the city.
Cambodia Cooking Class – if you are interested in learning how to cook the magnificent dishes that are found in Cambodia, then joining one of these cooking classes will afford you the opportunity to become acquainted with the local styles and cuisines of Phnom Penh. You will not only learn how to make three different conditions, but you will also be given a tour of the local markets to show you how to pick out the right ingredients for making these dishes.
Cruises on the Rivers – if you want to see the capital city of Cambodia from a completely I different angle, then the option could be to take a cruise on the Tonle Sap or Mekong Rivers. There are many different boats of various sizes that afford you the chance to see all of the beautiful sites of Phnom Penh while you view them from the rivers. The Riverfront is a spectacular view as well, and you will love all of what you see.
The Empire Movie House – this theater is a spectacular place to see the latest movies out in the theaters. Will you there is also a bar and restaurant located on the site, and classic movies and documentaries are shown on the big screen. If you’re looking for a place to have a little relaxing time while you also get to cool off, this is the location to go to.
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center – one of the great aspects of what the Cambodian government has initiated is the idea of protecting the beautiful natural treasures of the country. Located in Phnom Penh, this rescue center helps to protect many of the beautiful animals of the country that hunters have attempted to illegally capture and kill. This includes such beautiful animals as elephants, tigers, and the macaque monkeys. In fact, the only remaining tigers in the country reside within this wildlife preserve. These are not the only animals you will find there, however. There are also see pythons, leopards, and other animals prospering under the protection of the government.
Scuba Diving – there are some fantastic places where you can learn to scuba dive in the rivers of Phnom Penh. The wildlife under the waters of this area are truly spectacular as you get to also enjoy learning how to scuba dive.
NagaWorld Casino – for those who were looking for some indoor fun, then maybe the casino is the choice for you. There are a wide variety of tables and machines that you can enjoy, plus entertainment, restaurants, and a club are available here for you to have a great deal of fun getting in from the hot sun of Cambodia.
Places to Shop in Phnom Penh
No vacation is ever truly the adventure that you wanted to be unless you find great places to purchase clothing and other trinkets to take with you. Phnom Penh has just the shops for you to make your stay in the city a truly fantastic one.
Central Market – that is what you are looking for, this Riverfront marketplace has something for everyone. Whether you are looking for 1930s artwork or the latest video game, you will easily find it in this market.
City Mall – located near the Olympic Stadium, the small open and in 2009 and has three floors of stores ready to provide you with the goods you are looking for. Electronics, clothing stores, and even a supermarket are located inside the mall, as well as a food court and other restaurants.
Russian Market – this marketplace gets its name from the time that Vietnam occupied the capital city. This is a great location to find discounted prices on some of the most popular brands of clothing and accessories that people desire, including such names as Ralph Lauren and Levi, and you will find low cost Swiss watches here as well.
Olympic Market – this is a great location for finding discounted fabrics for making Khmer dresses. While clothing and other items are also sold here, this multistory complex has become a big winner with those looking to get greatly discounted cloth and fabric.
Sorya Mall – many tourists find this is the ideal mall to go to, primarily because of its Western-style décor. The stores and the layout of the mall are built much in the same way that malls in the West are, and this has made it quite a common attraction for tourists.
Colors of Cambodia – those who are interested in finding and crafted items made by the local citizens of Phnom Penh, then this is the place to go to. The fine crafted work and carvings are truly spectacular and will give you a whole host of ideas for gifts to take home.
Kravan House is a great place to find ladies handbags at a much greatly discounted price. You will find some of the biggest names in the industry, but will not be caught having to pay the exorbitant prices.
Where to Eat in Phnom Penh
It does not matter what kind of food you are looking for, Cambodia’s capital city has the perfect cuisine for your palate. The best part about it is that there are also incredible places to eat that will also accommodate your budget.
Asian Spice Café Pub – this is a great example of a fantastic place to go and eat whether prices will not leave you feeling like you have to choke down your food. Here you will find a wide variety of Asian style dishes, including foods from China, Malaysia, Singapore, and Cambodia. The average cost is about two dollars per meal, making it a great place to get a meal at an affordable price.
Comme a la Maison – if you are in the mood for a much more laid-back experience, then you will enjoy the pizza and salads at this fine restaurant. This is a terrific location to just hang out and have a light meal before continuing your adventures.
Cavern Pub – here is a great location to get something to quench your thirst or to get an English style meal. It’s a very casual environment here with exceptional food.
Blue Cat – If you are looking for a little bit more upscale kind of restaurant, then let me recommend this one to you. With a fine wine list and Khmer style food, as well as international cuisine, this is a great restaurant at a reasonable price.
Equinox – the Equinox is known for fantastic food that has a very western influence to it. All of the meat and salad ingredients are provided by local farmers, ensuring that the cuisine is as fresh as one can get. Here you will find burgers, pasta, pizza, and other dishes sure to quench your desire for food.
The Fifth Element – for those looking for a much more upscale meal, they should start with this fantastic restaurant located on the rooftop of the La Maisond’Ambre Hotel, making for one of the most amazing fine dining experiences one can have. It is a truly beautiful site as you get to look out over the city while you enjoy your meal.
102 – This is the very best French restaurant in the city, and its location gives you the feel like you are in a European villa. The food is absolutely amazing, and one of the things that people really love about it is that it has not attracted the tourist crowd yet. This means you can enjoy a great meal there without having to wait through long crowds of people.
Le Wok – this is a great restaurant for finding French food and pan-Asian style cuisine. The restaurant is decorated with both styles, making it a beautiful blend. The price is about $20 a person, but it would be $50 per person in America.
Hotels Accommodation in Phnom Penh
It does not matter whether you are looking for a simple hostel to sleep for the night while you backpack through the country, or you want a five-star experience to enjoy while visiting Phnom Penh, there are great places for a person to stay.
Central Mansions is a bit more upscale as is the Hotel Nine. For the finest in hotel stays the Lebiz Hotel and Raffles Le Royal are two great places that come at a price that is expensive for Cambodia, but really fair if you were staying in just about any other country.
There are too many great places to tell you about where you can stay when visiting Cambodia’s capital. The accommodations will provide you with air conditioning and television. Some have swimming pools, and free Wi-Fi. It is up to you to see what you want and what you feel you need during your stay. Just know that the costs will be quite reasonable no matter what the option is.
—> HOTELS LIST
Important Safety Note: For those who are seeking to use one of the local escorts while visiting Phnom Penh. According to reports, about 13 percent of Cambodian sex workers have been diagnosed with HIV. You need to fully protect yourself if you decide to partake in enjoyment with one of these ladies.
The idea of vacationing in Cambodia to many sounds as appetizing as taking a vacation in the basement of their home. The perception of this nation is that it is a backward country where poverty and oppressive rule are all that one will find.
Many of these perceptions are based upon the way that people saw the country a half-century ago. The Vietnam conflict left a lasting impression with many that Cambodia is the very epitome of what a third-world country looks like, and the only thing that one would get out of vacationing there is a good case of dysentery. Sadly, the negative stereotypes that surround the country have been quick to die and this is resulted in a lot of false ideas about what Cambodia is all about.
The truth is that this is turning into one of the best and most exciting places on earth for a person to visit to get a first class vacation. Because of its location in Southeast Asia, it has beautiful temperatures virtually year round, and its history makes it one of the most amazing countries that one can visit. The cultural dynamics alone make it a fascinating country to learn about, and there is no better way to do so then to go to Cambodia and see it up close.
The days of myths and stereotypes are over. This is one of the most beautiful places to visit, and will give you a vacation experience that you simply will not find anywhere else. You will love the culture, food, sites and attractions, and the weather is really awesome as well. It truly is a tropical getaway that will leave you with a host of amazing memories to dream about for years.
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