Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia. It is an economic, industrial commercial, cultural, tourist and historical center. Once known as the "Pearl of Asia" in the 1920s, Phnom Penh, along with Siem Reap is a significant global and domestic tourist destination for Cambodia. Phnom Penh is known for its traditional Khmer and French influenced architecture.
The city takes its name from the Wat Phnom Daun Penh (known now as just the Wat Phnom or Hill Temple), built in 1373 to house five statues of Buddha on a man made hill 27 metres (89 ft) high. It was named after Daun Penh (Grandma Penh), a wealthy widow. Phnom Penh was also previously known as Krong Chaktomuk 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.
Wat Phnom: Spiritual heart of the capital:
Phnom Penh first became the capital of Cambodia after Ponhea Yat, king of the Khmer Empire, moved the capital from Angkor Thom. 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 is a legend that tells how Phnom Penh was created.
It was not until 1866, under the reign of King Norodom, that Phnom Penh became the permanent seat of government, and the Royal Palace was built. This marked the beginning of the transformation of what was essentially a village into a great city with the French Colonialists expanding the canal system to control the wetlands, constructing roads and building a port.
The exterior of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum(S-21), Phnom Penh:
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 2,000,000, the bulk of them refugees from the fighting. The city fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 17. Many of its residents, those who were wealthy and educated, were forced to do labor 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. Tuol Svay Prey High School is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in which 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 continuing stability of government, attracting new foreign investment and aid by countries including France, Australia, United States , Germany 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 by 2001 it was estimated at slightly over 1 million.
Things to Do:
Royal Palace, National Museum, S-21 Prison, Killing Field, Russian Market