Phnom Penh (Khmer: ភ្នំពេញ, official Romanization: Phnum Pénh; pronounced [pʰnum pɯɲ]) is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. It is also the capital of the Phnom Penh municipality. 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.

Phnom Penh is the wealthiest and most populous city in Cambodia. It is also the commercial, political and cultural hub of Cambodia and is home to more than one million of Cambodia’s population of over 14 million

Phnom penh khmer script.PNG

Aerial view of Phnom Penh

Aerial view of Phnom Penh

Official seal of Phnom Penh

Nickname(s): Pearl of Asia (pre-1960s)

Location of Phnom Penh Province, Cambodia

Location of Phnom Penh Province, Cambodia

Phnom Penh (Cambodia)
Phnom Penh Phnom Penh Location of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Coordinates: 11°33′N 104°55′E / 11.55, 104.917
Country Cambodia
Province Phnom Penh
Subdivisions 7 districts (khans)
Settled 1372
Became Capital 1865
– Type Municipality
– Mayor & Governor H.E. Keb Chutema
(Khmer: កែប ជុគិមា)
– Vice Governors H.E. Than Sina, H.E. Map Sarin, H.E. Seng Tong
– City 290 km² (112 sq mi)
Population (2008)
– City 1,325,681
– Density 4,571.3/km² (11,839.6/sq mi)
– Urban 1,242,241
Time zone UTC/GMT +7 hours (UTC)
Area code(s) 855 (023)


Spiritual heart of the capital Wat Phnom: Spiritual heart of the capital

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. Krong Chaktomuk is an abbreviation of its ceremonial name given by King Ponhea Yat which was “Krong Chaktomuk Mongkol Sakal Kampuchea Thipadei Sereythor Inthabot Borei Roth Reach Seima Maha Nokor”.


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 by Siam a few years earlier. There are 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 I, that Phnom Penh became the permanent seat of government, and the Royal Palace (pictured) 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.

Stupas in front of Wat Phnom. Stupas in front of Wat Phnom

.By the 1920s, Phnom Penh was known as the Pearl of Asia, and over the next four decades continued to experience growth with the building of a railway to Sihanoukville and the Pochentong International Airport (now Phnom Penh International Airport.

The exterior of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh

The exterior of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, 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 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, 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;[4] by 2001 it was estimated at slightly over 1 million.


Satellite view of Phnom Penh Satellite view of Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is located in the south-central region of Cambodia, at the confluence of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong, and Bassac rivers. These rivers provide potential freshwater and other resources. The city, located at 11°33′00″N 104°55′00″E / 11.55, 104.91667 (11°33′ North, 104°55′ East, [1]). Covers an area of 375 square kilometres (145 sq mi) which 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.


Climate Diagram of Phnom Penh Climate Diagram of Phnom Penh

The climate is hot year-round with only minor variations. City temperatures range from 10° to 38 °C (50° 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.

It has two distinct seasons. The rainy season, which runs from May to October, can see temperatures 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.

  • Law enforcement in Cambodia
  • Administration

    Administratively, Phnom Penh is a municipality standing at 375 square kilometers and is governed with a status that is equal to provinces of Cambodia. As such, it has a similar political structure to its provinces. The municipality is subdivided into 7 administrative divisions called Khan (district) and of the 7 Khans, Dangkor, Meanchey and Russei Kaev are considered the outskirts of the city. All Khans are under the governance of the Phnom Penh Municipality. The Khans are further subdivided into 76 Sangkats (communes), and 637 Kroms.

    The municipality is governed by the Governor who acts as the top executive of the city and manages the general affairs as well as overlooking the Municipal Military Police, Municipal Police and Bureau of Urban Affairs. Below the Governor is the First Vice Governor and 5 Vice Governors. The Chief of Cabinet who holds the same status as the Vice Governors, heads the Cabinet that consists of 8 Deputy Chiefs of Cabinet which in turn are in charge of the 27 Administrative Departments. Every khan (district) also has a head Chief. [2]

    List of Phnom Penh Administrative Units
    Name of district (khan) (since January 2003) Number of communes (sangkat) (since September 2006) Number of villages (krom) (since December 2006)
    Chamkarmon 12 sangkats 95 kroms
    Daun Penh 11 sangkats 134 kroms
    Prampir Makara 8 sangkats 33 kroms
    Tuol Kork 10 sangkats 143 kroms
    Dangkor 15 sangkats 143 kroms
    Meanchey 8 sangkats 30 kroms
    Russei Kaev 12 sangkats 59 kroms


    As of 2008, according to preliminary census results, Phnom Penh had a population of 1,325,681 people, with a total population density of 4,571 inhabitants per square kilometre (11,839/sq mi) in a 290 km2 (112 sq mi) city area. Annual population growth in the city over the period 1998-2008 is 2.82%.[1]

    Phnom Penh is mostly inhabited by Cambodians (or Khmers) – they represent 90% of the population of the city. There are large minorities of Vietnamese and Chinese, other ethnic groups are Thai, Budong, Mnong Preh, Kuy, Chong, Chams. The state religion is Theravada Buddhism, hence more than 90% of the people in Phnom Penh are Buddhists with the Chams practicing Islam and over the years since 1993, there has been an increase in the practice of Christianity which was practically wiped out after 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over. English and French are widely used in the city, but the official language is Khmer.


    Double-digit economic growth rates in recent years have triggered an economic boom, with new hotels, restaurants, bars, and residential buildings springing up around the city. Phnom Penh’s wealth of historical and cultural sites makes it a very popular tourist destination.

    The market was built in an intensely art deco style by the colonial French. The market was built in an intensely art deco style by the colonial French.

    Phsar Thom Thmei market was built in the shape of a dome in 1937 and is the capital’s main shopping centre.

    Nowadays, the market is a tourist hot spot, most tourists that came to Phnom Penh visited this market because they want to see the varieties of products that this market has to offer. The four wings of the yellow coloured Phsar Thom Thmei are teeming with numerous stalls selling gold and silver jewellery, antique coins, clothing, clocks, flowers, food, fabrics and shoes.

    With the economic growth seen since the 1990s, new shops have opened as well as western-style malls such as Sorya Shopping Center and the new Sovanna Shopping Center. Two international franchises have also opened up in Phnom Penh. Dairy Queen has already opened up inside Phnom Penh International Airport and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has opened up a restaurant on Monivong Boulevard and is planing on opening more soon. [6]The same company that opened up KFC in Cambodia has now obtained franchise rights to open Pizza Hut in the country.[7]

    Cityscape and architecture

    The Silver Pagoda as part of the Royal Palace complex. The Silver Pagoda as part of the Royal Palace complex.

    Preah Thineang Chan Chhaya pavillon Preah Thineang Chan Chhaya pavillon

    Example of French colonial architecture in Phnom Penh Example of French colonial architecture in Phnom Penh The Independence Monument commemorating independence from France in 1953. The Independence Monument commemorating independence from France in 1953.

    The oldest structure is the Wat Phnom from the founding days of the city, constructed in 1373. The main tourist attractions are the Royal Palace with the Silver Pagoda, which dates to the mid 1800s; the National Museum, constructed during the French colonial era in the late 1800s in the classical Khmer style hosts a vast collection of Khmer antiquities; the Independence Monument (Khmer: Vimean Akareach), although modern from the 1950s, is also constructed in the ancient Khmer style.

    The French, who were the colonial masters from the 1800s to the 1940s, also left their mark, with various colonial villas, French churches, boulevards, and the Art deco market Phsar Thom Thmei. A famous landmark of the colonial era is the Hotel Le Royal. Starting with independence from the French in the 1950s and lasting until the era of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, Phnom Penh underwent tremendous growth as the capital city of a newly independent country. King Sihanouk was eager to present a new style of architecture and thus invigorate the process of nation building. A new golden era of architecture took off, with various projects and young Khmer architects, often educated in France, given opportunities to design and construct. This new movement was called “New Khmer Architecture” and was often characterised by a fusion of Bauhaus, European post-modern architecture, and traditional elements from Angkor. The most prominent architect was Vann Molyvann, who was nominated chief national architect by the king himself in 1956. Molyvann created landmark buildings such as the Preah Suramarit National Theatre and the Council of Ministers building, other architects helped construct the newly founded Royal Khmer University, the Institut of Foreign Languages and the National Sports Centre. With the growth of the upper and entrepreneurial middle class, new suburbs were built in the 1950s and 60’s.

    Although these buildings survived the Khmer Rouge era and the civil war, today they are under threat due to economic development and financial speculation. Villas and gardens from that era are being destroyed and redeveloped to make place for bigger structures. The landmark National Theatre by Molyvann was ripped down in 2008[8]. A movement is rising in Cambodia to preserve this modernist heritage. Old villas are sometimes being converted into boutique hotels, such as the Frangipani Villa and the Knai Bang Chatt.

    Monuments and memorials to the genocide during the Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s are the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (a former high school used as a concentration camp) and on the outskirt of the city the Choeung Ek Genocide Center. The Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument was commissioned by the Vietnamese communists as symbol of Khmer-Vietnamese “friendship” during the late 1970s following the liberation of Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge.

    The addition of a new urban developments such as 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 the city.

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