top of page

Phnom Penh

Capturing the Capital

Dubbed "the Pearl of Asia" Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh is a heady mix of French, Khmer and "new" Khmer architecture, large open parks, crowded market streets, peaceful waterways and a colourful riverside nightlife.

Positioned at the convergence of 3 rivers: Tonle Sap, Mekong and Bassac, Archeologists believe that there has been a settlement at Phnom Penh since the 5th century.

The former name Krong Chaktomuk Serei Mongkol "city of the four faces" is an abbreviation of it's full name which translates as "The place of four rivers that gives the happiness and success the Khmer kingdom, the highest leader as well as impregnable city of the God Indra of the Great Kingdom".

Legend of its founding as the capital of the Khmer Empire refers to a woman known as Lady Penh, who lived in Chaktomuk in the late 14th century. While gathering firewood on the riverbank, Penh found a floating koki tree that had inside it four statues of Buddha and one of Vishnu. This was seen as a divine blessing. Wat Phnom was built to house the artefacts and the idea sparked that the capital should be moved to Chaktomuk.

After the fall of Angkor Thom in 1434, the capital was moved to Chaktomuk which was renamed as Phnom Penh (Penh Hill) in honour of Lady Penh. However this only lasted a little over 60 years as continuous infighting between successive kings saw them establish their capitals in various locations.

Phnom Penh once again became the capital after Cambodia became a French Protectorate in 1863. The French embarked on a building boom that saw the neglected riverside town develop into a flourishing city. And while much of that architecture was of European design it is thanks to King Norodom Sihanouk that Phnom Penh has a distinct Eurasian ambiance. During his post independence rule in the 1950s and 60s, Sihanouk engaged young Khmer architects to design major capital works in a modern Khmer style.

Today, Phnom Penh is the centre of the nation's industry, education, politics and economics with over 2 million people calling this vibrant city home. And while the vast majority of residents are Khmer and Buddhist, the city retains the references to its complex and fusion past.


bottom of page