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Phnom Penh
រាជធានីភ្នំពេញ
Autonomous municipality
ក្រុងភ្នំពេញ
City of Phnom Penh · Ville de Phnom Penh
Clockwise, from top: Royal Palace, Independence Monument, Sisowath Quay, National Museum, Bayon roundabout, Central Market, Silver Pagoda, Wat Phnom, Choeung Ek and Norodom Sihanouk Memorial
Clockwise, from top: Royal Palace, Independence Monument, Sisowath Quay, National Museum, Bayon roundabout, Central Market, Silver Pagoda, Wat Phnom, Choeung Ek and Norodom Sihanouk Memorial
Official seal of Phnom Penh
Seal
Nickname(s): Pearl of Asia (pre-1960s)
The Charming City
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Country  Cambodia
Founded 1372
Capital status 1865
Area
 • Total 678.46 km2 (261.95 sq mi)
Area rank Ranked 24th
Elevation 11.89 m (39.01 ft)
Population (2012)
 • Total 1,501,725
 • Rank Ranked 1st
 • Density 2,213.432/km2 (5,732.76/sq mi)
 • Density rank Ranked 1st
Demonym(s) Phnom Penher
(French: Phnom Penhois(e))
Time zone ICT (UTC+07:00)
Area code(s) +855 (023)
HDI (2017) 0.712
high · 1st
Website www.phnompenh.gov.kh/

Phnom Penh (Khmer: ភ្ន៓ពេញ; official Romanization: Phnum Pénh; IPA: [pʰnum peːɲ]) is the capital city of Cambodia as well as the largest and most populous city in the country. It is also the capital of the Phnom Penh administrative city. On April 17 1975, it was seized by the Khmer Rouge who soon forced everyone to leave. It was later retaken from the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese Army in January 1979.

History

WatPhnom PhnomPenh 2005 2
Wat Phnom gave the city its name
Wat phnom1
Phnom Penh from east drawn in 1887.

First recorded a century after it is said to have taken place, the legend of the founding of Phnom Penh tells of a local woman, Penh (commonly referred to as Daun Penh ("Grandmother Penh" or "Old Lady Penh") in Khmer), living at Chaktomuk, the future Phnom Penh. It was the late 14th century, and the Khmer capital was still at Angkor near Siem Reap 350 km (217 mi) to the north. Gathering firewood along the banks of the river, Lady Penh spied a floating koki tree in the river and fished it from the water. Inside the tree she found four Buddha statues and one of Vishnu.

The discovery was taken as a divine blessing, and to some a sign that the Khmer capital was to be brought to Phnom Penh from Angkor. To house the new-found sacred objects, Penh raised a small hill on the west bank of the Tonle Sap River and crowned it with a shrine, now known as Wat Phnom at the north end of central Phnom Penh. "Phnom" is Khmer for "hill" and Penh's hill took on the name of the founder, and the area around it became known after the hill.

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 houses the remains of Ponhea Yat and the royal family as well as the remaining Buddhist statues from the Angkorean era. In the 17th century, Japanese immigrants also settled on the outskirts of present-day Phnom Penh. A small Portuguese community survived in Phnom Penh until the 17th century, undertaking commercial and religious activity in the country.

Pagoda of Wat Phnom
Stupa of King Ponhea Yat on the top of Wat Phnom

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 (1860–1904), the eldest son of King Ang Duong, who ruled on behalf of Siam, 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 colonial authorities 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 employed the services of French contractor Le Faucheur to construct the first 300 concrete houses for sale and rental to Chinese traders.

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 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 2–3 million, the bulk of whom were refugees from the fighting. The Khmer Rouge cut off supplies to the city for more than a year before it fell on April 17, 1975. Reports from journalists stated that the Khmer Rouge shelling "tortured the capital almost continuously," inflicting death and injury on millions of trapped civilians. The Khmer Rouge forcibly evacuated the entire city after taking it, in what has been described as a death march. All of its residents, including the wealthy and educated, were evacuated from the city and forced to do difficult labour on rural farms as "new people". Tuol Sleng High School was taken over by Pol Pot's forces and was turned into the S-21 prison camp, where people 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 kilometers (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.

Geography

Phnom Penh sunset
Phnom Penh cityscape

Phnom Penh is in the south-central region of Cambodia, and is fully surrounded by Kandal Province. The municipality is on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong, and Bassac Rivers. These rivers provide freshwater and other natural resources to the city. Phnom Penh and the surrounding areas consist of a typical flood plain area for Cambodia. Although Phnom Penh is at 11.89 metres (39 ft) above the river, monsoon season flooding is a problem, and the river sometimes overflows its banks.

The city 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 ha (64,509 acres) of roads. The agricultural land in the municipality amounts to 34.685 km2 (13 sq mi) with some 1.476 km2 (365 acres) under irrigation.

Climate

Phnom Penh has a tropical wet and dry climate (Köppen climate classification Aw). The climate is hot year-round with only minor variations. Temperatures typically range from 22 to 35 °C (72 to 95 °F) and weather is subject to the tropical monsoons. The southwest monsoon blows inland bringing moisture-laden winds from the Gulf of Thailand and Indian Ocean from May to November. The northeast monsoon ushers in the dry season, which lasts from December to April. The city experiences the heaviest precipitation from September to October with the driest period in January and February.

The city has two distinct seasons. The rainy season, which runs from May to November, sees high temperatures accompanied by high humidity. The dry season lasts from December to April; when overnight temperatures can drop to 22 °C (72 °F).

Economy

ACLEDA bank Cambodia
ACLEDA Bank
Central.Post.Office.Poste.Phnom.Penh.1.Cambodge
The Central Post Office Building
Hong.Kong.Center.Total.Cambodge.1
The Hong Kong Center, headquarters of oil producer Total S.A. in Cambodia

Phnom Penh is Cambodia's economic centre as it accounts for a large portion of the Cambodian economy. Double-digit economic growth rates in recent years have triggered an economic boom in Phnom Penh, with new hotels, restaurants, bars, high rises and residential buildings springing up in the city.

The economy is based on commercial interests such as garments, trading, and small and medium enterprises. In the past few years the property business has been booming, with rapidly increasing real estate prices. Tourism is also a major contributor in the capital as more shopping and commercial centres open, making Phnom Penh one of the major tourist destinations in the country along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism made up 17.5 percent (US$2,053 million) of Cambodia's GDP in 2009 and accounts for 13.7 percent of total employment. One of the most popular areas in Phnom Penh for tourists is Sisowath Quay, alongside the Tonle Sap River. Sisowath Quay is a five kilometre strip of road that includes restaurants, bars, and hotels.

The US$2.6 billion new urban development, 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 Camko City and Phnom Penh.

Other projects include:

  • Grand Phnom Penh International City (under construction)
  • De Castle Royal Condominium (Completed)
  • Gold Tower 42 (On hold 32 floors construction begins again in the mid of 2018)
  • OCIC Tower (Completed)
  • Kokling super second floor house
  • Vattanac Capital Tower (completed)
  • The Bridge (Completed)
Aeon mall phnompenh
Aeon Mall Phnom Penh

With booming economic growth seen since the 1990s, new shopping venues have opened: Sorya Center Point, Aeon Mall Phnom Penh, Aeon Mall Sen Sok City, Olympia Mall, and Parkson Mall (under construction). Many international brands have opened such as Mango, Salvatore Ferragamo, Hugo Boss, Padini Concept Store, Lily, Timberland, Jimmy Choo, CC Double O, MO, Brands Outlet, Nike, Converse, Pony, Armani Exchange, and Super Dry.

The tallest skyscraper in Phnom Penh is Vattanac Capital Tower at a height of 188 metres (617 ft), dominating Phnom Penh's skyline with its neighbour skyscraper Canadia Tower (OCIC Tower). The tower was topped out in May 2012 and was completed in late-2014. Modern high rises have been constructed all around the city, not concentrated in any one particular area.

Phnompenh skyline
Central Market

The Central Market Phsar Thmei is a tourist attraction. The four wings of the yellow colored market are teeming with numerous stalls selling gold and silver jewelry, antique coins, clothing, clocks, flowers, food, fabrics and shoes. Phsar Thmei is undergoing under a major renovation, along with the creation of newer stalls.

Culture

Statue of Lady Penh
Statue of Lady Penh, the city's founder.
Driedphnompenhnoodles
"Dried" version of Phnom Penh noodles with soup broth on the side
Silverpagoda
The Silver Pagoda houses the Emerald Buddha

Phnom Penh also has its own dialect of Khmer. Speakers of the Phnom Penh dialect often elide syllables, which has earned it the reputation for being lazy speech. Phnom Penh is also known for its influence on New Khmer Architecture. Phnom Penh is notable for Ka tieu Phnom Penh, its variation on rice noodle soup, a dish available in sit-down cafes as well as street cafes.

Music and the arts are making a revival throughout Cambodia, especially in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh currently hosts a number of music events throughout the city. 'Indie' bands (those without corporate sponsors) have grown in number due also in part to the emergence of private music schools such as SoundsKool Music (also operating in the city of Siem Reap), and Music Arts School (registered as an NGO).

The two most visited museums in the city are the National Museum, which is the country's leading historical and archaeological museum, and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former Khmer Rouge prison.

Chaul Chnam Thmey April 13–15

At this time, Phnom Penh celebrates Cambodian New Year, an occasion increasingly popular with tourists. During this typically hottest part of the year, water gets thrown around adding to the party atmosphere along with dancing and music. The precise date changes year-by-year but this holiday lasts, at least, three days. This festival marks the turn of the year based on the ancient Khmer calendar and also marks the end of the prior year harvest.

Water Festival November

The largest annual festival in Phnom Penh, this lively gathering celebrates the reversing of the flow of the Tonlé Sap River. The holiday lasts three days as people flood into the city to enjoy the fireworks, boat races, live concerts, eating and partying. The boat racing dates back to ancient times marking the strengths of the Khmer marine forces during the Khmer Empire.

On 22 November 2010 at least 348 people were crushed to death in a bridge stampede at the festival.

Pchum Ben October 11–15 (2012)

Pchum Ben is a very important aspect of Cambodian culture. It may be translated as "gathering together" to make offerings and is a time of reunion, commemoration, express love and appreciation for one's ancestors. By offering food and good karma to those possibly trapped in the spirit world, living relatives help assuage their misery and guide them back into the cycle of reincarnation.

Visak Bochea May

Vesākha is an annual holiday observed traditionally by Buddhists in Cambodia. Sometimes informally called "Buddha's Birthday", it actually encompasses the birth, enlightenment (nirvāṇa), and passing away (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha.

Cityscape and architecture

2016 Phnom Penh, Pomnik z posągiem Króla Ojca Norodoma Sihanouka (06)
King Norodom Sihanouk Monument
Techo Yort and Techo Meas
Statue of Decho Yod and Decho Meas
2016 Phnom Penh, Wat Langka (27)
Main temple, Wat Langka

The oldest structure is Wat Phnom from the founding days of the city, constructed in 1373. The main tourist attractions are the Royal Palace with the Silver Pagoda, and the National Museum, constructed during the French colonial era in the late-19th century in the classical Khmer style and hosting a vast collection of Khmer antiquities. The Independence Monument (Khmer: Vimean Akareach), although from the 1950s, is also constructed in the ancient Khmer style.

The French, who were the colonial masters from the 19th century to the 1940s, also left their mark, with various colonial villas, French churches, boulevards, and the Art Deco market Phsar Thom Thmei. A notable 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 Institute of Foreign Languages, and the National Sports Centre. With the growth of the upper and entrepreneurial middle classes, new suburbs were built in the 1950s and 1960s. 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 razed in 2008. A movement is rising in Cambodia to preserve this modernist heritage. Old villas are sometimes being converted into boutique hotels, such as the Knai Bang Chatt.

Monuments and memorials to the genocide of 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 outskirts 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.

On the outskirts of the city, farmland has been developed into garment factories and housing for lower economic classes and those displaced by the new development in the city center.

2016 Phnom Penh, Muzeum Narodowe Kambodży (03).jpg Royal.Place.Phnom.Penh.Palais.Royal.Cambodge.001.jpg LeRoyal PP.jpg Colonial Villa on Street 108 Phnom Penh.jpg
National Museum, designed in the early-1920s by George Groslier. Royal Throne Hall, constructed in the 1860s under King Norodom I. Façade, Hotel Le Royal, built in 1929 in the reign of King Sisowath Monivong. Colonial villa in Phnom Penh.

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