Phnom Penh (ភ្នំពេញ): the name can’t help but conjure up an image of the exotic. The glimmering spires of the Royal Palace, the fluttering saffron of the monks’ robes and the luscious location on the banks of the mighty Mekong – this is the Asia many daydream about from afar.
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What you need to know about the Capital of Cambodia?
History of Phnom Penh
Legend has it that the city of Phnom Penh was founded when an old woman named Penh found four Buddha images that had come to rest on the banks of the Mekong River. She housed them on a nearby hill, and the town that grew up here came to be known as Phnom Penh (Hill of Penh).
In the 1430s, Angkor was abandoned and Phnom Penh chosen as the site of the new Cambodian capital. Angkor was poorly situated for trade and subject to attacks from the Siamese (Thai) kingdom of Ayutthaya. Phnom Penh commanded a more central position in the Khmer territories and was perfectly located for riverine trade with Laos and China via the Mekong Delta.
Since the 15th Century, the Capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, or formerly known as Krong Chaktomuk (City of Four Faces), is the commercial heart of Cambodia, and the most populous city in the country. Currently, it houses approximately two million people among a total population of fourteen million people in Cambodia (WorldWide Populations, 2019). This Capital of Cambodia is adorned with a history of bittersweetness ranging from prosperity in the ’60s to a bloody genocide time to being wrecked by civil wars to now a glimpse of modern development. If there are top ten things to know about Phnom Penh before visiting, then her tory should be the top of the list.
People growing up in Phnom Penh or anywhere in Cambodia should have already been familiar with the folktale of how Phnom Penh was founded. According to the travel guide Lonely Planet, the original legend has it that there was a well-respected old lady named Penh who resided near the soon-to-become capital. One day, she came across four buddha statues stuck in the trunk of a tree that came to rest on the Mekong Rivers bank. Upon that, she gathered people from the village to build a hill so that the Buddha statues could be housed properly. The small town soon grew into what we know as the Capital of Cambodia these days.
In the early 15th century, the former capital of Cambodia Angkor was forced to be abandoned as its geographic location is poor for trade, and very prone to relentless attack from the then Siamese Kingdom of Ayutthaya (Currently Thailand). Phnom Penh was considered to be in a more central position in the then Khmer Empire for it better situated for trade with Laos and China via the Mekong Delta.
Phnom Penh Before and After the Civil War
Just like the rest of the world, Cambodia had a tremendously horrible time in the 20th century as it is one of the most violent centuries of all time. Cambodia went through the first half of the 20th century under French Colonization before obtaining independence in 1953.
After gaining independence, one of the major priorities were to develop the capital of Cambodia. Phnom Penh quickly became the heart of commercial, culture, and urban development. According to an article on Urban Voice, the basic concept of rejuvenating this city was to add more modern building using traditional Khmer architecture blended with French style. As a result, the current existing key architectures from the ’60s include Chaktomuk Conference Hall, Independence Monument, and Olympic Stadium.
From 1975 to 1979, Cambodia went through a genocidal regime under Khmer Rouge ruling, killing millions of Cambodia people. According to DC-Cam Mapping Program and Yale University, an estimated total number of deaths from Khmer Rouge policies, inclduding mass killings, disease, and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of the original 8-million population.
During that time, Phnom Penh became a ghost city as people were forced to evacuate to rural area. The capital of Cambodia were left in the hands of the Khmer Rouge. They constructed the biggest detention and interrogation center known as Security-21 (Now Toul Sleng Genocide Museum), and the biggest execution center Boeng Cheng Ek (Now The Killing Field Museum).
Cambodian people are generally friendly, and respectful. But if you travel to multiple parts of the country, you might start to notice that people from different regions do have their own signature traits. Since Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia, it is also the most developed city in the country as well. Students from other provinces usually choose to pursue their higher education in Phnom Penh too. Therefore, the people from this capital of Cambodia is slightly more advanced in terms of technology and extremely susceptible to foreign cultures too.
In its developing mode, Phnom Penh rather progresses in a steady environment. Adorned with occasional constructions chasing the future Phnom Penh’s skyline and dawdling traffic, Phnom Penh still struggles with pollution and waste problem. With long-term effort, most streets in the city now steer clear from garbage.
The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is the current royal residence of the King of Cambodia. Its full name, Preah Barum Reachea Veang Chaktomuk Serei Mongkol. The completion of this royal residence in 1866 is rather a recent event in Cambodian modern history. This place houses over 250 years of Cambodian monarchy history. Moreover, a series of complex and well-designed traditional building, including the infamous Silver Pagoda, offer a glimpse of the past and the present of once an Empire.
The Independence Monument was built in 1958 to recognize Cambodia attaining complete independence in 1953 after almost a century under French Colonization. It was designed by the renowned Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann, who also designed other key infrastructure in Cambodia. In addition to that, the design for this gorgeous monument is in form of a lotus-shaped stupa decorated with dragon heads, which was inspired by the traditional Cambodian architecture. Every year, on Independence Day, 9th November, there is a flame ceremonial celebrated by the government to honor the independence.
Toul Sleng Genocide Museum
Hiding amongst the houses and tall buildings, Tuol Sleng museum stands eerily reminiscing the ghost of the past. From the outside, it looks just like a typical high-school. During the Khmer Rouge Regime, it served as the biggest interrogation, torturing, and execution center in the country, claiming thousands of lives. Among approximately 14,000 people who have entered, only seven came out alive to tell the stories. Tuol Sleng now becomes one of the main center studying about the genocide and keeping the tragic memories alive.
National Museum of Cambodia
The National Museum of Cambodia is Cambodian largest archaeological and historical museum. Located in the capital of Cambodia, the museum houses a great deal of artifacts ranging from prehistoric times to the modern history of Cambodia. Moreover, the museum also hosts the largest collection of Khmer artifacts in the world, and oversees other museums in the country as well.
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We can say that Phnom Penh is an incredible city which grips the way to your heart. The capital of Cambodia, a city full of rich cultures and amazing history. It is, therefore, a perfect destination for people who love exploring new cultures and experiencing an endless beauty of Phnom Penh from architectures to environment to the people themselves.