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Phnom Penh City

Phnom Penh (/pəˌnɒm ˈpɛn, ˌpnɒm -/;[6][7][8] Khmerភ្នំពេញPhnum Pénh [pʰnomˈpɨɲ]) is the cap­i­tal and most pop­u­lous city of Cam­bo­dia. It has been the nation­al cap­i­tal since the French pro­tec­torate of Cam­bo­dia, and has grown to become the nation’s eco­nom­ic, indus­tri­al, and cul­tur­al centre.

Phnom Penh was found­ed in 1434 to suc­ceed Angkor Thom as the cap­i­tal of the Khmer nation but was aban­doned sev­er­al times before being reestab­lished in 1865 by King Norodom. The city for­mer­ly func­tioned as a pro­cess­ing cen­ter, with tex­tiles, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, machine man­u­fac­tur­ing, and rice milling. Its chief assets, how­ev­er, were cul­tur­al. Insti­tu­tions of high­er learn­ing includ­ed the Roy­al Uni­ver­si­ty of Phnom Penh (estab­lished in 1960 as Roy­al Khmer Uni­ver­si­ty), with schools of engi­neer­ing, fine arts, tech­nol­o­gy, and agri­cul­tur­al sci­ences, the lat­ter at Chamkar Daung, a sub­urb. Also locat­ed in Phnom Penh were the Roy­al Uni­ver­si­ty of Agro­nom­ic Sci­ences and the Agri­cul­tur­al School of Prek Leap.[9]

Once known as the “Pearl of Asia”, it was con­sid­ered one of the loveli­est French-built cities in Indochi­na[10] in the 1920s. Phnom Penh, along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, are sig­nif­i­cant glob­al and domes­tic tourist des­ti­na­tions for Cam­bo­dia. Found­ed in 1372, the city is not­ed for its his­tor­i­cal archi­tec­ture and attrac­tions. It became the nation­al cap­i­tal in 1434 fol­low­ing the fall of Angkor, and remained so until 1497.[11] It regained its cap­i­tal sta­tus dur­ing the French colo­nial era in 1865. There are a num­ber of sur­viv­ing colo­nial-era build­ings scat­tered along the grand boule­vards.

On the banks of the Ton­lé SapMekong, and Bas­sac Rivers, Phnom Penh is home to more than 2 mil­lion peo­ple, approx­i­mate­ly 14% of the Cam­bo­di­an pop­u­la­tion.[4] The Greater Phnom Penh area includes the near­by Ta Khmau city and some dis­tricts of Kan­dal province.[12]


Phnom Penh (lit. ‘Pen­h’s Hill’) takes its name from the present Wat Phnom (lit. ‘Hill Tem­ple’) or from the for­mer Funan King­dom, an ancient king­dom that exist­ed from 1st to 7th cen­tu­ry AD in South­east Asia and the fore­run­ner of the cur­rent Cam­bo­di­an monar­chy. Leg­end has it that in 1372, a wealthy wid­ow named Penh found a Koki tree float­ing down the Ton­lé Sap riv­er after a storm.[13] Inside the tree were four bronze Bud­dha stat­ues and a stone stat­ue of Vish­nu. Penh ordered vil­lagers to raise the height of the hill north­east of her house and used the Koki wood to build a tem­ple on the hill to house the four Bud­dha stat­ues, and a shrine for the Vish­nu image slight­ly low­er down. The tem­ple became known as Wat Phnom Daun Penh, which is now known as Wat Phnom, a small hill 27 metres (89 ft) in height.

Phnom Pen­h’s for­mer offi­cial name is Kro­ng Chak­to­muk Serei Mongkol (Khmerក្រុងចតុមុខសិរីមង្គល, lit. ‘City of the Brah­ma’s Faces’), in its short form as Kro­ng Chak­to­muk (lit. “City of Four Faces”). Kro­ng Chak­to­muk is an abbre­vi­a­tion of the full name which was giv­en by King Pon­hea YatKro­ng Chak­to­muk Mongkol Sakal Kam­puchea Thipadei Serei Theakreak Bavar Intabat Bor­ei Roat Reach Seima Moha Nokor (Khmerក្រុងចតុមុខមង្គលសកលកម្ពុជាធិបតី សិរីធរបវរ ឥន្ទបត្តបុរី រដ្ឋរាជសីមាមហានគរ [kɾoŋ cato­muk mɔŋkɔl sakɑl kam­pu­ciətʰə­paɗəj serəj tʰeareaɓɑːʋɑː ʔen­tea­p­at ɓorəj rɔətʰar­iəc­səj­maː mɔhaːnɔkɔː]). This loose­ly trans­lates as “The place of four rivers that gives the hap­pi­ness and suc­cess of Khmer King­dom, the high­est leader as well as impreg­nable city of the God Indra of the great king­dom”.[14]



The ini­tial set­tle­ment of Phnom Penh is believed to have been estab­lished since the 5th cen­tu­ry AD, accord­ing to the dis­cov­ery of ancient kiln site in Choe­ung Ek com­mune of Dan­gkao dis­trict, south­ern part of cen­tral Phnom Penh in the ear­ly 2000s. Choe­ung Ek archae­o­log­i­cal site was one of the largest kiln pot­tery cen­ter in Cam­bo­dia and the ear­li­est known kiln sites in South­east Asia to pro­duced the cer­e­mo­ni­al ves­sels known as ken­di from 5th to 13th cen­tu­ry. Archae­ol­o­gist stat­ed that a large com­mu­ni­ty is sur­round­ed by a cir­cu­lar earth­work struc­ture that is 740 metres in diam­e­ter and 4 metres high, built in the 11th cen­tu­ry. In addi­tion, there are rem­nants of oth­er ancient vil­lage infra­struc­ture, irri­ga­tion sys­tem, inscrip­tion, Shi­va lin­ga as well as an ancient brick tem­ple foun­da­tion and its ornate remains which dat­ed back to Funan era.[2][15]

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 (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.

Phnom Penh from east drawn in 1887.
Stu­pa of King Pon­hea Yat on the top of Wat Phnom

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.[cita­tion need­ed] 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.[16] A small Por­tuguese com­mu­ni­ty sur­vived in Phnom Penh until the 17th cen­tu­ry, under­tak­ing com­mer­cial and reli­gious activ­i­ty in the country.

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), Pur­satLongvek, 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.[17]

Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, Cam­bo­dia was used as a base by the Peo­ple’s Army of Viet­nam 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 Peo­ple’s Army of Viet­nam, the Viet Cong, the South Viet­namese and their allies, the Khmer Rouge, and Amer­i­can air strikes. By 1975, the pop­u­la­tion was 2–3 mil­lion, the bulk of whom were refugees from the fight­ing.[18] The Khmer Rouge cut off sup­plies to the city for more than a year before it fell on April 17, 1975.[13] Reports from jour­nal­ists stat­ed that the Khmer Rouge shelling “tor­tured the cap­i­tal almost con­tin­u­ous­ly”, inflict­ing “ran­dom death and muti­la­tion” on mil­lions of trapped civil­ians.[19] The Khmer Rouge forcibly evac­u­at­ed the entire city after tak­ing it, in what has been described as a death marchFrançois Pon­chaud wrote that “I shall nev­er for­get one crip­ple who had nei­ther hands nor feet, writhing along the ground like a sev­ered worm, or a weep­ing father car­ry­ing his ten-year old daugh­ter wrapped in a sheet tied around his neck like a sling, or the man with his foot dan­gling at the end of a leg to which it was attached by noth­ing but skin”;[20] Jon Swain recalled that the Khmer Rouge were “tip­ping out patients from the hos­pi­tals like garbage into the streets.…In five years of war, this is the great­est car­a­van of human mis­ery I have seen”.[21] 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”.[22] 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”, spies, 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 Peo­ple’s Army of Viet­nam in 1979,[23] 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 FranceAus­tralia, 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;[24] and the 2008 cen­sus was 1.3 mil­lion.[25] By 2019, its pop­u­la­tion reached over 2.2 mil­lion, based on gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion cen­sus.[4]


Phnom Penh is in the south-cen­tral region of Cam­bo­dia, and is ful­ly sur­round­ed by the Kan­dal province. The munic­i­pal­i­ty is on the banks of the Ton­lé SapMekong, 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, at 11.55°N 104.91667°E (11°33′ North, 104°55′ East),[26] 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.


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).


Phnom Penh is an autonomous munic­i­pal­i­ty of area 678.46 square kilo­me­tres (261.95 sq mi) with a gov­ern­ment sta­tus equal to that of the provinces. The autonomous munic­i­pal­i­ty is sub­di­vid­ed into 14 admin­is­tra­tive divi­sions called khans (sec­tions). The dis­trict s are sub­di­vid­ed into 105 sangkats (quar­ters), and fur­ther sub­di­vid­ed into 953 phums (vil­lages).[29] All khans are under the gov­er­nance of Phnom Penh. Dan­gkaoMeancheyPors­encheySen Sok and Russey Keo are con­sid­ered the out­skirts of the city.

Phnom Penh is gov­erned by the gov­er­nor who acts as the top exec­u­tive of the city as well as over­see­ing the Munic­i­pal Mil­i­tary Police, Munic­i­pal Police, and Bureau of Urban Affairs. Below the gov­er­nor is the first vice gov­er­nor and five vice gov­er­nors. The chief of cab­i­net, who holds the same sta­tus as the vice gov­er­nors, heads the cab­i­net con­sist­ing of eight deputy chiefs of cab­i­net who in turn are in charge of the 27 admin­is­tra­tive depart­ments. Every khans also has a chief.[30]

Phnom Penh admin­is­tra­tive sections
ISO code Name Khmer Quar­ters Vil­lages Pop­u­la­tion
1201 Chamkar Mon ខណ្ឌចំការមន 5 40 70,772
1202 Doun Penh ខណ្ឌដូនពេញ 11 134 155,069
1203 Pram­pir Makara ខណ្ឌប្រាំពីរមករា 8 66 71,092
1204 Tuol Kouk ខណ្ឌទួលគោក 10 143 145,570
1205 Dan­gkao ខណ្ឌដង្កោ 12 81 159,772
1206 Mean Chey ខណ្ឌមានជ័យ 7 59 248,464
1207 Russey Keo ខណ្ឌឫស្សីកែវ 7 30 274,861
1208 Sen Sok ខណ្ឌសែនសុខ 6 47 182,903
1209 Pou Senchey ខណ្ឌពោធិ៍សែនជ័យ 7 75 226,971
1210 Chroy Chang­var ខណ្ឌជ្រោយចង្វារ 5 22 159,233
1211 Prek Pnov ខណ្ឌព្រែកព្នៅ 5 59 188,190
1212 Chbar Ampov ខណ្ឌច្បារអំពៅ 8 49 164,379
1213 Boeng Keng Kang ខណ្ឌបឹងកេងកង 7 55 66,658
1214 Kam­boul ខណ្ឌកំបូល 7 93 75,526



As of 2019, Phnom Penh had a pop­u­la­tion of 2,129,371 peo­ple, with a total pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty of 3,136 inhab­i­tants per square kilo­me­tre in a 679 square kilo­me­tres (262 sq mi) city area.[4] The pop­u­la­tion growth rate of the city is 3.92%. The city area has grown four­fold since 1979, and the metro area will con­tin­ue to expand in order to sup­port the city’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and economy.

A sur­vey by the Nation­al Insti­tute of Sta­tis­tics in 2017 showed that 95.3% of the pop­u­la­tion in Phnom Penh are Khmer, 4% Chams, and 0.7% oth­ers, pre­dom­i­nant­ly Chi­nese, Viet­namese, and oth­er small eth­nic groups who are Thai, Budong, Mnong PrehKuy and Chong.[31]

The offi­cial lan­guage is Khmer, but Eng­lish and French are wide­ly used in the city.

The num­ber of slum-inhab­i­tants at the end of 2012 was 105,771, com­pared with 85,807 at the start of 2012.[32]

Note: As stat­ed in the “His­to­ry” para­graph (The 1998 Cen­sus put Phnom Pen­h’s pop­u­la­tion at 862,000;[24] and the 2008 cen­sus was 1.3 mil­lion.[25]the infor­ma­tion col­lides with the infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed in the “His­tor­i­cal pop­u­la­tion” table. Needs editing.


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, schools, 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 South East Asia along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Accord­ing to the World Trav­el and Tourism Coun­cil, tourism made up 19.2 per­cent (US$2,053 mil­lion) of Cam­bo­di­a’s GDP in 2009 and accounts for 13.7 per­cent of total employ­ment.[34] 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.[35]

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.[36]

Oth­er projects include:

  • Grand Phnom Penh Inter­na­tion­al City (under construction)
  • De Cas­tle Roy­al Con­do­mini­um[37] (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)
  • The Peak (Com­plet­ed)

With boom­ing eco­nom­ic growth seen since the 1990s, new shop­ping venues have opened, such as Sorya Cen­ter Point, Aeon Mall Phnom Penh, Aeon Mall Sen Sok City and Olympia Mall. Many inter­na­tion­al brands have opened such as Man­goSal­va­tore Fer­rag­amoHugo Boss, Padi­ni Con­cept Store, Lily, Tim­ber­landJim­my Choo, CC Dou­ble O, MO, Brands Out­let, NikeCon­versePonyArmani 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).[38] The tow­er was com­plet­ed in Decem­ber 2014. Mod­ern high ris­es have been con­struct­ed all around the city, not con­cen­trat­ed in any one par­tic­u­lar area.

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.