Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia, located in the south-central region. Located on the banks of the Tonlé Sap and Mekong River. 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 situated at 11.89 metres above the river, monsoon season flooding is a problem and the river sometimes overflows its banks.
Phnom Penh has been the national capital since French colonization of Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation's center of economic and industrial activities, as well as the center of security, politics, cultural heritage, and diplomacy of Cambodia.
Weather is pleasant during the "winter season" from November to January, highs are around 30 degrees C daily. Staring February the temperature begins to rise, and by March the daily highs are 35-38 degrees, making it hardly bearable. This is followed by the rainy season, which is more humid than rainy as on most days it just rains for a few minutes in the afternoon. Occasionally there are massive downpours that cause major flooding.
Once known as the "Pearl of Asia" or "'Paris of the East" it was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina in the 1920s.
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 Ayuthaya. 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.
By the mid-16th century, trade had turned Phnom Penh into a regional power. Indonesian and Chinese traders were drawn to the city in large numbers. A century later, however, the landlocked and increasingly isolated kingdom had become a little more than a buffer between ascendant Thais and Vietnamese, until the French took over in 1863.
The French protectorate in Cambodia gave Phnom Penh the layout we know today. They divided the city into districts or quartiers – the French and European traders inhabited the area north of Wat Phnom between Monivong Blvd and Tonlé Sap River. By the time the French departed in 1953, they had left many important landmarks, including the Royal Palace, National Museum, Psar Thmei (Central Market) and many impressive government ministries. Phnom Penh grew quickly in the post-independence peacetime years of Norodom SihanoukNorodom Sihanouk’s rule.
By the time he was overthrown in 1970, the population of the city was approximately 500 000. As the Vietnam War spread into Cambodian territory, the city’s population swelled with refugees and reached nearly three million in early 1975.
The Khmer Rouge took the city on 17 April 1975 and, as part of its radical revolution, immediately forced the entire population into the countryside. Whole families were split up on those first fateful days of ‘liberation’. During the time of Democratic Kampuchea, many tens of thousands of former Phnom Penhois – including the vast majority of the capital’s educated residents – were killed. The population of Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge regime was never more than about 50 000, a figure made up of senior party members, factory workers and trusted military leaders.
Repopulation of the city began when the Vietnamese arrived in 1979, although at first it was strictly controlled by the new government. During much of the 1980s, cows were more common than cars on the streets of the capital.