Phnom Penh is the vibrant bustling capital of Cambodia. Situated at the confluence of three rivers, the mighty Mekong, the Bassac and the great Tonle Sap, what was once considered the 'Gem' of Indochina. The capital city still maintains considerable charm with plenty to see. It exudes a sort of provincial charm and tranquillity with French colonial mansions and tree-lined boulevards amidst monumental Angkorian architecture. Phnom Penh is a veritable oasis compared to the modernity of other Asian capitals. A mixture of Asian exotica, the famous Cambodian hospitality awaits the visitors to the capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Here in the capital, are many interesting touristy sites. Beside the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, the Choeng Ek Killing Fields and Wat Phnom, there are several market places selling carvings, paintings, silk, silver, gems and even antiques. Indeed, an ideal destination for a leisurely day tour. The whole area including the outskirts of Phnom Penh is about 376 square kilometres big. There are currently 2,009,264 people living in Phnom Penh.
The city takes its name from the re-known Wat Phnom Daun Penh (nowadays: Wat Phnom or Hill Temple), which was built in 1373 to house five statues of Buddha on a man made hill 27 meters high. These five statues were floating down the Mekong in a Koki tree and an old wealthy widow named Daun Penh (Grandma Penh) saved them and set them up on this very hill for worshiping. Phnom Penh was also previously known as Krong Chaktomuk (Chaturmukha) meaning "City of Four Faces". This name refers to the confluence where the Mekong, Bassac, and Tonle Sap rivers cross to form an "X" where the capital is situated.
Phnom Penh is also the gateway to an exotic land - the world heritage site, the largest religious complex in the world, the temples of Angkor in the west, the beaches of the southern coast and the ethnic minorities of the North-eastern provinces. There are also a wide variety of services including five star hotels and budget guest houses, fine international dining, sidewalk noodle shops, neighbourhood pubs international discos and more.
Phnom Penh, like other Asian-City tourist destinations, is in the midst of rapid change. Over the past few years the number of restaurants and hotels have grown considerably and in the last year there had been a huge increase in the number of visitors. Come and see a real original as it won't be the same in a few years.
The country has a tropical climate - warm and humid. In the monsoon season, abundant rain allows for the cultivation of a wide variety of crops. This year-round tropical climate makes Cambodia ideal for developing tourism. Travellers need not to fear natural disasters such as erupting volcanoes or earthquakes, and the country is not directly affected by tropical storms.
Climate: Cambodia can be visited throughout the year. However, those plans to travel extensively by road should be avoided the last two months of the rainy season when some countryside roads may be impassable. The average temperature is about 27 degrees Celsius; the minimum temperature is about 16 degrees. December and January are the coolest months, whereas the hottest is April.
General information about the provincial climate:
- Cool season: November- March (22-28c)
- Hot season: March- May (28c -38c)
- Rainy season: May - October (24-32c, with humidity up to 90%.)
The city temperatures range from 15? to 38 ?C and experiences tropical monsoons. Monsoons blow from the Southwest inland, bringing moisture-laden winds from the Gulf of Thailand and Indian Ocean from May to October. The northeast monsoon ushers in the dry season, which lasts from November to March. The city experiences the heaviest precipitation from September to October with the driest period occurring from January to February.
Phnom Penh stretches north to south on the west side of the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. Its sweeping French-designed boulevards and elegant villas are today being lovingly restored and, once again, this city is becoming one of most charming in Asia.
Located just north of the Royal Palace, the National Museum was recently rested to its former glory as one of the finest examples of Khmer architecture. On display there are more than 5,000 artifacts and objects of art from the 6th to the 13th centuries. They include sandstone sculptures, royal barges, palanquins and silk, intricately woven with silver and gold threads. There are also rare religious objects in gold, silver and bronze.
The Independence Monument commemorates the 1953 end of French rule over Cambodia. Designed by a Cambodian architect, the Naga (a mythical bird symbolizing strength and benevolence) motif of the monument is a symbol of the country's htmlirations. The Naga also adorns most important buildings in the country, including the Olympic Stadium and the Chatomuk Hall, which marks the convergence of four main rivers: the upper and lower Mekong, the Tonle Sap and the Bassac.
Legend has it that after a major flood a wealthy Khmer widower named Daun Penh found a large tree on the bank of the Tonle Sap with four ancient statues of Buddha hidden inside. In 1434 she decided to erect a large hill and build a temple to house sacred relics. Today, Wat Phnom remains the highest artificial hill in Phnom Penh and the center of many forms of religious activities.
Entrance fees: $3/person, $2.00/camera, $5.00/video cam.
Open daily: from 7:30am-11:30am and 2:30pm-5:00pm
Built in 1866 by His Majesty Preah Bat Norodom, the Royal Palace is now home to his Majesty Preah Bat Norodom Shihanouk and Her majesty Preah Reach Akka-Mohesey Norodom.
Most of the buildings inside the palace are closed to the public, except for special occasions. Also within the palace walls is the Silver Pagoda, which draws its name from the 5,000 silver tiles that pave its floor. Inside the pagoda there are hundreds of gifts to Cambodian king, including a solid-gold Buddha encrusted with 9,584 diamonds weighing 90 kilograms. For those who love shopping, there are several markets that offer handicraft, silk, silver ware, wood carving, precious stones from the country's famous mines, as well as antique furniture and paintings by local artists.
Toul Sleng and Killing Field
When the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 they converted a former high school in the suburbs of Phnom Penh into a detention and torture center known as Toul Sleng, or S-21. A genocide museum was established at Toul Sleng after 1979 and today it remains as it looked when abandoned by the Khmer Rouge. Hundreds of faces of those tortured line the walls inside the old school.
Most of the 17,000 people detained at Toul Sleng were eventually transported to Choeung Ek, a mass gravesite located 15 km outside Phnom Penh. Known to locals as the Killing Field, Choeung Ek serves as a memorial to those killed under the Khmer Rogue rule. These sites can be extremely distressing, they are essential part of understanding Cambodia's tragic past.
Small river boats can be found along the riverfront north of street 178. They offer 1-2 hours cruise along the river in front of the Royal Palace. Capital Guesthouse runs budgets oriented half-day Mekong cruise for USD10/person. Riverfront: a stroll or cycles ride along the park lined riverfront is a must. Pubs, restaurants, shops and tourists boat line the ways. The view of the confluence of the Mekong and the Ton Le Sap is geographically unique. Early risers, check out the spectacular sunrise over the river in front of the Royal Palace.
The Khmer people have a very rich and ancient history in the region, including the famous Angkor Empire which extended over a large part of South East Asia. Unfortunately the 20th century was not kind to the Khmers, as they experienced possibly the worst genocide outside of World War II (looking at the percentage of population killed), committed by brutal and psychopathic dictator Pol Pot and his Red Khmer, who wanted to institute an agrarian communist system.
In 1975 Phnom Penh was choked with up to 2 million refugees from the war between the then US-backed government and the Khmer Rouge. The city fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, who completely emptied it of civilians and allowed it to crumble for several years. The city's small class of skilled or educated professionals was systematically murdered by Pol Pot's henchmen, or fled into exile.
Cambodia's developing economy and institutionalized corruption have concentrated wealth into a new rich class that now supports Phnom Penh's new fancy hotels and restaurants. Increasing tourist numbers are also bringing about improving tourist infrastructure.
The unfortunate history of the Khmers in the late 20th century is, however, just one part of their history dating back to ancient times, and modern day Cambodians are upbeat and look to the future as opposed to dwelling on the past.
Cambodia ranks among the world's poorest countries, so it comes as a pleasure surprise to find that Phnom Penh has a vast range of restaurants to suit all pockets and tastes, from noodle shops and market stalls to sophisticated, pricey Western places; even guesthouses often have small restaurants offering Western style fare, including American breakfasts, and Khmer and Chinese dishes.
Many of the restaurants catering to tourists and visitors line the riverfront dining and shopping area near the Royal Palace. Street 278 (near Independence Monument) and Boeng Keng Kang 1 is dotted with local and foreign restaurants. Budget restaurants and relaxing bars can be found along Street 93 next to the Boeung Kak Lake, an area popular with backpackers.
The Corner Restaurant and Bar:
Is mainly catering the local Khmer Food, the Fresh Fruit Shake and Juices specialties for this hot month from Oct to May. It is located at the first floor of Mittapheap Hotel, corner street 174 next to Wat Koh high school and Pagoda.
Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia (FCC):
This famous international bar and restaurant is still as much a journalist?s meeting. It is located on the second floor of a beautiful old Colonial era building with open balcony providing a spectacular, sweeping view of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. The FCC kitchen offers a good selection of nicely prepared contemporary, modern, and mainstream western dishes as well as some of the best wood-fired oven pizza in town. Also displaying photo shows and exhibitions. Fresco Delicatessen on the ground floor. Upper price limit. St. 363 on the riverside.
Garden Center Caf 2:
This international restaurant is the Street 278 area annex of the very popular Garden Center Caf, offering the same excellent western meals like steaks, baked ham, baked salmon, burgers, sloppy joes, Asian dishes and a great selection of salads and vegetarian dishes. All home cooking and generous portions. Relaxed, clean, green and family atmosphere. Conveniently located on Street 57 just around the corner from the Boeng Keng Kang 1 Street 278 hotel area.
Java Caf and Gallery :
This international caf and restaurant is genially set in a nice gallery ambiance. They offer a brilliant selection of coffees, teas and muffins. Nice selections of salads, sandwiches made to order on homemade bread, fajitas, lots of veggie dishes and all-day breakfasts including omelettes, pancakes, French toast, muesli and more. Indoor gallery seating and airy balcony seating overlooking the green park and the Independence Monument. Changing art and photo exhibitions. WiFi Hotspot. St. 56, Sihanouk Blvd. (Near to the Independence Monument).
This is an authentic classical Thai and Khmer food restaurant with dishes at reasonable prices. Shop house sized restaurant with pleasant indoor seating. Fairly large selection of dishes. Very good preparation. Good selection of vegetarian offerings. Good reviews from patrons. Located on Street 130 just off the riverfront.