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Phnom Penh History, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, the capital and the largest city of Cambodia is nowadays a flourishing cultural, economic and political centre, showing less and less signs of its rich but rather tormented history. Phnom Penh is also called the Pearl of Asia, as it is among the most picturesque tourist destinations in Asia, on par with cities such as Bangkok, Mumbai or Karachi. Once a French colony, Phnom Penh bears the mark of a mixed heritage, a twinning of the East and the West. The city’s beautiful French colonial architecture helps emphasise the traditional charm of Khmer buildings. Many of the city’s attractions and monuments are mementos of its most poignant historical events. This Phnom Penh History Guide will attempt to briefly go over the history of this intriguing city.

Phnom Penh History Guide - Foundation and early history

Phnom Penh hasn’t been the capital of Cambodia for long, at least not in historical terms. King Ponhea Yat founded Phnom Penh in 1422, after abandoning Angkor Wat. He settled for strategic place, both from a political and an agrarian point of view. In the 15th century, the country’s economy was based on agriculture, and the city’s position at the confluence of three rivers, Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap. The region was also favourable for trade, and the new city quickly became a centre for trade and manufacture. The kings that succeeded Ponhea moved the capital several times, but Phnom Penh remained one of the country’s most important cities. In the 17th century, Phnom Penh became heavily populated with Japanese immigrants who contributed further to the city’s status as a major economic centre. In 1866, during the reign of King Norodom, Phnom Penh was designated as the official seat of the government. For centuries, Cambodia passed back and forth between Thailand and Vietman, but the changing sovereignty did not affect much the development of the city. Despite its strategic importance, Phnom Penh was essentially a village until the arrival of the French colonists in 1864.

Phnom Penh History Guide - Colonial era and modern period

Under the beneficial influence of the French, Phnom Penh went through a thorough transformation. Roads and canals and a port were built, and the characteristic colonial architecture spread like wildfire in the city. At the beginning of the 20th century, Phnom Penh was already known as one of the most beautiful cities in Asia, ranking as high as other colonial marvels such as Ho Chi Minh City. The 20th century was a tragic period for Cambodia. After suffering great losses during the Vietnam War, when it was used as a base by the Vietnamese army, Phnom Penh fell into the hands of the dreaded Khmer Rouge. Many memorials in the city stand as a reminders of the horrors and massacres committed by the Khmer Rouge regime. The regime was overthrown in 1979, and a period of heavy reconstruction followed. Today, Phnom Penh has regained its former glory, although the scars left by its turbulent history have not yet been forgotten.

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  • MadSuhGreat days in Phnom Penh
    review by MadSuh posted more then 30 days ago
    After Ankor Wat I probably did what few tourists have ever done. I went back to see the sun set and because I had very little time, I actually took a few pictures of Angkor Wat and then found my Tuc Tuc driver to take me to this small mountain. The sun was already setting and so I had to run up...
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  •$934China Air flightChina Air
    Los Angeles, CA (LAX)  Phnom Penh, KH (PNH)
    03/11/2024 03:50 pm
    Phnom Penh, KH (PNH)  Los Angeles, CA (LAX)
    03/24/2024 05:20 pm
  •$937China Air flightChina Air
    Ontario, CA (ONT)  Phnom Penh, KH (PNH)
    03/06/2024 10:45 pm
    Phnom Penh, KH (PNH)  Ontario, CA (ONT)
    03/13/2024 11:35 am
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    San Francisco, CA (SFO)  Phnom Penh, KH (PNH)
    04/09/2024 01:05 am
    Phnom Penh, KH (PNH)  San Francisco, CA (SFO)
    04/17/2024 10:50 am

Phnom Penh City Ratings

  • Rating73%
    City Rank196
  • History & Culture: rated for 40%
  • Night Life & Entertainment: rated for 85%
  • Family & Fun: rated for 20%
  • Outdoors Activities: rated for 20%
  • Food: rated for 70%
  • Sightseeing: rated for 60%
  • Shopping: rated for 30%
  • Public Transportation: rated for 60%
  • Must visit this place: rated for 50%
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