Phnom Penh, founded in 1373 CE, is nowadays inhabited by about 1,5 to 2,2 million people and it's the economical and political center of Cambodia, as well as it's capital. Geographically, Phnom Penh is situated at the confluence of the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap River in southeast Cambodia. The Mekong here is much more busy than further upwards. Not only the wooden riverboats, but also larger sea vessels until a certain size reach Phnom Penh, coming from the South China Sea upwards passing through Vietnam.
Phnom Penh in an undated historical photo, probably from the 1860s. In the background the stupa of Wat Phnom is to see. Image by Asienreisender in the Royal Palace, 2014
After a Siamese army from Ayutthaya sacked Angkor in 1431 CE and demolished it, the Khmer capital was shifted from Angkor Thom to Phnom Penh. After 1505 CE Angkor Thom was abandoned for centuries. The Cambodian capital then moved several times. It was moved to Phnom Penh again in the mid-1860s. From 1867 on mainly the French built up the city, particularly by first creating a canal system to drain the water out of the surrounding swamps. In the 1920s the city was very much coined by French architecture and had a reputation of being the 'Pearl of Asia', kind of a small Paris of the east. In the early post-colonial era more building activities added a certain modern Khmer style, adding new impulses to the city. Sadly, nowadays, little is left of that former elegance.
In the American Vietnam War (in Cambodia particularly the years from 1970-75), Phnom Penh suffered already much. A great number of refugees flooded into the city, escaping American carpet bombings of greater parts of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge cut the city off supplies. After their victory in 1975 they occupied and heavily demolished the city. The two million people inhabiting the place were evacuated within three days, sent on death marches into the countryside. Only 20,000 people, mainly Khmer Rouge themselves, remained in Phnom Penh. The former megacity changed into a gost town.
A housefront anywhere in Phnom Penh. It gives a typical image of how many streets look. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
After the Khmer Rouge were driven out of the city in 1979 by Vietnamese troops, people came slowly back to live here.
Meanwhile Cambodia's capital is almost completely rebuilt and is a vibrant economic center. When approaching the city from any direction one sees the concrete cancer getting bigger and bigger around - everywhere are new buildings and building sites, many of them bigger. In the last years there was a double digit economic growth around the megacity. In fact it's all about business here. The real estate prices go up increasingly. Speculation generates a lot of money, work remains extremely cheap.
A number of huge infrastructure projects are planned or already under construction in and around Phnom Phen. Whole new (sub-)cities are going to be created. It's a process as it happened comparably in Kuala Lumpur and other booming Southeast Asian cities already years ago.
Nevertheless, it's still so that the infrastructure is of doubtless quality. Running water is frequent since a few years. Electricity seems to be stable at least in dry season in the inner city. Internet access is normally weak, slow and suffers many interruptions, but is increasing remarkably.
The confluence of the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap. In Phnom Penh the Mekong splits up into it's mouth until reaching the South China Sea. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
Phnom Penh's river promenade along the Tonle Sap River. The confluence is at the tall building in the background. A short piece downstream the Bassac River splits up from the Mekong, being also part of the Mekong Delta.
Image by Asienreisender, 12/2014
An overview map of Phnom Penh. In many restaurants or other touristic places in the city one get's a map for free - in difference to Bangkok, where the touristic city maps with all the advertisings are meanwhile sold and therefore rare.
Most of the steet names are merely numbers. The odd numbers are given to the streets who are aligned in a north-south direction. They start at the river and get as higher as further they are away from it. The even numbers are given to the 'horizontal' roads who run in east-west directions. As further they are in the south, as higher their number.