Phnom Penh the capital city of Cambodia, industrial, economic and cultural center

Wat Ounalom Temple, Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is the only one Capital of Cambodia. It is burgeoning year after year. Comparing to over last five years, Phnom Penh is now very beautiful and quite different from what we saw before.

It is considered as one of must visiting places in Cambodia. It is a crossroad of Asia’s past and present, a city of extremes of poverty and excess, but one that never fails to captivate the visitor.

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).

The story, however, gives no hint as to why, in the 1430ss, Angkor was abandoned and Phnom Penh was chosen as the site of the new Cambodian capital. The move has been much lamented as evidence of cultural decline, but it made a good deal of practical sense. 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. The Tonle Sap river provided access to the rich fishing grounds of the Tonle Sap lake.

There are a clutch of main attractions on everybody’s first time visit list. This may include the Royal Palace, as well as sites associated with the Khmer Rouge regime, such as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the poignant Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre. The Russian Market is also on the list as well as some great food at the French Quarter or maybe dinner on a boat as the sun sets on the Tonle Sap.

However away from the usual tourist attractions, consider a visit to tranquil Koh Dach or Silk Island, a 60 minute tuk tuk ride from the city centre, plus a 15 minute make-shift ferry journey or if you’re adventurous a short motorbike ride. This is an excursion away from the bustle and hustle of the capital and a good half or full day excursion.

One advantage of having your own transport is you can go where you want, without being directed to where the guide might like to take you. After a few kilometers we met a number of giant human mannequins racing from house to house collecting money for a temple. As the name of the island suggests, a big occupation here is the silk weaving. There many weavers and several sericulturists (silk producers) on the island.

It is estimated that there are 20,000 weavers and about 50100 sericulturists in Cambodia; with 95% of the raw silk imported from neighboring Vietnam. Not far from the ferry you will see high silted houses with huge intricate looms underneath. At Chong Koh village cooperative, ladies spin and weave individually designed sarongs and scarves. You should politely bargain if you would like to buy something.

If you are tired of bland South East Asian beer, you are in for a treat with a brewery tour on offer afternoons 1pm to 5pm. You can walk around the plant, try some sampler beers, and then more beer if you haven’t had enough. Cambodia’s old capital Oudong, also spelt Udong is worth a half or full day excursion.

It was the capital from 1618 to 1868, until the French persuaded King Norodom to move the royal court to Phnom Penh. You can hire a tuk tuk for the day, but I decided to make full use of the motorcycle I had hired. It is about 40kms out of Phnom Penh, and once out of the city, it is a pleasant ride following the banks of the Tonle Sap for a while.

There is a steep climb, but the views are awesome. You can take a path that runs along the ridge that allows you to visit a number of sites without going downhill. The most memorable is Chedi Damrei Sam Poan, built in honour of Cambodian King Ang Duong, whose official title is Preah Raja Samdach Preah Hariraksha Rama Suriya Maha Isvara Adipati. It was built to house the King’s ashes by his son King Norodom in 1891. A four-faced stupa looks down sternly and ominously on visitors below.

Things to do in Phnom Penh