Phnom Penh is like being on an exotic movie set! Wasn’t ready for the heat (from long johns in New Zealand to 80 degree temperatures) but it’s not bad. I’m staying at a small hotel near the river in the heart of the city – across from the National Museum and near the Royal Palace. It’s basic accommodation in a great location, plus I have my own tiny veranda full of tropical plants overlooking the boulevard.
I spent part of the day visiting the National Museum, a glorious place full of incredible sculptures and historical relics. The garden is wonderful, and you can sit and meditate enjoying the fantastic atmosphere. It’s a special place. I found a great little Khmer / French restaurant a few blocks down the street and had a delicious breakfast this morning – Cambodian fruit is fantastic.
Compared to my other travels, it reminds me a little of cities in India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Borneo with similar bustling street scenes and lots of action and motorcycles everywhere – seems like chaos but everyone carries on, no problem. I wouldn’t want to drive here…
My hotel had a driver meet me up at the airport in a tuk-tuk rickshaw, and the ride through the city was fun although I constantly thought we were going to collide with autos and motorcycles along the way – similar to rickshaws in Mumbai. Most locals seem to know each other, and my colorful tuk-tuk driver (nicknamed Cowboy – from the movie Full Metal Jacket?) knew everyone on each corner we passed. It was a fun ride!
Phnom Penh History
Located on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong, and Bassac Rivers Phnom Penh became the national capital after the French colonized Cambodia. It’s home to more than 2 million of Cambodia’s 14 million population and the largest and wealthiest city in the country. Phnom Penh is also the country’s political hub, heart of its economic and industrial activities, and the center of security, politics, economics, cultural heritage, and diplomacy. Known as the “Pearl of Asia”, Phnom Penh is one of the loveliest French colonial cities in Indochina. Along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh is a significant global and domestic tourist destination.
“Phnom Penh takes its name from the present Wat Phnom (Hill Temple). Legend has it that in 1372 an old nun named Lady Penh went to fetch water in the Mekong and found a dead Kukui tree floating downstream. Inside a hole of the tree were four bronze and one stone Buddha statues. Daun (Grandma) Penh brought the statues ashore and ordered people to pile up earth northeast of her house; she then used the Kukui trunks to build a temple on the hill to house the five Buddha statues, and named the temple after herself as Wat Phnom Daun Penh, which is now known as Wat Phnom, a small hill 89 feet high.
Phnom Penh was previously known as Krong Chaktomuk (Khmer), meaning ‘City of Four Faces’. The name refers to the junction where the Mekong, Bassac, and Tonlé Sap Rivers cross to form an “X” at the site of the capital city. Krong Chaktomuk is short for its ceremonial name which was given by King Ponhea Yat. The ceremonial name comes from Pali, and loosely translates as “The place of four rivers that gives the happiness and success of Kampuja Kingdom, the highest leader, as well as impregnable city of the God Indra.”
Tomorrow I’ll visit the Royal Palace. Other points of interest are Wat Phnom, Preah Vihear Temple, the Independence Monument, remembrances of the genocide at Toul Sleng Museum (formerly a Khmer Rouge prison), and the Killing Fields memorial. Will hire a tuk-tuk driver to take me around, or maybe if I am brave, go on the back of a motorcycle.
I’m meeting friends in Siem Reap on December 10th and looking forward to seeing familiar faces after five months of traveling solo. This is a wonderful experience, and I feel very fortunate to be here – absolutely love Cambodia!