We stayed at local little hotels in Siem Reap and Phnom Phen and travelled the distant between them by local coach. We were trying to travel as consciously as possible, so we used local transport, local tuktuk drivers, local hotels, local shops and local street food places. And we had a ball, I can’t begin to tell you how much we enjoyed getting to know more about the people and their culture.
Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia and has been since the mid 15th century; (prior to that it was Angkor). It’s former name was Chaktomuk, (the Four Faces) meaning it was situated at the four-branched confluence of the Mekong River. Legend has it that a local woman, Old Lady Penh (Duan Penh), was living by the chaktomuk and one day a floating koki tree went past, which she hooked out. Inside the tree she found four Buddha statues and one of Vishnu. This was seen as a divine blessing for the area and she raised a hill and built a shrine (now known as Wat Phonm) atop it to house them. ‘Phonm’ is Khmer for ‘hill’ and the hill took on the name of its founder. So the capital was moved from Angkor to what was to become Phnom Penh.
Cambodia had many different countries try to take over, the last one was France. The French stayed in control for most of the first half of the 20th century. As the population grew (in 1939 there were 109,000) the city continued to expand and the wetlands to the west were drained to accommodate this.
Cambodia became independent of France in 1954 and was relatively peaceful and until 1970 when there was the Lon Not coup. This was the beginning of the war between the government and the communist Khmer Rouge. The city finally fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975 with the deaths of thousands of people. Between December 1978 to January 1979, the invading Vietnamese army managed to free the city and then, the country.
Phnom Penh was a shambles but slowly people returned; raising the population figures from 100,000 at the end of 1979 to 615,000 by 1990. As part of a UN brokered deal, national elections were held in 1993 and the country proudly became its own master as last. The 21st century has seen expansion everywhere and the population rose to over 2,000,000.
We would love to go back again, there is so much to explore and we only managed a small part of it. The welcome is genuine, you won’t want to leave.