Phnom Penh is the capital and most populous city of Cambodia. Located on the banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong River, Phnom Penh has been the national capital since French colonization of Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation’s economic, industrial, and cultural center.
Once known as the “Pearl of Asia,” it was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina in the 1920s. Phnom Penh, along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, are significant global and domestic tourist destinations for Cambodia. Founded in 1434, the city is noted for its beautiful and historical architecture and attractions. There are a number of surviving French colonial buildings scattered along the grand boulevards.
Situated on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac rivers, the Phnom Penh metropolitan area is home to about 1.5 million of Cambodia’s population of over 14.8 million.
Phnom Penh (literally, “Penh’s Hill”) takes its name from the present Wat Phnom (“Hill Temple”). Legend has it that in 1372, a wealthy widow named Lady Penh found a Koki tree floating down the Tonle Sap river after a storm. Inside the tree were four bronze Buddha statues and a stone statue of Vishnu. Daun Penh ordered villagers to raise the height of the hill northeast of her house and used the Koki wood to build a temple on the hill to house the four Buddha statues, and a shrine for the Vishnu image slightly lower down. The temple became known as Wat Phnom Daun Penh, which is now known as Wat Phnom, a small hill 27 metres (89 ft) in height.
First recorded a century after it is said to have taken place, the legend of the founding of Phnom Penh tells of a local woman, Penh (commonly referred to as Daun Penh (“Grandmother Penh” or “Old Lady Penh”) in Khmer), living at Chaktomuk, the future Phnom Penh. It was the late 14th century, and the Khmer capital was still at Angkor near Siem Reap 350 km (217 mi) to the north. Gathering firewood along the banks of the river, Lady Penh spied a floating koki tree in the river and fished it from the water. Inside the tree she found four Buddha statues and one of Vishnu.