"Phnom Penh is an attractive city of about 80,000 inhabitants, situated at the junction of two rivers and, like most of the towns on the Mekong, it possesses a broad boulevard on the river-front with an avenue of trees. Trees line many of the streets as in Saigon, an in the midst of the European quarter there are beautiful botanical gardens, containing aviaries and cages of wild animals. The gardens surround a small hill, called the Phnom - whence the town takes its name - which is crowned by a Buddhist monument with a conical spire. A steep flight of steps lead to its summit with twin images of Naga, the many headed serpent, carved in stone at the base of the balustrades."
Horace Bleackly. A Tour in Southern Asia 1925-26.Published in London 1928
Nowadays Phnom Penh is a vibrant and bustling capital city with around 2,000,000 residents with motorbikes and cars and a culture of sidewalk cafes established in recent years.
The city is conveniently located on the banks where three rivers - the Mekong, the Tonle Sap and the Bassac - converge, a location known to Cambodians as Chatomuk, or four faces.
The French influence can be felt today in the city, a legacy of a 90 year period that saw the construction of many lovely colonial era residences for French administrators. However, Phnom Penh’s era of modern development and planning took place after independence in 1953, with the addition of tree lined avenues, gardens with fountains and several distinctive monuments reflecting the city’s new found sense of freedom.
Phnom Penh-ites rise early. Be prepared to be awakened by the strains of Buddhist music playing in the street, motorbikes tooting their horns, and a rooster crowing. There is plenty to see, starting with a tour of the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, Independence Monument, Wat Phnom and the market areas where hand woven silks, silver, gems and antiques will compete for your attention. The waterfront of the city has been rejuvenated in recent years and now countless al fresco restaurants and bars, with views stretching across the Mekong, have made this area one of the Indochina’s in vogue ‘places to be’.
Outside Phnom Penh are a choice of pleasant half day and full day trips to ancient hilltop temples with far reaching vistas and enchanting countryside waiting to be explored.