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  • Alex Gillam

Where in the World: Phnom Penh

Situated at the confluence of three rivers: the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac, Phnom Penh was founded in 1372 after a pious woman discovered four bronze Buddha statues inside a fallen koki tree that was floating along the river.

To show tribute, the woman and her neighbors built a shrine atop a hill near her home; over time, the hill, and the town that subsequently developed around it, became known as Phnom Penh ('Phnom' is the Khmer word for 'hill' and 'Penh' was the lady's name). The shrine itself became known as Wat Phnom, and over the centuries it has been renovated and re-built to reflect the amalgamation of cultures from across the city’s 600-year history.

Now the most populous city in Cambodia, Phnom Penh originally served as the royal capital of the country from 1432 to 1505, at which point it was abandoned by subsequent kings for nearly 300 years. Finally, in 1865, King Norodom I decreed that Phnom Penh would be the royal capital once again and ordered 10,000 of his subjects to move to Phnom Penh, a decision that has held ever since.

And while there have been a few fast food restaurants introduced to the city over the years, Phnom Penh (and Cambodia as a whole) has made headlines for being one of the few major Asian cities to have never opened a single McDonalds. Though this can be difficult to imagine for those of us who can spot a McDonalds in every city, the local population here relies on rice, tropical fruits and seafood for their diet, so there has never been a strong demand for the restaurant in the country.

For more information on Phnom Penh and Cambodia in general, head on over to our destination page.

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