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Home> Destinations> Asia> Phnom Penh> Overview


Updated: 2015-02-13 / (phnom-penh.co)





City Introduction

As the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh is located in the southeastern part of the country, with permanent residents of over 2 million. It’s very accessible to different parts of Cambodia and several neighboring countries from Phnom Penh, as its expanding road network improves steadily. However, you may get disappointed if you expect the same speed as on the highways of China. The moving cars sometimes will come across a herd of cattle at leisure pace, or dogs and chickens rushing in front for brisk walk; in the rainy season, you will be seized with anxiety about crawling frogs in the middle of the road.

Phnom Penh sits on the confluence of four famed rivers of Southeast Asia: upper Mekong River, lower Mekong River, Tonle Sap River and Bassac River. The wide water surface looks like four arms stretching out; hence, the locality of Phnom Penh is also called “four arms bay.” At dusk, people gather at the riverbank square for fitness dance when enticed foreign tourists will join in the dancing crowd. The nightscape of Phnom Penh lined with streetlights exhibiting its charm as three-to-four storied French villas lie lazily in the glimmer of sunset and spiky pagodas take on the look of solemnness and mystery under the rosy sky.

Walking on the street of Phnom Penh, you will be treated with the ornate beauty of royal palace while catching a glimpse of the laid-back lifestyle of locals. The tantalizing food on the street forms the irresistible temptation for your palate. As a rapidly developed tourist city, Phnom Penh has its underside. Traffic jam, chaos, not so friendly residents and poor safety record, regular topics of long-term inhabitants of this city. Despite all these less desirable elements, this Southeastern Asian city evoking French aura has gradually stepped out of the shadow of Khmer Rouge, for a period of explosive growth.





History and Culture

In Khmer language, "Phnom" means "Hill", “Penh” is a family name, so the city Phnom Penh means "the hill of the lady Penh". According to historical records, a conflagration swept through Cambodia in 1372 AD. Lady Penh resided on a hill overlooking the riverbank of the Cambodian capital. One morning, when she was carrying water from the river she saw a tree floating in the torrent, with Buddha statues shining golden from the tree cave. She immediately called other women pulling the tree out of the river and found four bronze statues and a stone statue sitting in the tree cave. As a devout Buddhist, lady Penh believed that they were the heavenly gifts. Thus, she and other women washed the statues clean and took them home to worship in a solemn ceremony. Later, she and her neighbors raised a hill in front of her house, and built a temple atop to place the 5 statues into the shrine. In memory of lady Penh, the hill was named Phnom Penh, literally “Penh’s hill.” Local Chinese then called it “Jinben.” In Cantonese, “Ben” and “Bian” are close in pronunciation. Gradually, “Jinben” which has evolved into “Jinbian” is still in use today.





Natural Environment

Cambodia is located in the southern part of the Indo-China Peninsula, bordering with Vietnam to the east and southeast, adjoining Laos in the north, neighboring with Thailand in the west and northwest portion of the territory and stretching to edge of Gulf of Siam in the southwest. It boasts 460 kilometers of coastline.





Climate Change

Under tropical climate, weather in Phnom Penh is best described as hot and humid jointly influenced by the air from Gulf of Thailand (Gulf of Siam) and high pressure of the Indian Ocean. March to October is the “wet season” (rainy season), with both temperature and humidity staying at high level. The extreme temperature occasionally reaches to 38-39℃. November to April next year is “dry season”, with temperature dipping to 22℃; however, daytime temperature remains high with sporadic days when temperature dives to 17~19℃. Its average annual temperature hovers between 28℃ and 34℃. The pleasant period between November and January is the peak tourist season.





Useful Information

It’s accessible from Phnom Penh to other parts of Cambodia. Shuttle bus between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap runs a dozen times a day, and daily bus is scheduled to Sihanoukville, Kampot, Battambang, Ratanakiri, Koh Kong and Kratie. Most of buses running on the route of Phnom Penh - Siem Reap start from the nearby riverside night market. Tickets cost about $8 to $13; most of the bus companies have passenger pickup service, but some of them only offer such service when certain number is reached. Bus companies running pickup service leave bus at the terminal while dispatching mini-bus to pick up passengers from hotels. The best bus companies are Giant Ibis and Mekong Express, charging $13 and $12 respectively for the ticket.

The running time between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is about 6 hours. We suggest you should not take buses from accident-prone Paramount company; besides, its buses often stay at the station one hour behind the schedule in order to pick up passengers from different city sections. Bus ticket can be booked at travel agency or hotel in advance; you should get the clear answer on the availability of pickup service and exact pickup time at your lodging place. If you are not in a hurry, we suggest that you take the bus. Taxi and min-bus often run over the speed limit; they are prone to accidents because the drivers often speak over the phone while driving on less desirable road surface often clogged by oxcarts and horse-drawn carriages. You can also opt for a slow trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, as Kampong Cham and Kampong Thom, two intervening stops, are noted for their natural sights and cultural tradition, especially Sambor Prei Kuk of Kampong Thom that you should not miss out. There are daily bus running between Phnom Penh and the two placed mentioned above.

Information of Embassy and Consulate

Address: No.156, Mao Tse Toung Blvd., Phnom Penh, Cambodia

P.O. Box P.O.BOX 26

Contact Information: 00855-23-720922(Fax)

00855-12810928 (on-duty cell phone number)

00855-12901923 (consular protection on-duty cell phone number)

Website: http://kh.china-embassy.org


Email address: chinaemb_kh@mfa.gov.cn





Visa Information

Cambodia has begun providing e-visa service as applicants no longer need to make appearance at the Cambodian embassy; instead, they can apply tourist visa online. What you need to do is complete online application form and make payment with your credit card; when receiving your visa through email, you can print it out and take it with you on the trip to Cambodia. Entry type is limited to single entry at US$20 + US$5 (processing fee) + US$3 (additional bank charge). Your Cambodian e-visa is valid for 90 days from the date of its issuance. With your e-visa you can stay in Cambodia as a tourist for 30 days. You will get your visa after three (3) business days with passport remaining valid for at least 6 months at the time of entry; you need to upload a passport-size photo taken recently (JPEG or PNG format) and have one valid credit card (Visa/Master/American Express/Discovery) ready. Once visa is received, you can print out 3 copies (black and white is OK), one for entry, one for exit and another one as a backup at hand. You can apply for Cambodian tourist visa at Cambodian embassy in Hanoi or Cambodian consulate in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam at US$40. However, it’s rather troublesome with longer waiting time. You can delegate local travel agency in Vietnam and Thailand to handle the visa application. Payment rate for visa-on-arrival is USD 20.





Currency Exchange

The official currency in Cambodia, the Cambodian riel, trades at around 4,000 riel to the US dollar.

Thanks to dollarization in the country, you don’t need to be concerned about getting riel when you arrive in Cambodia. You’ll get change for your purchases in riel. Riel is a non-convertible currency, meaning once you have left Cambodia it’s useful only as memorabilia. Hence, you should spend them all or donate them to landmine victims and charity organizations. In a few places, you may get 4,200 riel to 1 dollar. If you are lucky, you should exchange for a bit more amount.






Today Cambodia is about 95 percent Buddhist. Throughout its history, Buddhist culture has been ubiquitous in this ancient country. As the largest religious architecture in the world, Angkor Wat presents the past and the heyday of the glorious Khmer Empire when Buddhism took the place of Hinduism. Today, pagoda that houses monks can be seen in the corner of every village, as people build magnificent pagoda to enshrine Buddha and various spirits. In Phnom Penh, the Silver Pagoda compound that attaches to the Royal Palace serves as the place for residing monks to hold religious ceremonies.

By the end of 2012, when the former King Norodom Sihanouk passed away, over 2, 000 monks poured on the Palace ground to commemorate the father of modern Cambodia. In real life, Pagoda to some extent takes the role of residential community, school and church. Villagers will bring flowers and offerings to local pagodas at Pchum Ben, the Festival of the Dead, honoring their ancestors, and receiving blessing from monks. Wedding and funeral ceremonies often take place there. Women are forbidden to touch monks, even not their wiives and daughters. Some married monks convert to Buddhism, but their marriage status stands. However, they can only live in the Pagoda, forbidden to have any contact with their wives and daughters. Entering into Pagoda, you need to remove shoes, hat and sunglasses. If you want to make donation, avoid directly talking about money but saying “Offering” instead. Dress conservatively, wear collared shirts and long pants or skirts.





Tourism Service Number

Police Tel: 117

Fire service: 118

Emergency (ambulance) 119






1.In Cambodia, white is the color of mourning; it’s a taboo to wear white pants and sarongs.

2.When visiting temple and residency of monks, shoes must be removed.

3.Not to pass things around with left hand, as left hand is considered dirty.

4.Don't touch a Cambodian person on the head as it is considered as highest part of the body and the focal point of intelligence and spiritual substance.

5.As peacock is considered as a bird of ill omen in Cambodia, people are not willing to see peacock and patterns with its image.





Festivals(Important/Historical/Folks Ones)

Victory Day January 7

This national holiday was established to commemorate the end of the Khmer Rouge regime and those who gave their lives fighting with the Khmer Rouge. On this day, grand celebrations with distinctive national characteristic are held at Phnom Penh’s Independence Square.

Chinese New Year Lunar Chinese New Year

Despite not being an official holiday, for Cambodians especially ethnic Chinese living in Cambodia, it’s a very important holiday. During the Chinese New Year celebrations, many shops will close for 3 days to a week. Locals will bring offerings to Buddhist temple praying for good luck and prosperity, as local chamber of commerce organizes typical Chinese lion dancing activity

Khmer New Year Celebrated on April 13 or 14 each year, Khmer New Year is a three-day affair.

Cambodia celebrates many festivals and holidays. During festivals and holidays, government officials often leave their post in advance and return to work a day or two later than required. In addition, though Chinese New Year is not an official holiday, particular attention on it given by the local ethnic Chinese community has won over many local officials. Most Chinese businesses shut down during this period; Cambodians will follow suit taking 3 days off.

Royal Ploughing Ceremony 4th day of the 6th lunar month's waning moon

An ancient royal rite that takes place on the 4th day of the 6th lunar month's waning moon (late May). During the observances, which are typically led by the agricultural department of the government, take place at a specified farmland simulating the process of annual labor. Government departments close for 1 day. Royal Ploughing Ceremony normally takes place at royal farmland adjacent to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh; however, 2010 event moved to Siem Reap.

Bonn Visak Bochea Held during the sixth full moon of the lunar calendar, usually in mid-May.

This is an important annual festival of Cambodia. Held during the sixth full moon of the lunar calendar, usually in mid-May, Bonn Visak Bochea signifies the birth, enlightenment, and death of the God Buddha. People down the street, make a cortege with candles, sermons, and religious chanting.

International Children's Day June 1

June 1 of every year as the whole country takes a day off.

Queen Mother's Birthday June 18

This national holiday was established to celebrate the birthday of Queen Mother Norodom Monineath on June 18.

Constitution Day September 24

This national holiday was established to celebrate the signing of the Cambodian constitution by King Sihanouk after the demise of the Khmer Rouge.

One day off for the whole country

Pchum Ben Festival A 15-day holiday that usually runs from the end of September to mid-October.

Equivalent to China’s Tomb-Sweeping Day, this national holiday was established for Buddhist to pay their respects to deceased relatives and make offerings to the "ghost" of deceased relatives. It bears rich Cambodian tradition and religious flavor. This is a festival which celebrated on a large scale in Cambodia for around 15 days, culminating day falling on the 15th day of the 10th month of the Khmer calendar. Since the last 3 days of the festival are legal holiday, both government and private citizens get 7 days off in general.

King Father's Commemoration Day October 15

King Sihanouk Commemoration Day to remember the former King Norodom Sihanouk, a revered figure among Cambodian people. Ordinary families will place their offerings in memory of their former king.

King's Coronation Day October 15

Anniversary of the coronation of the King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia. The Palace is lighted at night and always looking its best at this holiday.

Independence Day November 9

This national holiday was established to celebrate Cambodia's independence from France. Colorful ceremonies held at the Independence Monument in the morning. Fireworks on the riverfront in the evening.

Water Festival It is a three day festival celebrated on the full moon in October or November.

Celebrated on December 15 of the Buddhist calendar (usually takes place in November each year), the Water Festival is an important traditional holiday with 3-day celebrations held in Phnom Penh. Traditional long-boat races are held on the Tonle Sap River. Fireworks and a water-borne parade of lighted barges cap events in the early evening as the whole area takes on a carnival atmosphere.


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