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Phnom Penh Overview

Phnom Penh is often overlooked by visitors to Cambodia who head straight for the temples of Angkor at Siem Reap. However, this capital city has a certain charm with its colonial buildings, wide boulevards, pagodas and riverside walks. Those who take time to visit Phnom Penh will find a bustling 4city, emerging with renewed confidence from troubled times. Much of the city was badly damaged and its treasures thrown into the river in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge, and when its citizens returned in 1979 they found just shells of buildings in which to live. Decades later city life has improved, there is optimism
in the air with the expat community and visitors providing employment opportunities for many. The streets are on a grid system, more or less, with even-numbered streets east to west and odd numbers north to south.

Phnom Penh was founded in the 14th century but didn’t become the capital until 1866 when Cambodia became a French Protectorate. The 20th century was a difficult one for the city and country: it was occupied by the Japanese in World War II, then sided with the North Vietnamese against the Americans, resulting in them dropping bombs on Cambodia and causing a flood of refugees into the city. Dissatisfied left-wing fighters, known as the Khmer Rouge, engaged in a civil war with the right-wing government culminating in them emptying Phnom Penh of its residents in April 1975 and returning the country to Year Zero with great brutality. The invasion by the Vietnamese in 1979 started the very slow recovery of the city and country and it endured political turmoil until UN-backed elections in 1993 and the crowning of King Sihanouk the same year. Since the late 1990s, when the Khmer Rouge were totally disempowered, political life has settled down to a certain extent and 2004 saw a new king, Sihamoni, take up residence in the Royal Palace following the abdication of his father.

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