Phnom Penh Location Profile

Phnom Penh Location Profile
Phnom Penh Location Profile


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Situated where three rivers intersect, the Mekong, Tonle Sap and the Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh has been the capital city of the Kingdom of Cambodia since the mid-1860s. Since its humble beginnings, Phnom Penh has grown to become the nation's unquestionable political and economic center, serving as the seat of government and hub for foreign investment. 

Cambodia had the second fastest rate of urban spatial expansion in Southeast Asia between 2010-2015 according to the most recent reports from the World Bank. Cambodia’s average growth rate of around 7 percent year-on-year continues to fuel an economic boom in Phnom Penh, and the rapidly developing city now offers all you would expect from a modern Asian metropolis. From expansive shopping centers and purpose-built retail malls, high-rise residential and commercial buildings, and five-star hotels, a variety of restaurants and eclectic F&B options, and a vibrant nightlife; Phnom Penh is attracting visitors and investors from all around the world. 

Phnom Penh's economy encompasses a range of industries from textiles and agricultural processing to various forms of commodity trading.

Phnom Penh's financial sector has grown considerably in recent years, especially since the establishment of the Cambodian Stock Exchange (CSX) in 2012. The CSX raised a record $151 million in securities and corporate bond trading in 2019 which represents a 26 percent increase from $120 million in 2018. 

Extravagant new modern buildings across Phnom Penh are changing the capital’s skyline and transforming it into a playground where a new generation of Cambodians from the country's emerging middle class rub shoulders with the local elite and international investors. 

Yet, wealth distribution remains unequal in Cambodia, meaning local tastes are ultimately hinged on the associated costs. Nevertheless, as the middle class continues to grow and prosper, consumer products and services are growing at a rate previously unseen in the nation, and more so in the capital than anywhere else.

Key Information

Legend has it that Phnom Penh was named after Lady Penh, a devout buddhist who found four bronze buddha statues in a tree on the Mekong River. She saw this as a sign and built a temple (pagoda) and kept them safe on a hill, now known as Wat Phnom. In the Khmer language, "Phnom" means "Hill", so the city of Phnom Penh translates as "the hill of the lady Penh".

The pagoda is located on a vantage point to the north of the city, which overlooks Phnom Penh. At the foot of Wat Phnom is a round park decorated with flowers and trees offering a greenspace which is popular for locals and visitors to visit and relax in.

Phnom Penh, originally, was not the main urban centre of the Khmer people. But that changed in the 14th century, when the Khmer king, Ponhea Yat, moved the capital from Siem Reap after the Siamese empire invaded Angkor. 

Phnom Penh was also once a hub for French colonialists, and the city featured wide roads, beautiful gardens and fine colonial era mansions. The city was called the "Pearl of Asia" in the 1920s and in the following decades, Phnom Penh experienced rapid development with the construction of a railway to Sihanoukville. This was later followed by the opening of the first Cambodian international airport - Phnom Penh International Airport (Pochentong International Airport).

Phnom Penh's infrastructure underwent a major modernisation development during much of King Norodom Sihanouk’s reign during the 1950’s and 60s. However, in the 1970s, in the shadow of the Vietnam War, this vibrant city was brutally ruled by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. After 1979,  and some of the darkest years in Cambodjan history, the Khmer Rouge were finally driven out of Phnom Penh by the combined efforts of the Cambodian government and Vietnamese armies, and the process to rebuild the city and the nation began.

Phnom Penh has a mix of beautiful buildings and attractive attractions representing its varied history and progression. During the period of reconstruction after the war, Cambodia, under the organisation and supervision of UNTAC (The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) enjoyed relative stability and received investment and assistance from various countries including France, Australia and Japan, which were major donors. At the same time, the new internationally recognised Cambodian government attracted foreign investment through a variety of favourable investment conditions. The free market economic model has allowed the Kingdom to take an unprecedented leap forward in economic development for decades.

Phnom Penh’s local economy is driven by a wide range of commercial endeavours from mom-and-pop shops to medium-large local enterprises. These enterprises cover a wide range of goods and services which has turned Phnom Penh into a metropolitan city attractive to Western and Asian expatriates and investors.

The city is also home to the country's biggest exports, such as garments, textiles, and footwear (GTF). The GTF sector contributes a significant portion of the country’s annual GDP and is considered one of the pillars of Cambodia's economy. The garment, footwear and travel goods sector earned Cambodia a gross revenue of US$9.32 billion in 2019.

The agricultural sector based around the outskirts of Phnom Penh and prominent in other provinces also hugely contributes to Cambodia’s GDP as the country’s agricultural output allows it to be one of the top 10 global rice exporters and the nation supplies the international market with rubber, maize, cassava, and palm oil. Low-skilled sectors such as agriculture have been important pillars of Cambodia's post-war economic development. In 2015, the garment and shoe industry accounted for 26.1 percent of Cambodia's economy, agriculture 29 percent and the service sector 39.4 percent. 

Phnom Penh's central business district (CBD) is home to many banks and corporate businesses. The outskirts of the city also are home to textile factories and other major factories. The tourism industry is one of the most valuable to Cambodia's sustained economic growth and in recent years, the construction industry has also become the main driver of economic growth in Phnom Penh. Cambodia’s construction sector saw a total investment of 9.35 billion U.S. dollars in 2019, with China, South Korea and Japan the biggest investors in Cambodia’s construction and real estate sector.

Major export markets include the United States, China, Europe, Canada and Vietnam. Cambodia imports mainly from neighbouring countries and in the Asian region, notably from Vietnam, Thailand, as well as mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Cambodia's main exports are clothing and footwear, accounting for more than 80 per cent of total exports. Automobiles, textiles and energy products are major imports.

Phnom Penh has a river-based inland Phnom Penh Autonomous Port (PPAP) and a subsidiary dry port, and depending on the season and height of the rivers, it can accommodate varying size ships. For example, a 3,000-4,000-ton ship can sail down the Mekong River from Phnom Penh and directly into the South China Sea via southern Vietnam. During the rainy season, a 4,000-ton ship can travel up the Mekong River from Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham. The Tonle Sap river also provides access to the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, the Tonle Sap lake. 

In 2019, Phnom Penh had a total population of 2.13 million with a population growth rate of 3.92%. The total population density in 679 square kilometres (262 sq. mi) is 3,136 inhabitants per square kilometre. The city’s area has grown fourfold since 1979, and the metro area will continue to expand in order to support the city's growing population and economy. 

41.09% of the population are between 25 and 54 years old, with an average age of 25.7 years. Cambodia’s population is young, largely because of the genocide and civil war during the Khmer Rouge era. In recent years, the Cambodian government has also been trying to strengthen education and employment, as well as actively develop a young workforce and embrace technologies and implement Industry 4.0 practises.

Around 90% of the country's population is Khmer; the remaining minorities are the Cham, Vietnamese, Chinese, and indigenous ethnic groups sometimes called Khmer Loeu.

The official language in Phnom Penh is Khmer, but English and French are widely used in the city. 

The state religion is Theravada Buddhism and more than 90% of the people in Phnom Penh are Buddhists - religion is a big part of local culture, tradition and business. Chams have been practicing Islam for hundreds of years in Cambodia and since 1993, there has also been an increase in the practice of Christianity which was practically wiped out after 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over.

Things To Do in Phnom Penh

Cambodia is traditionally known for its silk, wood carvings, silver and stone carvings. If you want to buy something genuine with ethnic characteristics, local markets (Phsar) and specialised shops are a good source. Haggling or bargaining is also one of the joys (or challenges) of shopping in Cambodia. Silverware, for example, is priced from between $2 to $10, depending on quality, volume and workmanship. Cambodia is also rich in rubies, when buying gems, you should pay special attention to colour and texture, and beware of fake goods.

International retail brands that are available in Cambodia include Nike, Puma, Calvin Klein, Colombia, Gap, Next, Adidas, JimmyChoo, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana and many more, with a number having set up their own flagship stores in the city. 

The popular shopping areas are:

Phnom Penh Central Market: Known as Phsar Thom Thmey, French architects designed and built the iconic building. The Art Deco dome looks like a flying saucer topped in gold and it is one of Phnom Penh's busiest markets - housing a wide variety of shops and vendors, including clothes, fruit, electronics and souvenirs. You can find all kinds of local food and snacks which include a variety of fried insects, such as spiders, or grasshoppers.

Phnom Penh Night Market: The capital’s night market is located close to the riverside of the Tonle Sap River. There are ample selections of souvenirs, clothes, food, hand ornaments, cosmetics, bamboo and wood products and other crafts. It is only open in the evening and popular with locals and tourists and there is usually some form of live entertainment.

Phnom Penh Russian Market: In the 1980s the market was popular with Russian expats so it was called the "Russian Market”. There are a variety of Buddhist statues, wood carvings, silk, silver jewellery and musical Instruments as well as clothing and electronics available. There are also many designer brands but the authenticity is not always reliable so please be careful when you buy these.

Chip Mong Mall 271: Chip Mong 271 Mega Mall is a gigantic mall located in the south of Phnom Penh, Sangkat Chak Angre. The retail space brings together local and international brands under one roof. It is the first mall to welcome Zara in Cambodia and Karl Lagerfeld. It offers a wide range of services, including F&B stores, entertainment facilities, and other essential conveniences for visitors.

AEON Mall:  It is one of the biggest malls operating in Cambodia and offers a wide selection of retail outlets, F&B, groceries, a cinema and food courts. The multi-storey building is open 7 days a week and has become a key attraction in an increasingly popular city area. AEON Mall Phnom Penh opened in 2014, followed by AEON 2 Sen Sok in 2020 and AEON Mall 3 opened in 2023.

Eden Garden: The mixed retail and food and beverage mall is new and located in the heart of Phnom Penh and is surrounded by a large number of developments in an area that was built on a reclaimed lake. It is a good place for entertainment and food with new venues being added in what is known as the Phnom Penh City Centre. There are about a dozen new malls under construction in Phnom Penh.

The city is home to the country's royal family and political leaders, consulates and embassies. Phnom Penh is often the first stop for foreign investors and tourists, also due to the number of airlines and transport routes into the capital.

The capital is home to the Cambodian Royal Palace, Independence Monument, museums (including the National Museum), important pagodas (Silver Pagoda and Wat Analoum) and historical and cultural attractions. The city boasts modern office buildings, the country's largest international shopping malls and has a transportation network linking it to all parts of the country.

The Royal Palace of Cambodia is situated near the riverside and is still the official residence to the Kingdom’s monarchy as it has been since the 1860s. The property includes four areas, and the site is very popular with tourists while the lawns in the front are a popular relaxation spot for Cambodians, especially on the weekends. Inside the four compounds are the Silver Pagoda, the Khemarin Palace Throne Hall, and the Inner Court. 

The Cambodian National Museum is located near the Royal Palace. The entire building is clad in red clay and houses a rich collection of 14,000 cultural relics, ranging from the pre-Angkor era to the modern era! It is not only the largest Cambodian museum but also the leading historical and archaeological museum in Cambodia.

To commemorate Cambodia's independence from France in 1953, a magnificent Independence Monument was erected in the heart of the capital in 1958. Every year on November 9th, Cambodia celebrates its independence day. In the nearby Hun Sen Park, is the statue to commemorate the late King Norodom. The park and monuments are well lit at night and popular with residents and tourists who visit the area to exercise, socialise and play sports.

There are several buildings which have kept their original colonial designs, a notable landmark of the colonial era is the Raffles Hotel Le Royal, but other modern hotels are joining the landscape. Travellers also visit the well known historical sites that educate on the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge genocide such as at S21 Prison/Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields.

Compared to any other Cambodian city, Phnom Penh has by far the widest selection of cuisine available, with local dishes and international restaurants in abundance. The city’s attractiveness has made itself home to people from different nationalities and as a result, a mix of culinary tastes is available at a range of affordable prices. The food is a great representation of the history of influences upon the city and its modern cosmopolitan makeup, with Khmer, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, French, Thai, and various other cultures represented. 

Like many Asian countries, the staple food of Cambodia is rice. Daily dishes accompanying rice are salted fish, chicken, beef or pork. Some of the more well known traditional dishes include prahok and kapi which are popular bases for sauces with but have an acquired taste. Cambodian dishes commonly found on menus include Amok (a sweet coconut based curry), Lok Lak (which includes a pepper beef and fresh vegetables) or a variety of broths and noodle dishes as well as BBQs with sweet scent meats.

Bowls of refreshing rice noodles are consumed throughout the city,  which are cooked with very fine rice noodles and a mix of fresh vegetables and spices. Other commonly found snacks are fruits and vegetables with chili spices, fried bananas or boiled eggs.

Restaurants in Phnom Penh offer mixed fusions dishes such as Chinese chow mein, or French and Khmer fusion menus. Due to France's colonial past, there are plenty of stalls in Phnom Penh selling baguettes and pastries and breads, or sandwiches.

There is an incredibly vibrant coffee scene in Phnom Penh, you will find one of the well known brands in nearly every area, if not on the same street, clustered together. Brands such as Brown Coffee, Amazon Cafe, Starbucks and many more boutique cafes as well as affordable Cambodian roadside coffee stalls are a common feature of the city and make for great social hangouts, locations for business meetings or simply an ideal place to watch the city pass you by.

Phnom Penh has also seen a rise in supermarkets and convenience stores populating the city. Well-known supermarkets include AEON, Lucky Supermarket, Super Duper (popular for expat imported goods), Thai Hout as well as Chip Mong supermarkets. International franchised corner stores like Circle K have grown in numbers and 7-Eleven is expected to arrive in 2021.

Phnom Penh’s nightlife is varied and plentiful with live music, social destinations for eating and drinking, cinemas and other forms of live entertainment, clubs, karaoke and more.

You can dine out at the best restaurants and indulge in high quality food in lavish settings or enjoy the Cambodian street food, there is a menu for all budgets in the city. For authentic Cambodian food, some local favourites include Romdeng, Meatophum and Mok Mony Restaurant.

You can relax at the Night Market on the riverside and feast on a selection of offerings from the street food stalls, plus there is a spacious area to sit, eat and unwind. Often there are free concerts or local performances too so it's a great place to just soak in the local atmosphere.

There are plenty of rooftop bars and restaurants which now perch on the skyline of Phnom Penh. Or venture to Street 308 (Bassac Lane), if you’re looking for a hip area filled with modern bars and restaurants. An enduring favourite is Piccola Italia Da Luigi (offering Italian cuisine), but new places are always popping up. There is a wide selection of cocktail and themed bars and the best way to experience the vibe is simply to stroll around and see what clicks with you.

You can also take a relaxing cruise on the Tonle Sap, or witness the cultural dance groups in nightly performances, while the late night scene has an array of DJs, bands and clubs to explore. The nightlife is forever changing and venues are being added constantly so memorable nights are waiting for you.

Phnom Penh International Airport is the biggest airport in the Kingdom in 2020, located approximately 7 kilometers west of the central city. Cambodia now has a few local airline companies and the industry has been growing rapidly as has the number of international and domestic routes. There are also new, bigger, airports under construction in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and in Koh Kong.

Cambodia Angkor Air is the national flag carrier, with its headquarters in Phnom Penh with an additional hub at the Angkor International Airport in Siem Reap province. New direct flight routes around the region and to the rest of the world are being constantly announced. The overall capacity at Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville airports saw passenger traffic reach a record 11.6 million passengers in 2019.

Luckily, there is a wide range of public transportation options for you within the country too. Cambodia’s tuk tuk or the remork-moto is a carriage attached to a motorcycle and popular in the major cities, while newer smaller tuk tuks have also entered the market in recent years and are popular with a number of ride-hailing apps which are commonly used in Phnom Penh.

You can also travel via the traditional cyclo (pedicab) or on a moto (motodops or motorbike taxis). These are usually found around markets, hotels and restaurants in Phnom Penh. Taxis are also alternatives for commuters.

Within the city itself a number of bus services are available with set routes, while water taxis have also started operating as the city expands and it deals with a growing traffic issue.

River ferries between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are offered seasonally (except for April, May, and June when the water levels are too low for passenger boats). These ferries usually depart at 7 AM daily from the Phnom Penh Port on Sisowath Quay (check with the operators as the riverside is undergoing massive redevelopment), with the trip taking around 8 or so hours. The long travel time is not ideal for tourists in a rush, but if you’re taking your time, then traveling via the river offers its own unique set of sights. There are also more exclusive and luxury boat trips to Vietnam.

The Cambodian railways are also undergoing development and currently, there is a Southern line down to Sihanoukville and a Northern line to Poipet for passengers. There are hopes that the Cambodian capital will be linked to Thailand in the near future.

Phnom Penh is understandably mostly inhabited by Cambodians (Khmers) who represent 90% of the population of the city. Phnom Penh is the largest city in Cambodia and due to the shift of global industries, Phnom Penh has been flooded with a large number of foreigners. Over 300,000 expats residents account for more than 10% of the permanent population of the city. According to the latest Cambodian census in 2019, the total population of the country is 15.29 million and Phnom Penh, has a population of 2.13 million. 

There are over 400,000 Chinese in Cambodia, and nearly 200,000 Chinese live in Phnom Penh. In addition there are large groups of Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, British, American, French and other nationalities represented in the capital, making Phnom Penh the nation’s cosmopolitan hub.

These expats are involved primarily in the private sector and NGOs with many also teaching and working in the F&B industry. More and more international companies have set up in Phnom Penh, which has led to rising rent costs. 

Real Estate in Phnom Penh

Khans in Phnom Penh