Located where the Mekong, Bassac, and Sab Rivers meet, the Port of Phnom Penh is the capital and main city of Cambodia. It is an important political, cultural, industrial, commercial, tourist, and historic center for Southeast Asia. Called the "Pearl of Asia" in the 1920s, the Port of Phnom Penh is well known for the French-style and traditional Khmer architecture. The richest city in Cambodia, the Port of Phnom Penh is undergoing an economic boom with new restaurants, bars, hotels, and residential buildings blossoming every day, making it one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.
Even though it is 290 kilometers from the ocean, the Port of Phnom Penh is a major Mekong River Valley port through its link to the China Sea on the Hau Giang channel of the Mekong River delta. The Port of Phnom Penh is linked to other parts of Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia's Kampong Saom (known as Sihanoukville) seaport. Economic growth has continued since the 1990s, and many new shops and malls have opened. Many new fast-food franchises are also appearing throughout the Port of Phnom Penh. In 2003, over 1.1 million of Cambodia's 13 million residents lived in the Port of Phnom Penh.
The Port of Phnom Penh succeeded Angkor Thom (after Siam captured it) as the Khmer Empire's capital in 1434, but it was abandoned many times. Japanese immigrants moved to the outskirts of the Port of Phnom Penh in the 1600s.
In 1865, King Norodom I re-established the Port of Phnom Penh and the permanent capital. Before the middle of the 19th Century, the Port of Phnom Penh was primarily a processing center with manufacturers of textiles, machines, and pharmaceuticals as well as rice mills. French colonialists made many improvements during this period. To control the wetlands, they extended the canal system, filled in several lakes, and built roads.
The Port of Phnom Penh was established by the French in 1905 when two 40-meter pontoons were set up on the river. The city of Phnom Penh was built around a Royal Palace and Preah Morokot Pagoda. The Royal Palace consisted of the 1919 Palace, the Royal Museum, and the Royal Plain (Veal Mien) where the congress met two times a year.
In 1952, a concrete pier was built near the Chroy Changva Bridge, which continued to grow through 1960 until it was 185 meters long with alongside depth of 12 meters. During the United States' Vietnam War of the 1960s and early 1970s, the North Vietnamese Army used Cambodia as a base, and refugees escaping the war surged into the Port of Phnom Penh. By 1970, over two million people lived in the Port of Phnom Penh, including many educated and rich elites.
The Port of Phnom Penh's terminal was closed from 1975 to 1979 by the Pol Pot regime.
In the middle 20th Century, the Port of Phnom Penh was rich with cultural treasures. The Royal Museum contained Khmer historical documents and works of art. The Port of Phnom Penh's European quarter was located at the base of Phnom Penh Hill, where a pagoda held the ashes of the lady of legend who is said to have discovered a bronze Buddha there. The city then adopted Lady Penh's name. The Port of Phnom Penh was also home to Buddhist and Pāli institutes and the Buddhist University. The Royal Ballet was world-famous and, until the modern era, performed only before Cambodian royals. A national theater brought ancient works to life.
The Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and the Port of Phnom Penh in 1975. They forced the Port of Phnom Penh's residents to leave and drove them to rural areas. Until the Vietnamese liberated Port of Phnom Penh from the Khmer Rouge in 1979, the Port of Phnom Penh remained almost completely deserted. During their time in power, the Khmer Rouge tried to return the country to an agrarian economy. They forced many of the former wealthy elites to labor on farms, and they imprisoned and killed those who were educated, lazy, or politically threatening. The failure of their new agrarian society, as well as the sale of rice to China for weapons, resulted in the starvation of many tens of thousands. Torture was common. Today, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school in the Port of Phnom Penh, displays the Khmer Rouge's torture devices and photographs of their victims. The famous Killing Fields (Choeung Ek), where they marched prisoners from Tuol Sleng to be murdered about 15 kilometers from the school building, is now a memorial to their victims.
In 1980, the two floating terminals and the concrete pier were restored. In 1995, the floating terminals were equipped with lighting and fresh water supply. Today, the floating terminals serve passenger and tourist boats, and the concrete pier (which is now 300 meters long) can berth as many as four vessels at the same time.
In the years after the Khmer Rouge were defeated, the Port of Phnom Penh has gradually been repopulated. But because the Khmer Rouge killed almost all of the educated class in Cambodia, recovery will be slow for the Port of Phnom Penh's most treasured cultural assets. In the 1990s and beyond, the Port of Phnom Penh has enjoyed a period of reconstruction and political stability. Foreign investments and aid has come from Australia, France, and Japan. Loans from international banking institutions have financed water treatment facilities, road improvements, and other infrastructure repairs and rebuilding.