Phnom Penh: Cambodia’s New Capital Under King Sihanouk


The decision for Phnom Penh to become the national capital of Cambodia had occurred previous times in the past, all recognizing the strategic location of Phomn Penh as the intersection of the three main rivers in Cambodia – The Mekong, Tonle Sap, and Basaac River. However, the shift from being a French Colony to the rule of King Norodom Sihanouk saw national systems of Cambodia transfer to the city of Phnom Penh.


As the French passed judicial and interior affairs over to King Sihanouk, Sihanouk officially declared Cambodia’s Independence from French colonization in 1953. Two of his first acts were the most influential: The first being the abdication of the throne, shifting from a monarchy to a democratic political system in order to be more involved in the decision-making of laws and legislations. This saw massive public support as the ruler of the country had a more intimate connection to the desires of his people. The second was the decision to move major financial, political, and infrastructural activities to Phnom Penh, solidifying it as Cambodia’s capital city for the future.


Geographically, Phnom Penh represented the symbolic center of the three main rivers, as the general rise of international commerce pre 20th Century meant that maritime trade could be a large contributor to the economy for Cambodia. Coming from a mainly agrarian economic system similar to those of Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, opportunities for global trade also affected how the city found a unique identity and grew post colonization.


Phnom Penh Urban Expansion between 1890 and 1958. Arunatechnology, 2012.




Arunatechnology. <>. December 28, 2018.

Michel, Igout. Phnom Penh Then and Now. Bangkok: White Lotus. 1993.

Ross, Helen; and Collins, Darryl. Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture, 1953-1970. Bangkok: The Key Publisher Company Limited, 2006.  



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