The Cambodian Legend of Phnom Penh

Highly praised for its rich natural surroundings, culture, and architecture, there is still more to explore in Cambodia. In this nation, ancient and modern worlds collide to create an authentic adventure. But did you know that within this magical kingdom lies urban legends, which mostly recount the origins behind its sites? 

There is a magic about this mysterious yet charming nation that casts a spell on visitors. In Cambodia, one of its most unique aspects arises from preserving its ancient civilization. While exploring Cambodia will surely transport travelers to another world, delve into the legendary story of Phnom Penh's founding to fully immerse in the cultural aspect of this land.


The Myth of Phnom “Grandma” Penh

Vibrant, dynamic Phnom Penh is the heartbeat of Cambodia. A stretched capital, it is spread out beside the banks of both the Tonlé Sap and Mekong Rivers. A city of central boulevards and back alleys, Phnom Penh, is where old and modern blend. However, only a few know about the legendary story of the founding of Phnom Penh.

At that time, the capital of the Khmer kingdom was still Angkor. The legend says that an old lady called “Lady Penh” or “Grandma Penh” is the one who founded Phnom Penh. According to the tale, she was a rich widow who lived in Chaktomuk village, which translates to the “Four Faces” due to its location. The land took place at the four-arm junction of the upper and lower Mekong River, the Tonle Sap, and the Bassac. 

One day, during a flood in the Mekong River, a koki tree floated up to her garden. Lady Penh planned to used it for firewood but then noticed it was hollow and inside the tree, she found four bronze Buddha statues. She saw this as a sign that the Buddha wanted a new home. 

Along with the villagers, Lady Penh decided to build a temple (Wat) on top of a hill. Lady Penh raised a small hill and had the koki tree sawn to use as the pillars of a shrine to preserve the sacred statues.

Eventually, this temple grew popular and soon became a pilgrimage site. As believed by the people, the villagers would come to pay respect to the Buddha images and pray at the temple to make their wishes come true. 

Ultimately, the village grew bigger and became known as Phnom Daun Penh, which means “Hill of Lady Penh”. However, the word Daun was eventually cut with time, which was how Phnom Penh formed! Today, this century-old temple built by Lady Penh is the famous Wat Phnom, located north of central Phnom Penh. Nowadays, Wat Phnom means “Hill Temple”.