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The Architecture of Phnom Penh

Architecturally speaking, Phnom Penh is a comparatively new city. Prior to the late 19th century the city was but a few pagodas and clusters of wooden structures along the riverfront. Almost every currently existing structure was built after the beginning of the French colonial period in 1863. ‘Chinese shophouse’ style buildings dominate the city, characterized by deep narrow apartments made up of a combined ground-floor business-front and upstairs residence.


Standing in distinctive difference, old European influenced colonial period structures are interspersed through the central city. At the height of the colonial period Phnom Penh was reputed to be the most beautiful city in French Indochina - recalling Paris in its manicured parks and picturesque boulevards lined with ornate villas. Though sometimes difficult to see through the grime and disrepair of years of hardship and neglect, much of that beauty still exists.


See History of Phnom Penh for more.

Architecture Tour and Sites of Architectural Interest

The historical architecture of the city may be divided into three broad categories:

1) The ubiquitous ‘Chinese shophouse’ style structures, some as old as the late 19th century but most from later periods.

2) Late-19th/early-20th century French Colonial buildings encompassing a range of influences and styles. Early villa-style residences and public buildings display an eclectic mix of European influences. Slightly later structures such as Phsar Thmei reflect the art deco movement and other ‘modern’ western styles of the period. Also of this period, ‘Colonial Traditional’ style buildings such as the National Museum that draw heavily on traditional Cambodian themes. Most of Phnom Penh’s colonial-era highlights are located within the city center with clusters near the Royal Palace, around Post Office Square and Wat Phnom, and dotting Norodom Blvd. from Sihanouk Blvd to Wat Phnom.

3) ‘New Khmer Architecture’ of the late-1950s/60s, such as the Chaktomuk Theatre and Independence Monument, built in the post-Independence ‘Golden-era’ and displaying a modern but distinctively Cambodian direction. Few examples exist in the city center.

See the city center map below for sites of architectural interest and a suggested walking tour route. The route passes many of the better French colonial buildings as well as examples of later architecture. Due primarily to proximity, very few examples of New Khmer Architecture are included. Also not listed below, the National Museum and Royal Palace should be included in any tour. The whole route takes about 4 hours on foot. Faster by cyclo or motodup.


(click for larger map)

AA1: Villa Late 19th century Sino-Khmer villa, displaying a mix of western architectural styles. In very good condition. Currently the offices of UNESCO.
A2: Villa Picturesque late 19th century villa in a dilapidated state.
A3: Old Royal Villa ‘No Problem Building’ Constructed c. 1905. One of the few remaining royal villas. Good condition.
A4: Villa Classic colonial era villa constructed c. 1905. Currently houses The Colonial Bar.
A6: Block of apartments/shops Constructed circa 1905.
A7: 1935-45 Apartments Distinctive art deco style apartment block attached to the Lux Cinema, much of the frontage hidden by a modern facade.
A8: Villa Constructed c. 1920. Small, colonial era villa.
A10: Block of shop houses Late 19th century in poor condition, buried is modern facades and signage.
A11: Block of apartments/shops A classic block of Phnom Penh architecture displaying a mix of periods from the 1930s(at the market end) through the 60s.
A12: Phsar Thmey Unique domed art deco market structure built 1935-37. See page 28 for more.
A13: Hotel Le Royal Opened 1929. Fully and sensitively restored. Currently a luxury hotel.
A14: Public Library Constructed in the early 20th century in neo-classical Greek style. Open to the public.
A15: Former Treasury Building constructed in the 1890s. Several buildings along Street 106 are late-19th/early-20th century. The boulevard park along Street 106 was a canal until the 1930s. Note the modern faux-Naga Bridge on Norodom Blvd, an echo of a real bridge there in the 30s.
A16: 1960s office block
A17: Apartments Colonial period apartments from the 1930s or 40s displaying a unique Mediterranean style.
A18: Intersection 130/15 Each corner of the intersection has a building from a different period: c. 1905, c. 1940 (art moderne) and from the 1980s.
A19: International Hotel Constructed circa 1905. Unique tower structure. Early signage still visible. Poor condition.
A20: Post Office/Post Office square The post office building was constructed in the 1890s and still operating as the central post office. Many of the building on and around the square are turn of the century. Best photos in the morning hours.
A21: Former Central Police Station Constructed in the 1890s. Site used extensively in movie ‘City of Ghosts.’ Best photos in the morning hours.
A22: French Colonial Chamber of Commerce On Post Office Square. Constructed early 20th century.
A23: Former Banque de l'Indochine building Late 19th century bank building. Owned by the Van family after 1960. Now fully restored to its former grandeur and containing Van’s Restaurant.
A24: Chaktomuk Conference Hall Constructed in 1960-61. ‘Golden era’ architecture by Vann Molyvann.


For more on the architecture of Phnom Penh check out the books: ‘Phnom Penh Then and Now,’ ‘Cultures of Independence’ and ‘Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970.’ See book page for more on books.

Khmer Architecture Tours ( offers regularly scheduled lectures and guided architectural tours of the city focusing primarily on 'New Khmer Architecture.' Cyclo tours of central Phnom Penh every other Wednesday. See the website for schedule.










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