Phnom Penh Tours: A Revealing Exploration of Cambodia’s Most Famous Buildings

Bike Touring By Brian Norton |

Architecture fans won’t want to miss the Phnom Penh tours run by the team at Khmer Architecture Tours. This post will show you exactly what you can expect from the 1960s New Khmer Architecture Tour.

For me, half the pleasure in visiting a city comes from looking up at buildings that make up its landscape. Architecture can reveal so much about the people, culture, and history. The 1960s New Khmer Architecture tour teaches about the modern history of the city while also immersing travellers in the city’s modern culture.

A distintive Vann Molyvann roofline at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

This Phnom Penh tour focusses on works by Vann Molyvann, Cambodia’s most famous architect.

Who Was Vann Molyvann?

After studying architecture in Paris as a young man, Molyvann returned to Cambodia and was soon appointed State Architect. During the 1960s, Molyvann created many iconic buildings and developments around Phnom Penh.

He developed a unique architectural style that combined principles of European modernist architecture with ancient Khmer designs. At the same time, his buildings were highly functional and suitable for the modern Cambodian lifestyle.

Unfortunately, many of Molyvann’s buildings have already been demolished in the name of progress. Many more are under threat from developers who either want to tear them down or rebuild them without preserving the original designs.

For more on Vann Molyvann, watch this video, The Man Who Built Cambodia:

The Phnom Penh tours by KA Tours focus on the importance of Cambodian architecture and design as part of Cambodia’s cultural heritage.

A Revealing Exploration of Cambodia’s Most Famous BuildingsWhat I loved about this Phnom Penh architecture tour

Thought-provoking architecture. It was interesting to see how Molyvann’s education and background fed into his work. Architecture is a marriage of practicality and art, and I loved seeing how Molyvann used his European education and combined those styles with the practicalities of the Cambodia climate to create something entirely new.

Passionate guide. When our guide Virak spoke about Molyvann and his work, his passion for architecture and Molyvann’s work shone through. It was moving to see how much Molyvann’s work means to the young architects in Cambodia today.

Visiting local neighborhoods. This tour is an excellent way to get a glimpse of everyday life in Phnom Penh. On the tour, you visit a residential district, a university, and a sports ground, where hundreds of locals gather to do their evening exercise. It’s fantastic to get to be a part of the normal life of the city, especially if you’ve been visiting wats, palaces, and museums for a few days.

Check more reviews of this tour in Phnom Penh →

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The tour offers a chance to visit residential neighborhoods in Phnom Penh.

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A home in Molyvann’s 100 Houses Social Housing project.

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Light filters into an abaondoned home at the 100 Houses project.

What I didn’t love about the tour

Although Molyvann has a fascinating story, I would have enjoyed the tour more if we had visited a few more sites and compared other styles of architecture with his work. Phnom Penh is a huge and varied city, with so many styles of buildings, it would have been exciting to see more.

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I loved the exterior pillars on the university’s circular library.

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Molyvann made ample use of the odd geometric shapes popular in 1960s architecture.

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Vents help cool the buildings at Phnom Penh university without air conditioning.

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One of many striking buildings at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

What surprised me about the tour

Sadly, even though Molyvann is a national treasure, his buildings are not well cared for. They are dirty and in disrepair, and in some cases being left to crumble. It seems there is very little money dedicated to preserving the past in a country that is so focussed on progress.

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Many of Molyvann’s buildings are being left to decay or have been destroyed.

phnom penh architecture tours

Molyvann’s National Sports Complex is still in use today.

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Staircases at the Phnom Penh National Sports Complex make a sort of geometric maze.

Environmental & social initiatives at KA Tours

KA Tours is a non-profit which aims to “promote the understanding of modern and colonial architecture in Cambodia” through their Phnom Penh tours. Alongside their tour operations, KA Tours also researches and records data about buildings and provides lectures and tours to local and international students. They are a partner of Space for Architecture.

Practical Details of the tour

When: Various days throughout the year. See the tour dates.Where: Starts at the Phnom Penh Central Post Office but you need to book ahead by email.Length: 3-4 hours.Transportation: Mini bus.Food & drinks: None included.Additional expenses: Tip for the tour guide (optional). Bring enough cash to pay for your tour ticket.Facilities: There were no toilet facilities pointed out along the way but ask if you need one!What to bring: Camera, hat, sunscreen, comfortable walking shoes.

Need some more Cambodia travel advice? Try these:Other Phnom Penh tours offered by KA ToursPhnom Penh Religions Tour: Four Religions of Phnom Penh

This tour visits four sites — a Buddhist Wat, a Chinese Temple, a Cham Mosque and a Carmelite Chapel — as a way into the differences and similarities between the four religions represented by these buildings.

Phnom Penh City Tour: Central Phnom Penh by Cyclo

If you’re looking for an architecture-focussed Phnom Penh city tour, this is a good choice. Travelling by pedal-powered rickshaw (called “cyclos” in Cambodia), guests are treated to a brief historical introduction to Phnom Penh through the buildings in the central city.

For more info about tour dates and times, visit the KA Tours website.

Other Phnom Penh Tours You Might LikeWhere to Stay in Phnom Penh

I really liked my stay at Blue Lime, a quiet hotel with a beautiful pool. I also loved staying at TeaHouse for its big fashionable rooms. People travelling with kids will appreciate its fantastic kid-friendly pool. For budget travellers, Mad Monkey hostels are great!

  Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen

I was a guest on this Phnom Penh tour but as always, I only participate in and recommend trips that I think you’ll truly enjoy! It’s easy to help us keep this blog going! Some of the links in this post are our personal affiliate links. If you book or buy something using one of the links in this post we’ll earn a small fee at no extra cost to you. Of course we would never recommend anything we didn’t 100% believe in! Huge thanks in advance! –S&J

Architecture fans won't want to miss the Phnom Penh tours run by the team at Khmer Architecture Tours. This post will show you exactly what you can expect from the 1960s New Khmer Architecture Tour.

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