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A short cyclo ride along the riverfront brings the tour to famous landmarks including the National Museum, the Royal Palace and a well-preserved Vann Molyvann design, the Chaktomuk Conference Centre – all diagonal pillars and triangular motifs.

Sokly is also keen to point out the less obvious gems – a French-style public toilet on the corner opposite the museum, decommissioned cinemas occupied by squatters, private houses and shophouses.

“We try to show people the most important places from both the colonial and post-independence eras,” said Sokly. “Most people are impressed. Even if they have lived here for years, they have not been aware of some of the buildings.”

Sokly is aware that just impressing the tourists will not be enough to stop the demolition of more classic buildings. So Khmer Architecture Tours is planning to offer its services to Phnom Penh’s high schools, to give the students an early primer on urban heritage. “They are the future. They could take care of these buildings.”

If so, Phnom Penh may regain its title as the pearl of Asia. 

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