Day 63: Phnom Penh architecture tour
Claire: Not usually one for organised tours but our friend Sarah spent 6 months living in Phnom Penh and highly recommended the Khmer Architecture Tours to us. Run by local architects and students it’s a monthly part cyclo / part walking tour of colonial, religious and post-independent buildings in the city. I’ve always been a bit obsessed with drawing buildings so this sounded right up our street.
Our tour began 8:30am in the square by the old Post Office. Built in the 1890’s it’s been in service ever since — apart from the period when Khmer Rouge banned money and post! Having been renovated several times the tower has changed over the years but the grand colonial fascia remains the same.
Standing over the road was the former Hotel Manolis, the city’s first luxury hotel constructed in 1910. Now home to over 30 families we were lucky enough to go inside to have a peek around. The original staircase and floor tiles were lovely and albeit the whole building could do with some TLC it wasn’t too hard to imagine what it may have been like once upon a time.
We learnt how after the Khmer Rouge period, people made their way back into the cities with no belongings or money. They set up homes in abandoned buildings like Hotel Manolis and are still here today — despite the land alone being worth a few million quids. The top floor is currently for sale, for a lot of money, but with so many families living on each floor they all need to agree to sell — and without legal papers it’s not an easy process either.
Around the corner we walked to the Old Police station, a derelict building that even has a tree growing on it!
The rest of the tour was done via Cyclo (a Cambodian pedal-powered rickshaw) which was a pretty special and funny way to see the city. We chose our bloke and he would be our pairing for the morning, mine was fondly referred to as ‘123’.
I can’t remember the name of the Chinese temple we visited but it was a very tranquil place. We were told how some religious buildings like this, as well as grandeur villas had to be bought back off the government following the Khmer Rouge!! It took the Chinese several years to raise enough funds so they could claim back their temple and adjoining school. How crazy is that?!
Going into the backstreets we got to see some colourful local life. Children playing, families businesses and people going about their daily chores.
Visiting an old chapel that’s now inhabited by several families, we see again where people had taken refuge in shelters and made homes for themselves. Unlike Hotel Manolis, which already had divided rooms, the chapel was originally an open space but over the years makeshift walls and even mezzanines have been built inside. One lady invited me inside her home, very proudly, so I took off my shoes and went in to have a peek. She had no windows and there was just a mattress on the floor but it was tidy and adorned with pictures and smelt of incense sticks!
Gav's day 63 takeaway
- Loved this architecture tour, ace to learn so much about a place from the historical architecture and especially given we might be lucky if much of it is still standing in ten or twenty years time. Case in point would be part of the beautiful French colonial hotel mentioned above, that is now home to a KFC complete with cheap, shiny looking facade!
- In other news, we had our first Indian curry. It was delicious.