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Phnom Penh’s historic quarter to go pedestrian

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The walk zone will be adjacent to the colonial-era post office, home to the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

A new tourist promenade is to open in the heart of Phnom Penh’s old French quarter.

Scheduled for a February opening, the tourist walk zone will provide an outdoor leisure area on Street 13 that will be closed to cars and motorbikes on weekends from 6pm till 12am, as well as on national holidays.

It will be adjacent to the colonial-era post office that today houses the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication.

“Everywhere in the world, especially in the cities, there are some places for the people to walk down,” said Minister of Tourism Thong Khon, whose ministry is helping Phnom Penh Capital Hall build the tourist walk zone.

“In Cambodia, we also need a place for tourists to walk down.”

The neighborhood includes some of Cambodia’s most prominent examples of French architecture from the turn of the 20th century, including the disused police commissariat, Manolis Hotel and the Banque de l’Indochine that today houses Van’s Restaurant.

“It is good to walk down for tourists because of the large, colonial-style buildings,” said Khon.

According UNESCO Head of Office Anne LeMaistre, it is not just tourists who stand to benefit.

“Phnom Penh has a unique chance to have a garden-city image with large avenues and trees, which is extremely rare for a capital in the region. The colonial heritage and the Khmer New architecture contribute enormously to the identity and beauty of the city.

“It is an opportunity which should not be missed for ob­­vious touristic reasons but also for the memory of all inhabitants of Phnom Penh,” she said.

“Heritage, silence, space and green environment are part of this quality of life and appreciation of living in a city. In addition, this area is unfortunately the only remaining coherent his­toric quarter of Phnom Penh,” she added.

Restoration and preservation in the area has been erratic, with some buildings getting far more treatment than others.

“The post office and the Van’s Restaurant were restored and are well-maintained buildings,” said LeMaistre.

“The Manolis Hotel and the former Commissariat are magnificent buildings but which need urgent interventions,” she added.

LeMaistre said that despite widespread enthusiasm for preserving Cambodia’s Angkorian heritage, more needs to be done to promote the country’s more recent urban heritage.

UNESCO is supporting the efforts of the Heritage Mission, which is attached to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, to make the old French Quarter a special heri­tage protected zone.

However, increased visitation to the area may encourage preservation of the historic quarter.

“The tourist walk zone will hopefully attract Phnom Penh inhabitants who will discover this area, maybe, for the first time and invite them to appreciate the harmony of the architecture and the pleasure of walking in a nice environment,” said LeMaistre. “We hope that this discovery and appreciation will lead to the understanding of preserving heritage.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bennett Murray at ppp.lifestyle@gmail.com

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