Lycee Preah Sisowath - historic high school, Phnom Penh - review by Rusty Compass
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Lycee Preah Sisowath - historic high school, Phnom Penh

| 09 Mar 2015


Lycee Preah Sisowath - historic high school, Phnom Penh
Preah Norodom Blvd between St 178 and Keo Chea, Phnom Penh
Not open for tourist visits

Our rating
09 Mar 2015

If you spend more than a day or so in Phnom Penh, there’s a good chance you’ll pass the Lycée Preah Sisowath. It’s been one of Phnom Penh’s most prestigious schools since colonial times. It's also where some of Cambodia's most famous and infamous were schooled.

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The Lycée Sisowath isn’t a tourist sight. It still operates as a high school. Nonetheless, it’s significant both as a piece of colonial architecture and for its complicated contribution to modern Cambodian history.

You’re almost certain to pass by the sprawling complex that dates back to the consolidation of French colonial rule in Indochina. It’s located on a full block on Norodom Boulevard from 178 St, not far from the Independence Monument.

You wouldn’t imagine it today but Lycée Preah Sisowath is where some the twentieth century's most loathed tyrants were educated. Khmer Rouge leaders Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan were all schooled here.

The French colonial administration created a system of elite schools in the early twentieth century across Indochina for the development of a class of civil servants. Lycée Preah Sisowath was one of them.

The original French school on the site dates back to 1873.

The Preah Sisowath alumni list isn't all bad though. Celebrated Khmer architect Vann Molyvann and Cambodia's queen mother, Norodom Monineath Sihanouk (King Sihanouk's widowed wife and mother of present King Sihamoni) were also schooled here, as was current Cambodian opposition leader, Sam Rainsey. There were many others.

Vietnamese revolutionary leader Nguyen Thi Binh also studied here. She went on to become Vietnam's National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) representative at the Paris Peace Conference in 1973 with Henry Kissinger her adversary. The conference saw the withdrawal of US troops from the country.

Nguyen Thi Binh was vice president of Vietnam from 1992 to 2002.

Travel tips
Lycée Sisowath is a functioning high school and is not open as a tourist sight. It may be possible to walk through the grounds in the later afternoon as I have managed to do on several occasions. Otherwise you can wander around its perimeter or have an afternoon snack in the picturesque local eatery at the corner of Preah Norodom and St 178.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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