Thalias Hospitality

Descartes, a high school with a difference


With the rather successful celebration of its 70th anniversary, the Lycée Descartes has reaffirmed itself as the oldest, but also the most innovative French-speaking school in the capital.

An exhibition of students’ work on a multitude of original subjects, dance and theater performances, and a variety of food and drink, the public was not bored for a second during this afternoon of festivities, which ended with a gala dinner attended by over 400 people.

Not like the others

“We are not like the others… we are not like all the international schools here… we have an identity… a history. Our school… it’s like a historical monument.
(Lay Prohas Hanuk Ream, former student of the Lycée Descartes).

Thalias Hospitality team at the Descartes 70th Anniversary Gala

Thalias Hospitality team at the Descartes 70th Anniversary Gala

The Lycée Français René Descartes in Phnom Penh is indeed more than just a school. It is a monument, a real institution. All Phnom Penhese know “Sala Barang” or the “Lycée Descartes”. Nestled in the heart of the former French Quarter and a future business district, it is true that the Lycée Descartes has a vintage feel and a great look.

The Descartes High School in the 60s


In 1950, the Lycée Français René Descartes opened its doors to students for the first time: there were 252 students in 2de, 1re and terminale in what is known as the “Grand Lycée”, today’s Faculty of Management Sciences building.

The Lycée was officially inaugurated in March 1951, in the presence of the President of the Assembly of the French Union, Albert Sarrault. Among the first students was Monique Izzi… who became Norodom Monineath Sihanouk. Then, later, His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni.

“For 65 years, several generations of students forged at Descartes have succeeded one another, French, Cambodians, but also many other nationalities… Anonymous or famous, men of science or business, politicians, merchants, artists, humble or more fortunate… who have radiated or still radiate throughout the world.
(Norodom Monineath Sihanouk, preface to Il était une fois… Le Lycée français René Descartes de Phnom Penh).

Seventy years, quite a piece of history

The 50’s and 60’s, a kind of beautiful era: the school has more than 2000 students. The life of the Cartesians was marked by sports competitions, Olympic nights organized by the school, plays, and lunch breaks at the Khmer Sports Circle: it was enough to cross the street to go swimming at the pool. The school even had a boarding school located behind the sports field.

But in 1974, the war was already rumbling… on January 14, a shell exploded in front of the school. One person was killed and one injured: a janitor who was about to ring the bell to announce the beginning of classes and a teacher. The school is closed, most of the teachers leave the country, and those who remain manage to continue teaching the students in small groups at home.

On April 17, 1975, Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge. The school became K33. K was the first letter of the Khmer word associated with Propaganda, ឃោសនា (Khosanea). Thus were all the code names made. The Lycée is part of the Ministry of Information.

Descartes High School today


When the Lycée reopened in 1991, it had lost its main building, “Le Grand Lycée”… there were only 17 students anyway. But little fish will become big again. In 1999, there were already 240 students.

The period from 2000 to 2018 has been marked by great changes at the Lycée. The number of students has increased considerably, almost doubling between 2010 and today, making the Lycée René Descartes de Phnom Penh one of the largest high schools in the Asia-Pacific region in terms of enrollment.
The walls have been extended, the structure modernized, a kindergarten opened and a swimming pool built. Descartes has been able to make a fresh start, while keeping the charm of the old.

Original French article written by Gaëlle Rogations

You May Also Like

April Heat Brings Juicy Treat

April is here and that means it’s Mango Season! This is a great chance to try famous Khmer mangos which are known for their sweet taste and juiciness. The mango harvest season is typically during March to April and from October to November. Mango trees have been cultivated in Cambodia thousands of years ago. It is a popular fruit usually eaten green or ripe with salt and chilli as a snack, shredded in a salad or with fish, and ripen with sticky rice as a dessert in Khmer cuisine. Eat it green, try them ripe, these stone fruits are packed…

Tradition and Evolution in Stung Treng’s Famed Ansorm Chrouk

Adapted from an article in Cambodge Mag Ansorm Chrouk cakes are traditionally made for festivals, weddings and big events, but Sophea now makes them all year round and in that way is able to provide employment for up to eight widows, retirees and children who would be able to save up for their studies In a recent article, the Phnom Penh Post celebrated the creations of Nget Sophea from Prek village in Stung Treng province. She has combined tradition and transformation in her version of Ansorm Chrouk, a steamed glutinous rice cake with pork, by mixing the rice with pandan leaf…

Wine Uby Dooby

For 3 generations, François Morel and his team have been working to give a human, environmental and sustainable orientation to the Uby estate. Located in the Gers, it takes its name from the stream that runs through the property’s land The Little Pond Terrapin The European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis), is a little freshwater turtle in the family Emydidae that is long lived and endemic to the Western Palearctic. In France, there is only one remaining population, making it is the most endangered reptile in the country. Climate has an effect on the survival of Pond Terrapin hatchling, which are…

Khéma’s Wine and Dine is back!

Thursday nights are for… Wine & Dine at Khéma. Gather up with your best friends and indulge in our signature Wine & Dine featuring unlimited servings of our favourite wines, All-You-Can-Eat cheese, cold cuts and much more from our generous counter for only $25 net special deal (until end of March instead of $29.90 net person). Every Thursday from 6PM to 8PM Book your favorite Khéma now

Cambodia’s Young Chefs Emerging Talents

Adapted from an article in Cambodge Mag The Young Talents Escoffier Competition is part of a global network and has become one of the most prestigious and important competitions for young culinary and front-of-house talents On 19 June, the Academy of Culinary Arts Cambodia hosted its third Disciples Escoffier Cambodia Young Talents Competition with four chefs vying for top place and the chance to represent Cambodia on an international stage. Nhem Samon from Palace Gate Hotel, Mao Vanna from Pepe Bistro, Nuon Rithysak from Il Forno and Sek Ratana from Topaz are all under 25 years of age and have less…

Khmer Cuisine and Wine

Khmer cuisine is one of the world’s oldest living cuisines and one of the most resilient on the planet. Pairing wine with Khmer cuisine can be fun and can bring a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction, although certain accepted wine pairing norms must and can be successfully abandoned Spices are often exquisite in quality, yet restrained and understated in their use. Regional flavours and dishes prevail: turmeric from Battambang, Salt from Kep, and of course Pepper from Kampot, which is internationally renowned for its intensity and unique characteristics. Saffron is valued for medicinal qualities as well as flavor and…
Back to top