Many are young adults who grew up in Western countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada and France, where their parents moved to escape the horrific events of the 1970s.
Some don't remember Phnom Penh, having left as young children.
Others were born overseas.
Soreasmey Ke Bin is a 36-year-old French-Cambodian who moved to Phnom Penh in 2002.
He's president of the Anvaya Initiative, a nonprofit group founded in 2010 to support Cambodian diaspora looking to give the country another chance.
"I think we can bring a lot of positive things to this country, in terms of work experience, investment and culture," he says, adding that a challenge is convincing potential returnees that the country has a lot to offer.
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When asked to offer up a few names of individuals behind the city's new flavor, he quickly rattles off a good three dozen notable returning Cambodians in fields as diverse as architecture, music, design, art and choreography.
Standouts include Sok Visal, who's behind the city's first hip-hop group and who's about to release his first movie in November; and artist Borany Mam, a French-Cambodian doing restoration work at the National Museum.
Then there's Armand Gerbié, a former French Foreign Legion soldier who worked for years at famed Paris cabaret Lido before moving to Phnom Penh to open the popular Armand's The Bistro.
And well-known French-Cambodian designer Romyda Keth, who recently opened a restaurant and boutique hotel.
"I hope we can become a niche country," says Soreasmey of his vision for Cambodia's future. "A boutique market. We can't compete with Singapore or Thailand. We are small. But we've got culture, the sea, outdoors. I think it's a good mix."
Dreams vs. reality
Cosmopolitan potential aside, tourists who like their travel destinations wrapped up in postcard-pretty packages will be uncomfortable in Phnom Penh.
The ongoing economic growth on the backs of footwear and garment manufacturing, foreign investment and tourism might be putting Cadillac SUVs and even the odd Rolls Royce on Phnom Penh's perennially dusty streets.
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But most live well below the poverty line, with 40% of Cambodia's population surviving on less than $1.25 a day according to non-government organization ActionAid.
Though violent crime is rare, petty theft is common.
Multiple locals share stories of having their iPhone 5s yanked out of their hands mid-text or a carelessly laid bag snatched from the seat of a tuk-tuk by a passing motorbiker.
At popular tourist spots like the Grand Palace, tourists still need to walk a heart-wrenching gauntlet of amputees and child beggars before they can enter.
The first page of a local magazine targeted at tourists has an arresting full-page ad sponsored in part by UNICEF, reminding visitors that "children are not tourist attractions."
It's part of a campaign to educate about the harm of "orphanage tourism," in which visitors pay to visit local institutions, thereby creating a market for more orphans.
But for visitors who can handle a side of grit, Phnom Penh is definitely worth a few days of exploration -- even if it's just for a stopover on the way to Siem Reap.
In the end you might just find the capital gives those old Angkor ruins a bit of competition in your mental Cambodia highlight reel.
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