– DECEMBER 15, 2015
Next up on our hit list are the National Museum and the Central Market.
The National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s largest museum of cultural history and is the country’s leading historical and archaeological museum. The museum houses is one of the world’s largest collections of Khmer art, including sculptural, ceramics, bronzes, and ethnographic objects. The Museum’s collection includes over 14,000 items, from prehistoric times to periods before, during, and after the Khmer Empire, which at its height stretched from Thailand, across present-day Cambodia, to southern Vietnam.
The Museum buildings, inspired by Khmer temple architecture, were constructed between 1917 and 1924, the museum was officially inaugurated in 1920, and renovated in 1968. It is perhaps better described as a building enlarged from Cambodian temple prototypes seen on ancient bas-reliefs and reinterpreted through colonial eyes to meet the museum-size requirements. The original design of the building was slightly altered in 1924 with extensions that added wings at either end of the eastern façade that made the building even more imposing.
Control of the National Museum and Arts Administration was ceded by the French to the Cambodians on August 9th, 1951 and following Independence in 1953, the then Musée National de Phnom Penh was the subject of bilateral accords.
During Khmer Rouge regime of 1975-79, all aspects of Cambodian life were devastated including the cultural realm. The Museum, along with the rest of Phnom Penh, was evacuated and abandoned. The Museum, closed between 1975 and 1979, and was found in disrepair, its roof rotten and home to a vast colony of bats, the garden overgrown, and the collection in disarray, many objects damaged or stolen. The Museum was quickly tidied up and reopened to the public on April 13, 1979. However, many of the Museum’s employees had lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge regime.
The Museum also serves a religious function; its collection of important Buddhist and Hindu sculpture addresses community religious needs as a place of worship. A permanent exhibition, Post-Angkorian Buddha, supported by UNESCO and a number of individuals and local businesses, opened in 2000 to extend the religious function of the Museum.
It took only an hour to go through this entire museum, which makes it much smaller than any other major country museum we have seen on this journey.
The Central Market is a large market constructed in 1937 in the shape of a dome with four arms branching out into vast hallways with countless stalls of goods. Initial design and layouts are from a French architect. When it first opened in 1937, it was said to be the biggest market in Asia; today it is still in full operation as a market. From 2009 to 2011, it underwent a US$4.2 million renovation funded by the French Development Agency.
The market is open daily from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM. It is, for tourists, a ‘must see’ stop. The four wings of this gigantic yellow dome are teeming with stalls that sell goods ranging from gold and silver, antique coins, money exchange, men’s and women’s apparel, clocks, books, flowers, food, fabrics, shoes, souvenirs, fish, seafood, dessert, luggage, and countless other products.
The unique Art Deco building is a Phnom Penh landmark. Before 1935, the area was a lake that received runoff during the rainy season. The lake was drained and construction began in 1935. Since its completion in 1937, wet season flooding around the market has remained a problem and is vestigial evidence of the old lake. The entrance to the market is lined with souvenir merchants hawking everything from T-shirts and postcards to silver curios and kramas. Inside is a dazzling display of jewels and gold. Electronic goods, stationery, secondhand clothes and flowers are also sold. During the Franco-Thai war the market was bombed heavily by Thai aircraft, causing heavy damage, and it had to be temporarily closed. After the end of World War II the market was rebuilt in the modern style.
We ate dinner here and had a noddle dish and a pork soup with a mango/banana smoothie for only a total of $2. You can’t beat that kind of a deal!
Next up in Cambodia will be the southern island area of Koh Rong.
For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.