Cambodia // Phnom Penh and around //

National Museum

Cambodia’s impressive dark-red sandstone National Museum houses a rich collection of sculpture, relics and artefacts dating from prehistoric times to the present. The collection had to be abandoned in 1975 when the city was emptied by the Khmer Rouge; it was subsequently looted and the museum’s director murdered. By 1979, when the population returned, the roof had collapsed and the galleries and courtyard gone to ruin – for a time the museum had to battle to protect its exhibits from the guano produced by the millions of bats that had colonized the roof; these were finally driven out in 2002.

The museum opened in 1918, and, designed by the French archeologist, George Groslier, comprises four linked galleries that form a rectangle around a leafy courtyard, its roof topped with protective nagas. Entrance to the museum is via the central flight of steps leading to the East Gallery. The massive wooden doors here, dating from 1918, and each weighing over a tonne, have carvings reminiscent of those at Banteay Srei. The four galleries are arranged broadly chronologically, going clockwise from the southeast corner; allow yourself at least an hour for the visit.