In 1998, a man from Siem Reap town began collecting examples of coins and banknotes from around the world. To date, he has examples from almost 200 different nations, some no longer in existence.
Ly Peng Heng, 57, who lives in Trapaing Ses village of Kokchak commune, has now spent a quarter of a century adding to his collection.
“I have hundreds of examples of foreign and Cambodian currency. I must have spent tens of thousands of dollars on my collection, but it was worth it as people can learn a lot from inspecting the coins and banknotes I have on display,” he said.
Heng opened a museum in his home town, and displays his collection in glass cases.
One standout item in his possession part is a 166-year-old banknote which was legal tender in three countries – Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
“At the time, the three nations were under French colonial rule. I knew the note was printed in 1863, but could not read the details on the note,” said Heng.
“Some Chinese visitors to the museum were able to read it and told me the banknote was printed in Hong Kong. The notes were known as the Indochinese currency, and they were in use until 1953,” he added.
He said some of the notes were labelled riel, for use in Cambodia, some were marked kip, for use in Laos, and some were dong, for use in Vietnam. The notes were assigned the same value, so they could be spent in any one of the three countries.
“I have banknotes from nearly 200 nations in my collection, but I don’t have space to display them all. I also have a large collection of coins, far too many for me to be able to tell you where they are from. I am considering building a second museum so that I can display my entire collection,” he said.
His Cambodian banknotes are all on display, from the French colonial era 1863 Indochina note to the 15,000 riel notes that were issued to mark the 15th anniversary of King Norodom Sihamoni’s coronation.
In addition to currency, he also has several antique examples of household items from days gone by.
“A lot of people think of old radios, cameras, phones, bicycles or motorcycles as junk, but it is amazing how they have the power to transport you to the past. This is what drives my passion,” he said.
“I have spent a lot of money on my collection, and sometimes my wife doesn’t share my enthusiasm, but everything I do stems from love and passion. Some people say I am crazy, but I can’t think of anything I would rather spend my money on.
Peng Heng opened his museum in August 2020, and attracted a large number of domestic and international visitors, until he was forced to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He reopened about seven months ago, but said he had not received many visitors.
“I charge Cambodian visitors 5,000 riel entry, and I charge foreign guests 20,000 riel admission. I would like the tourism or culture ministries to help me market my museum,” he said.
Prak Sovannara, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, told The Post that the ministry was always pleased to hear about a new museum, but suggested that Peng Heng apply for a permit from the ministry first.
“We encourage private museums, but he will need to apply for a permit and be registered with us. Once that is done, our specialists will examine his collection and even help to curate his display. We will even help him to promote his business,” he said.
He explained that there were some people who had some old items, perhaps household goods or tools that had been in their family for generations, on display and used the term museum to describe their collection.
“This is not really the correct use of the term ‘museum’ as it is more of a small gallery. Once Peng Heng applies for registration, our specialists will assess his collection and see if the term museum is appropriate,” he said.