Siem Reap’s million-dollar Preah Norodom Sihanouk-Angkor Museum was inaugurated with great fanfare in November 2007, but its promise of becoming an important tourism add-on never eventuated.
Now the museum itself is in danger of becoming a museum piece. It has a sorry air, it’s dusty and drab, the surrounding gardens are mostly untended, and the building itself is slowly declining into disrepair.
It’s rarely visited and little wonder because, apart from the overall air of neglect, its display is boring.
The museum was initially established as a cooperative effort between the Apsara Authority, Sophia University (Japan) and the Aeon 1% Club of Japan to house a cache of 247 ancient Buddhist statues, some dating back to the 12th century, found buried in a pit during excavations at the Banteay Kdei temple.
Discovery of such a large number of Buddhist carvings in the Angkor ruins was considered a “precious historical finding” that points to the proliferation of Buddhism in the region at the time.
In fact, the findings were considered so significant that the idea came up to build a museum to house the artefacts. The deal was sealed on November 24, 2002, when Hun Sen agreed to the idea and accepted 100 million yen (US$1.08 million) funding from Japan’s Aeon Credit Services Co, Ltd philanthropic arm, Aeon1%.
Originally, the name was to be the Sihanouk-Aeon Museum, but this was later changed to the present title.
Hun Sen donated the land and in June 2004, when building preparations began, he nominated Apsara as the managing authority.
The problem with the museum, apart from lack of maintenance funding due to poor patronage, is that the artefacts themselves, while obviously of interest to academics, have limited appeal to laymen. They are simply not all that interesting and lack visual appeal, being mostly fragments with a lot of headless body statues interspersed with bodiless heads.
Moreover, there’s been no creative imagination put in to the displays, and little by way of information.
Overall, it’s simply sad.