The National Museum in Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s largest museum of cultural history and is the country’s leading historical and archaeological, including sculpture, ceramics and ethnographic objects from the prehistoric, pre-Angkorian, Angkorian and post-Angkorian periods.
In 1951, the French conceded the control of the museum to the Cambodians when it came to be known as Musée National de Phnom Penh. Later in 1966, Chea Thay Seng became the museum’s first Cambodian director. It barely survived serious damage during the devastating Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, and the museum and its precincts underwent a major refurbishment in the 1990s with contributions from the Australian Government and other patrons.
Backed by the Cambodian Department of Museums, the museum’s role is now not just confined to preserving its exhibits that include one of the largest collections of Khmer artefacts in the world, but also to oversee other museums in the country.
National Museum of Cambodia highlights
Housed within an impressive red sandstone structure, The National Museum of Cambodia stands out as a fine illustration of the traditional Khmer architecture. With over 14,000 interesting exhibits to its credit, the museum is truly a treasure trove of artefacts portraying Khmer and Angkorian culture and history.
Its exhibits, comprising bronze/wood sculptures, ceramic items, ethnographic items and stone articles are categorised into 4 brackets: prehistoric, pre-Angkor, Angkor and post-Angkor exhibits. One of its most spectacular exhibits is the 8‑armed statue of Lord Vishnu that dates back to the 6th century. Another remarkable attraction is the image of King Jayavarman VII in a meditation posture that can be seen in the West Gallery, displaying artworks from Angkor Wat.
Visit the museum’s Bronze Gallery to take a peek into bronze-casting methods practised during the Angkorian period from the 6th to 13th centuries. Found next to the Bronze Gallery is a rare repository of post-Angkorian-era Buddha images. There’s also a gallery that exhibits a selection of sandstone sculptures dating back to the 6th century.
Good to know about National Museum of Cambodia
You can find the National Museum of Cambodia a few blocks away from the Royal Palace on Street 13 in Phnom Penh. Admission to the museum is nominal and entry is free for children and school groups. The museum does not permit photography within the galleries. You’re allowed to take pictures of the courtyard and exterior, though.
The services of French- and English-speaking guides are available. Alternatively, you can purchase a booklet that provides relevant info on locations of the museum’s most prominent exhibits. Items such as postcards, replica sculptures and books on art and culture can be bought from the store found at the main entrance.
The museum is equally noteworthy for its impeccable, verdant garden courtyard with 4 lotus pools. In the centre of the courtyards is a renowned statue of the Leper King or Lord Yama – the Deity of Death, according to Hindu mythology. Further, the portico that bounds the garden courtyard is notable for its stone works, bas-reliefs, ornamental door lintels and significant stele containing old Khmer as well as Sanskrit inscriptions – most dating from between the 6th and 11th centuries.
Adjacent to the museum is the Royal University of Fine Arts, whose origins trace back to the École des Arts Cambodgiens that was founded in 1918 under the supervision of George Groslier to train students in the art of bronze casting, traditional drawing, furniture making and sculpture modelling, which is still continued here.
National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh
Preah Ang Eng Street 13, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Daily from 8am to 5pm