The National Museum of Phnom Penh is instantly recognizable, with its warm red terracotta and its gracefully curved roof topped by dozens of guardian nagas. Located just north of the Royal Palace, off the street of Artists (178 Street), it was designed in 1917 by famed French architect George Groslier and the Ecole des Arts Cambodgiens, who made the most of traditional Khmer Style. It was inaugurated by King Sisowath in 1920.
Worth visiting for its beauty alone, the National Nuseum also houses the world’s foremost collection of ancient Khmer archaeological, religious and artistic artifacts. The Angkor era is the museum’s specialty, but is also features other important periods such as the Funan and Zhenla, the two empires most closely seen as precursors to Angkor. More than 5,000 objects dating from the 4th to the 13th centuries are on display. And these are only the tip of the iceberg. Lack of funding and special restraints have meant the museum’s vaults remain full of thousands more objects, many of them priceless.
The museum is open daily from 8am to 11:30am and from 2:30pm to 5pm. French and English spoken guides are available, or visitors can purchased one of the books or pamphlets available and wander the four courtyards, each facing out into a garden, and try to piece together the complex history through these magnificent works of ancient art themselves.
Among the most memorable of these is an eight-armed-statue of Vishnu dating from the 6th century, but even the smaller, less imposing pieces gives a unique insight in to the skills of the craftspeople that had inhabited this area through the centuries.