North Korea Builds Cambodian Museum

12 June, 2016

North Korea has spent $24 million and four years building the 6,000-square-meter, 35-meter-high Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The Angkor museum shows Khmer warriors fighting using spears, swords and large elephants. The 12th century Angkorian Empire built huge religious centers, called temples. They are now UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The Cambodian government worked with North Korea's Mansudae Art Studio to build the museum and create paintings for it. The museum opened in December.

Mansudae was created in 1959 to tell about North Korea and its ruling family. The stories are often untrue or highly exaggerated.

The studio creates large projects. Its website says it has 4,000 workers, about a quarter of whom are artists. It says its studio is 120,000 square meters large, about 80,000 of which are indoors. It says the studio is "probably the largest art production center in the world and by far the largest and most important" in North Korea.

Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Reap. (Pin Sisovann/VOA Khmer)
Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Reap. (Pin Sisovann/VOA Khmer)

Yit Chandaroat is the vice executive director of the Angkor museum. He told VOA's Khmer service that visitors "feel as if they are right there during the Angkor era. They feel as if they are with the people selling vegetables [or] those on the fighting elephants in the painting."

The museum has a 13-meter-high, 123-meter-long, 360-degree mural showing thousands of warriors and artisans at war and work during the 12th century. Sixty-three North Korean painters worked on the mural for two years. It is so realistic that some visitors believe it is a picture rather than a painting.

Keo Samoun lives in Banteay Meanchey province in Cambodia. She says the mural is "amazing. I can see everything. Just sitting here in one place you can see everything."

She went to the museum after visiting Angkor Wat and the Bayon Temple. She said the museum helps people understand the history of the temples. She said it is easier to visit the museum than some of the temples spread throughout the province.

Chandaroat says people should visit the museum before they go to the nearby temples. He said the more than 40,000 images of ancient warriors, artisans, farmers and animals help people understand the history of the temples and when they were built.

Thai Norak Sathya is the Secretary of State of Cambodia's Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. He told VOA North Korea built the museum because of its relationship with the country's king. He said it is not designed to make money for North Korea.

"Let me tell you that the North Korean company completely abides by the technical condition and Khmer style of art. So, it is not the nature of this business to generate income."

The museum has not earned as much money as officials thought it would. About 90 percent of visitors are Cambodian. Foreign tourists bring valuable foreign currency to Siem Reap's economy. But many say they do not plan to visit the museum.

Sarah and Ashley are from Britain. They say they have traveled a long way and do not want to see just a painting of the Angkor temples.

Sarah told VOA she is "quite surprised that they invested so much outside North Korea."

Ashley said "I want to see the real things. That is what I am here for. That is what we are going to do today. I am not interested [in going] to the museum."

Christelle Bimar is a traveler from France. She is visiting Siem Reap with her two sons. She did not know about the museum.

"I am not aware of what's inside," she said. She was sitting in her chair in the shade of a palm tree in front of the Angkor temple.

"But, yes, I think Angkor and Siem Reap deserve to have many more museums," she said.

Chandaroat says North Korea's decision to build the museum was an act of friendship. The agreement between the two countries says North Korea would be paid back the $24 million investment.

The museum will then be fully owned by Cambodia under the agreement within 20 years.

I'm Christoper Jones-Cruise.

Correspondent Pin Sisovann reported this story from Siem Reap, Cambodia. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

panorama – n. a full and wide view of something

era – n. a period of time that is associated with a particular quality, event, person, etc.

realistic – adj. showing people and things as they are in real life

abide by – phrasal verb obey; to accept and be guided by (something)

shade – n. an area of slight darkness that is produced when something blocks the light of the sun