Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Angkor National Museum

A window into the gallery of 1,000 Buddhas
A lion-headed kneeling Asura demon guardian from the 10th century Banteay Srei temple
Saturday afternoon was my first opportunity to visit the new Angkor National Museum, which opened its doors to visitors in November. I must concur with previous reports that the museum is well presented using state-of-the-art technology with collections themed by temples, kings, beliefs and religions. The Gallery of 1,000 Buddhas is particularly striking and all the main collections include interactive multimedia presentations. However, the stylish presentations can't hide the fact that that the overall collection is way short of the quality to be found in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. It's also pretty small by comparison though that's deftly disguised through the technology and presentation. Entry is $12 per foreigner, $3 for Khmers, which is very expensive when compared with the museum in the capital or the Temples of Angkor. My view - an interesting addition to the range of visitor attractions in Siem Reap and an informative introduction to the Angkor story, but its over-priced and crying out for a bigger collection. I didn't have time to visit the attached shopping gallery, so can't comment on that. The museum covers 20,000 sq metres and has attractive water features including a pond at its center. A $2 camera fee will allow you to take photos in the public areas, so you can snap away at a few lions, heads from Angkor Thom and Preah Khan and a few other pieces of sculpture but cameras are not allowed in the main collections. I was disappointed that 40% of the items on display do not have any signage or explanation of their provenance, whilst the lighting on some exhibits could be improved. The galleries of inscription stele and lintels were quite poor and I have seen much better examples myself in the storage areas of Angkor Conservation. I loved the 1,000 Buddhas gallery though, with the walls inlaid with small back-lit Buddhas and larger items including the highly-unusual Sumethabos, a 9th century prostrate Bodhisattva from Phnom Vak, presented in the middle of the room. I'm glad I went but there's work still to do to bring it up to an acceptable standard for the price they are charging.
This eight-faced head of Brahma was found at Tvear Khmoach, near the west gate of Angkor Thom. It's from the 12th century.
A lion from the 12th century temple of Banteay Kdei
One of the demons, with a typical grimace and headdress, from one of the entrance gates to Angkor Thom. Hundreds of these original sandstone heads are in storage at Angkor Conservation.

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