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Ancient Angkor Temple of Cambodia back to life

North Korean painters revive Angkor Temple.

  • Paintings of Angkorian Empire by North Korean painters have been exhibited at the Angkor Panorama Museum near Angkor Wat temple
  • North Korea spent $24 million and four years building the nearly 6,000-square-meter museum, which rises to an imposing height of 35 meters.
  • The museum was built in the spirit of cultural promotion, friendship and cooperation rather than income generation.
  • There is some controversy as to why North Korea would be interested in such a project.

The Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia gets a museum for itself due to North Korean investors. North Korea decided to build a museum for the Angkor Wat temple which would have painters from North Korea depicting the trees, plants and huts in a three-dimensional way. It has murals depicting thousands of warriors and artisans at war and work in the Angkorian Empire. Here is a story from VOA:

Welcome to North Korea’s Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a joint venture between the Cambodian government and North Korea’s long-established Mansudae Art Studio,open since December.

The mural, which took 63 painters from North Korea’s most famous school of political artistry two years to complete, is so captivating that some visitors quietly question its authenticity, wondering aloud if it isn’t some sly video projection.


“Amazing! I can see everything…just sitting here in one place you can see everything,” said Keo Samoun of Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province.  Viewing the art after a stop at Angkor Wat and Bayon Temple, she said the museum helps place the temples in a historical landscape.  “It’s easier to visit the museum than some of the far-flung temples dotting the province,” she added.

“I have never seen anyone paint anything like this,” said Thoam Manun Tho, a Buddhist monk. “Amazing. Absolutely amazing!” he exclaimed, violating museum decorum by loudly invoking one of the viewing platform’s most commonly overhead refrains.

In the Angkor era

Known for doing things on a vast scale, Mansudae was founded in 1959 to extol the revolutionary virtues of North Korea and its ruling family.

“With a labor force of approximately 4,000 people, 1,000 of which [are] artists, and an area of over 120,000 square meters, 80,000 of which are indoor, the Mansudae Art Studio is probably the largest art production center in the world and by far the largest and most important of the country,” the Pyongyang-based studio’s website says.

Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons
Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons

Part of Mansudae’s overseas expansion, a bid to raise foreign capital for the isolated regime of Kim Jong-un, the Angkor Panorama Museum offers a Socialist-Realist glimpse back to a time when Khmer warriors battled with spears, swords and huge fighting elephants. The empire also built stunning temples, now UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“[Visitors] feel as if they are right there during the Angkor era,” Yit Chandaroat, museum vice executive director, told VOA Khmer. “They feel as if they are with the people selling vegetables [or] those on the fighting elephants in the painting.”

A visit to the museum should precede tours of the nearby temples, Chandaroat said, as more than 40,000 images of ancient warriors, artisans, farmers and animals help place those structures in a richer historical context.

Ticket sales and nuclear weapons

North Korea spent $24 million and four years building the nearly 6,000-square-meter museum, which rises to an imposing height of 35 meters.

Pyongyang’s decision to invest in Siem Reap was an act of fraternity between old friends, Chandaroat said.  According to the contract, North Korea would completely reclaim its $24 million investment over a 10-year period.

Carvings from Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons
Carvings from Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons

At least, that was the plan. The 10-year recovery period for the initial investment was recently deemed too ambitious, and North Korea is not likely to see its original investment returned until the second 10-year contract, said Chandaroat, who is also a senior official at the Cambodian government entity managing the Angkor Archeological Park.

The museum and its painted panorama are slated to become fully owned by Cambodia under the agreement within 20 years.

Chandaroat denies links between museum ticket sales and funding for North Korean weapons of mass destruction.

Thai Norak Sathya, Secretary of State for Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, says the museum was built in the spirit of cultural promotion, friendship and cooperation rather than income generation.

“The North Korean company came to build the museum because of historical relations of the king with the country,” Thai Norak Sathya told VOA. “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.”

Foreign visitors turn up their noses

For now, one of the profitability issues facing museum officials is that 90 percent of visitors are Cambodian. Foreign tourists, who bring much needed hard currency to Siem Reap’s economy, have been prone to dismiss the museum.

English tourists Sarah and Ashley say they’ve traveled too far just to see a mere painting of the Angkor temples.

“I am quite surprised that they invested so much outside North Korea,” said Sarah, who only gave her first name.

“I want to see the real things. That is what I am here for,” Ashley added. “That is what we are going to do today. I am not interested to go to the museum.”


“I am not aware of what’s inside,” Christelle Bimar, a French tourist said, sitting in a wheelchair in the shade of a palm tree in front of Angkor temple. She was unaware of the panorama museum but had already visited the Angkor Wat temple despite of her left leg broken. “But, yes, I think Angkor and Siem Reap deserve to have many more museums,” she added.

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Cambodia Returns 1,600 Tons of Plastic Waste Exported from US, Canada

Neth Pheaktra said 70 of the containers were shipped from the U.S. and 13 came from Canada. Both countries are major waste exporters

plastic waste
Containers loaded with plastic waste are pictured in Sihanoukville Port, southwest of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. July 16, 2019. VOA

Cambodian authorities have announced plans to return 1,600 tons of plastic waste exported from the U.S. and Canada, according to a high-ranking official from the Environmental Ministry.

Inspectors found the waste Tuesday. It was packed in 83 containers unloaded in Sihanoukville, one of Cambodia’s main ports.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told VOA Khmer on Wednesday that “authorities are seeking the companies that smuggled the plastic waste in order to take legal action.”  He added that the waste would be returned “to the country of origin.”

Neth Pheaktra said 70 of the containers were shipped from the U.S. and 13 came from Canada. Both countries are major waste exporters.

plastic waste
80 percent of the waste found on 93 beaches was plastic. VOA

‘Not a dustbin’

“Cambodia is not a dustbin where foreign countries can dispose of out-of-date e-waste, and the government also opposes any import of plastic waste and lubricants to be recycled in this country,” said Neth Pheaktra.

In the past, Cambodian authorities have found radioactive and film waste arriving in Sihanoukville.  He said the plastic waste found this week was not biodegradable.

Emily Zeeberg, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, said the embassy “is monitoring reports of plastic waste at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port.”

Zeeberg added that “we have requested additional information and are offering U.S. government assistance to determine both the exporter (country of origin) and the importing entity here in Cambodia.”

Sorn Chey, who works with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, said the authorities should heed control mechanisms. “This is something that should not take place,” he added.

plastic waste
Scientists: China’s Ban Causes Plastic To Pile Up, Nations Must Reduce Usage. Pixabay

Chinese project

Cambodia’s rejection this week was the latest step in a trash crisis that emerged when China began Operation Green Fence in February 2013. It was aimed at reducing the vast amounts of contaminated recyclables and waste sent to China.

ALSO READ: Mahindra Group Chairman: No More Plastic Bottles at Boardroom Meeting

In January 2018, Beijing banned almost all imports of two dozen types of recyclable materials, such as plastics, mixed paper and electronic waste. Now, unless the materials are clean and sorted so they are unmixed, China rejects them.

Since then, other countries in Southeast Asia that accepted waste have started to turn it away. In May, Malaysia returned 450 tons of plastic waste to the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands. Earlier this month, Indonesia rejected waste from Australia. (VOA)