North Korea Spends $10 Million Building Museum in Cambodia

Despite economic problems of its own, North Korea orders the construction of a museum in the heart of Cambodia's tourist trail
January 9th, 2013

Despite a struggling economy, Pyongyang has spent an estimated $10 million on the construction of a new museum dedicated to celebrating Cambodian history. Situated three kilometers from the tourist destination of Siem Reap and just around the corner from the largest Hindu temple complex in the world, this new North Korean museum is scheduled to open in April.

Intriguingly, recent reports suggest that North Korea is donating this museum “as a gesture of friendship” to longtime ally, Cambodia. But while it remains unclear if Pyongyang will receive any compensation for the construction of the museum, August 2011 reports in The Global Post suggest that, “North Korea will be paid between $10 and $17 million for some sort of monument or museum near the temples.”

It is possible that North Korea may have ordered the building of the museum as a token of appreciation for Kim Il Sung’s close friend and former Cold War collaborator, Norodom Sihanouk. Indeed, KCNA reported shortly after his death in October 2012 that,

The government of the DPRK decided on Thursday to set Oct. 23, 2012 as a mourning day and raise flags at half-mast at fixed places on that day to mourn the death of Great King of Cambodia Norodom Sihanouk.

Inside the new museum is a North Korean-made painting of Buddha, a geographical depiction of both Angkor Park and Siem Reap, and even a 3-D show explaining the Khmer heritage of stone cutting and transportation.  But the showcase piece is a giant North Korean-painted mosaic of the 12th century Angkor war, religion, and daily life.

Mansudae Art Studio, North Korea’s leading state-run arts and construction enterprise, are reported by KCNA to have built the museum. Perhaps unsurprisingly  during the construction process the North Korean workers were kept away from the Cambodian public, with one engineer at the construction claiming in 2011 that, “They do everything behind that wall. They never come out.”

Mansudae’s Art Studio’s foray’s into foreign lands are now new. The company is infamous for building controversial “socialist realist” style monuments to leaders throughout the African continent. In 2010, Senegalese officials unveiled a massive, 164 foot North Korean-made monument commemorating “Africa’s renaissance.”   In Zimbabwe, the North Koreans built two statues honoring former guerilla leader, Joshua Nkomo

Former President of Congo, Laurent Kabila

Perhaps the oddest-looking North Korean made statue is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (pictured on the right), where the North Koreans built a statue of former Congolese president, Laurent Kabila. If one looks closely at this statue, the body has an uncanny resemblance to Kim Jong Il.

North Korean Economy Watch explains that,

From the neck down, the Kabila monument looks strangely like Kim Jong Il: baggy uniform, creased pants, the raised arm, a little book in his left hand. From the neck up, the statue is the thick, grim bald mug of Laurent Kabila.

Although unlikely, some have suggested this statue did not meet the requirements of placement in North Korea so instead of being scrapped, Mansudae Art Studio remodelled it for sale to Kinshasa.

As of today it is not yet clear when the new North Korean museum will open for tourists in Cambodia. You can read more about Kim Il Sung’s close relations with Cambodia here.

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About the Author

Chad O'Carroll

Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.