A lesson in art and culture

Having begun to feel like I have arrived, developed some bravery in exploring on my own and a deep desire to learn more sent me first to the National Museum.  A small museum by European standards, but none the less it had great examples of items from pre-Angkor, Angkor and some more modern items.

I did try to learn a bit of history before my arrival here but as I read articles and listened to podcasts the names and places seem almost apart of a great work of fiction.  Every time I would look up something a whole new chapter in world history would open itself up.  I consider myself a fairly well-educated woman, someone who asks questions and tries to understand.  In terms of the history of this continent I know virtually nothing.  I mean I could tell you that I have heard of things like Genghis Khan, the Vietnam war, French Indochina and Marco Polo but certainly had no idea of Champa, Funan, Arkan and more.  This visit put a lot of those pieces together for me.  I was also able to purchase a few books (those who have travelled with me are rolling their eyes right now), they sit on my bedside table and will give me the chance to dig in and understand these people and their history all the more. While I will share photos, I can not offer too much in the way if details about their historical significance.  I will share my impressions and feelings as a curious traveller.

Main entrance

Beautiful detail above the door

In the garden around the museum. The front of the elephant is the only man made portion. The trees behind fill out the body.

Garuda. First half 10th century. This large statue of the king of birds is the first thing you see as you enter. Visnu’s mount and eater of naga.


A map showing the size and geography of the Khmer empire of Angkor. The Thai here are known as the Mon, people will recognise the region of Arakan from the modern troubles with the Rohingya in Burma. Champa has been swallowed up by modern Vietnam. Current Cambodia is the dark orange in the centre.

Hindu Trimurti.First half 10th century. Siva (centre), Visnuon and Brahma. I came to understand through art how Cambodian sculptors blended religions together.

Monkeys are often shown as a part of the army of kings, I guess there is some truth behind the winged monkeys of the Wizard of Oz.

Nagas are often seen as protectors around important sites here, until arriving here I thought there were a work of fantasy, found in books and video games, certainly not religious characters.

Built in 1917 during the French protectorate.

Too hot to spend too much time outside, sorry for the squinting. The traditional motifs in this building make it a perfect place for a study of the past.

The bronze work on display dates from 7th-20th century.

Buddha seated and guarded by naga. Another example of blending of religions

This Krama is a world record holder. It represents national pride. It shows the spirit of “Believe Khmer Can”. A traditional piece of clothing it is a symbol of the Cambodian people’s efforts to realize their legacy as Khmer people.

After my visit to the museum I found my way to a different spa to enjoy a traditional Khmer massage.  This was an unbelievable experience.  No oils, no aromatherapy.  Rather, it was a strangely therapeutic session that could only be described as a weird fusion of a chiropractic, physiotherapy, stretches, and pressure points.  First, I changed into an outfit that is similar to a gi, the top tied closed only loosely and the pants were miles to big.  I would understand why toward the end when she was stretching my legs. The woman who offered me this massage was maybe 5’2”…and at best 90 lb.  She was tiny. 

On my front she squatted on the table above me and used her body weight to push and pull at my back, legs and feet.  It was not so much relaxing as releasing. After really finding all the tights spots she moved my legs to work on points on my knees, ankles and toes.  She found all kinds of spots on my hips and thighs that seemed at first to be very angry at being found.  By the end of our time those same spots felt totally open and happy, better ever than any physio or massage I’ve had at home.

Once she had me turn over things got really interesting.  She sat at my feet and used both hand and both legs to simultaneously pull and push and put pressure on my upper legs.   I really wondered at the kind of training that this woman had.  She was able to use her toes to apply pressure to a few spots while pushing the whole muscle while her hand and upper body pulled on my leg. It is so hard to describe I am sorry to not offer photos.  Sitting up on the table she moved to behind me and tried different position where she would use my arms and her kneed to stretch and manipulate my back more than she had already.  When she stood up and pulled my arms up overhead it felt like so much tension just let go…it wasn’t like a yoga release, my body just felt like YES, this is better.

I will definitely be having this kind of work done every couple of weeks, I literally walked out of that place with a grin from ear to ear, it just felt that good.  Now, don’t get me wrong, some people will not enjoy this kind of session.  For me, HOLY! It was amazing. Once home I enjoyed a lovely pepper steak hot plate and fresh lime juice ($3).  Since I didn’t hurt or feel overworked, like I often do after a massage at home, I went to work out and hit the pillow early.

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