Location : Siem Reap
The War Museum in Siem Reap is the only War Museum in Cambodia. It offers visitors a unique and insightful view of the perils that Cambodia faced during the last 3 decades of the 20th century. It gives also visitors an excellent opportunity to learn more about what actually occurred during Cambodia’s war years.
It has a unique collection, you will also be able to see war machines like the tank T-54, the jet fighter aircraft MiG-19, the helicopter Mil Mi-8 and the field artillery gun 85-mm divisional gun D-44. Before used in Cambodia, some of these war machines have even seen action during World War II. Among the collection there are also many sorts of landmines and rare photographs from the defined period of time in Cambodia.
You can take a free guide to lead you around. Each of the guides has his own unique background: war veterans, eye witnesses of the war and landmine victims. Therefore, not only they could tell you about the last 3 decades of the 20th century history of Cambodia and about the collection of the museum, but also about their personal experiences during the defined period of time.
You can hold small arms, from a M16 or an AK-47 (Kalashnikov) till a machine gun like the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). You can even hold a rocket launcher! Before used in Cambodia, some of these guns have even seen action during World War II.
The purpose of this museum is to keep the memory of such an important episode in the history of Cambodia alive and to preserve the unique collection for posterity.
2001 – Start
In February 2001 the Siem Reap War Museum was built in partnership with the Ministry of National Defense on more than 2 hectares of land, a former landmine field, just off National Road 6 between the airport and the city center of Siem Reap.
The items were salvaged from areas such as Anlong Veng (situated in north-western Cambodia) after the civil war ended in 1999.
2008 – Visits drop off
The Siem Reap War Museum was facing a battle to stay open in the face of mass desertion by tourists: visitor numbers had dwindled to about 20 a day.
2013 – New beginning
For 12 years the museum was deteriorating. In 2013 however the first foreigner ever, Richard Esselaar, started to work for the museum as adjunct director and the name of the museum was changed from Siem Reap War Museum into War Museum Cambodia. As the first volunteer ever, Light Hwang was working in the museum as well in 2013. During this time e.g. internal organization changes had been applied, working conditions of staff had been improved and improvements were being made in the museum itself, e.g. descriptions were added to photos hanging in the displays of the museum.
Marketing and sales were introduced and visitor numbers rose significantly. In December 2013 for the first time in its history the museum was being visited by more than 100 visitors a day. In this year the museum had received for the first time a TripAdvisor® Certificate of Excellence award.
2014/2016 – Continue going uphill
In 2014 improvements were being made in the museum itself, e.g. a timeline was made and text was added to displays of the museum. Museum uniforms and internet were introduced.
For the first time in its history the museum reached over 200 visitors a day, namely the 7th of January 2015 the museum was being visited by 225 visitors.
The 18th of May 2015 the museum was damaged by a powerful storm. Soon after the drainage system was improved. To preserve the unique collection for posterity Project Preservation (see pictures below) started along with other, smaller, projects like the Stand Display Project. To finance also these projects external funding was introduced. It was also made possible to donate artifacts.
The War Museum Cambodia has a unique collection. The collection on display was gathered since 1999 from provinces in which the most savage fighting took place (Siem Reap and Odor Meanchey) and is a mix of Chinese, American and Soviet hardware. Before used in Cambodia, some of these war machines have even seen action during World War II.
The museum’s collection is invaluable as most war relics have been sold for scrap. People have been gathering and selling such equipment because they got good money for scrap metal. For a tank they could have received $300 to $400 at least. Competition from scrap dealers was not the only problem the museum faced as it gathered its collection: most of the machinery was very heavy and it was difficult to gain access to dense jungle areas to remove the items.
There is a vast array of vehicles, artillery, weaponry and equipment on display. You will be able to see e.g. war machines like the tank T-54, the jet fighter aircraft MiG-19, the helicopter Mil Mi-8 and the field artillery gun 85-mm divisional gun D-44.
There is also a broad range of uniforms, flags as well as rare photographs from the defining period on display.