Museum Venerates What Was Once Banned

AKP Phnom Penh, July 25, 2020 —

Cambodia has a museum dedicated to the importance of money, a once unthinkable concept in a country that banned cash and still runs a dual currency system with the dollar dominating financial transactions.

Financial literacy remains low and many Cambodians have trouble grasping modern banking in an economy which is expanding rapidly. Older Cambodians rarely have a bank account.

It’s an issue the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) wants to tackle. The central bank is spearheading the push for increased financial literacy in the Kingdom, helped in part by the Sosoro Museum in Phnom Penh.

H.E. Ms. Chea Serey, Assistant Governor and Director-General of Central Banking at the NBC, admits that promoting financial literacy will be a long-term effort.

But it is a subject that will be introduced to schools through a special curriculum created by the central bank with the museum playing host to students on field trips.

“Young students from grade one to twelve will have a better understanding of financial topics such as interest-rate calculations, the definition of a loan, saving concepts, and many others,” she says.

Also known as the Cambodia Museum of Money and Economy, Sosoro Museum is housed in what once served as a town hall during French colonial times and dates to 1908.

The building was neglected and fell into disrepair but work began in 2009 to restore its original look.

Located close to the night market and riverside tourist precincts, the museum is focused around a chronological walkthrough which is simple to navigate and divided into three periods of Cambodian history.

From Funan to Angkor covers the 1st to 15th centuries. The visitor is taken on a tour of artifacts, coins and visual stories.

The next period From Kingdoms to Protectorates, covers 1353 to 1953 which witnessed a procession of monarchs and French rule. As you enter, this space opens up, housing banknotes, coins and traditional Khmer pressed-gold adornments.

The last section — entitled Independence, Wars and Reconstruction — covers 1954 to 1998, a somber period in Cambodian history. That includes the 1975-79 reign of the Khmer Rouge when money and banks were abandoned amid attempts to turn the country into an agrarian utopia.

Context is added with visual displays that help frame the period historically, a prism through which to view the rebuilding and restructuring of Cambodia and its economic infrastructure as the 30-year war came to a close.

The final area of the section is airy and uplifting. Showing the rapid development of Cambodia and its economy, noting which sectors have helped drive economic growth.

Wall displays are accompanied by explanations and show how growth and stability in the economy helped to lift overall living standards.

Interactive displays in the last room of the museum appeal to all ages. Children are attracted by touch-screen games and interactive visual displays aimed at education and fun.

A microscope helps visitors to read and understand the tiny writing on bank notes — and an interactive photo booth will put your face on the money.

Unlike many museums and galleries in Cambodia, the Sosoro Museum is air conditioned and visitors are advised to bring a shawl or light coat. You will be asked to leave your shoes at the front door and slip into a pair of white croc-style slippers.

The museum is well planned, ascetically beautiful — and provides a much-needed overview of the economic and social histories of Cambodia.

Visitors will learn as much about the history of Cambodia as they will about its currency and economy. It’s well worth a visit.

(Photo: Hun Yuthkun & Kok Ky)

By Tristram Hardman