Delving into the great historical treasure of Khmer Museum


When you travel, what will be one of your choices? Normally, people are drawn to the excitement provoked by the mesmerizing wilderness of nature rather than familiar images of the city that they are living in. Sometimes, going around the city is not regarded as traveling but more like wandering around. However, traveling has never been solely about the experience but it is also the exploration of the unknowns, conquer them, or master them, either way, is all traveling, geographically and sensationally. Therefore, if you are someone who rarely takes yourself out for the museum, this Mekong Delta tour will be just what you need. So let the great adventure of history exploration begin!

1. Where is Khmer Museum?

The museum we would like to show you in one of our Mekong Delta group tours is Khmer Ethological Culture Museum, also read in Vietnamese as “Bảo tàng Văn hóa dân tộc Khmer”. The museum is now situated in a corner of Trà Vinh City of Trà Vinh Province in the Mekong Delta also known as the Southern Delta. Therefore, if you enlist yourself on a Tra Vinh tour, you will likely be led around the city and finally, come up to this wonderful spot. Actually, if you make your google search, you will find that there is another Khmer museum. So indeed, there are only two Khmer museums in Vietnam, the first one is the mentioned and the other one is located in Sóc Sơn Province. Both of them are included with huge collections of profound Khmer culture. However, based on each region of exploitation, the documentaries as well as facts, and remains found are relatively different.


The whole museum complex from above

So the question is why there are only two Khmer museums in Vietnam and one of them located here in Trà Vinh. First of all, let us see through the history of Khmer and how they got attached to the Mekong Delta. The history of Khmer more or less deals with the deep down origin of Cambodia and Indian culture. If you have come across some documentaries of Cambodia history, you will find out a significant link in the historical chain of Cambodia and a small part of contemporary Khmer in Vietnam. The ancestor of the Khmer known nowadays is “ante Khmer – Pnông” originated in Cambodia Before Christ. From the time of Anno Domini, the strong and vicious influence of Indian culture took place twice in parts of Khmer-Pong inhabitance, there appeared many waves of emigrants from all classes of the country, mostly nobles, intelligentsia, deeply-affected-by-Indian-culture people, the North from Indochina, the South from China, and parts of the Indian. And it was those waves of immigrants created the original country – the old Cambodia known as Chân Lạp and the “Khmer” term that we know today.


Another angle of the museum

However, Chân Lạp was not an independent country in the first place but was the colony of a country called Phù Nam – a coastal country of which the center is the contemporary South of Vietnam. Through great changes of history and military affairs, Phù Nam got weakened, Chân Lạp took its chance as one-of-a-lifetime and stroke at Phù Nam to eventually, from the being dominated to the dominance and merged Phù Nam to Chân Lạp as a united body. It was this historical event that opens to the emigration of a great number of Khmer to the South of Vietnam, leaving behind the fantastic remains of history that are now stored in the Khmer museum as we know today.

2. The history of Khmer Museum

As you are on a Mekong Delta group tours, you will probably be introduced around to the history of the museum. However, there is slightly information of its existing progress. The museum is now a part of the heritage complex including Bà Om Pond and Âng Pagoda in Ward 8 of Trà Vinh City. There is not much information stored about the making history of the museum. However, disregard of the shortage of information, it is found that the Khmer museum was built in 1995, which was after the Đổi Mới – a term used in 1986 regarding the “socialist-oriented market economy” and socialist-oriented policy of Vietnam post-war. It is not known about the exact time of starting construction but the fact that the museum was built in 1995 marked a significant event when Vietnam officially became the 7th member of ASEAN. Therefore, whether it was on purpose or not, the construction of Khmer Museum in 1995 contributed greatly to the cultural integration of Vietnam.


The front yard of the museum

The construction officially finished in 1997 after two years of continuous working. Until now, the museum has been through over 20 years and several refurbish accompanied with lots of change and new remains added to the collections. If you take a tour of Khmer museum now, you will find that the museum still seems quite new because it has been through both minor and major restorations. However, because it was built in the post-war so there is not much devastation to the general architecture of the building and everything stays well to be contemplated.

3. The architecture

To state shortly, the Khmer Museum is probably one of the top destinations to visit in Tra Vinh. Basically, Trà Vinh itself has been a promising land of culture explore. Here you will find yourself being surrounded by lots of useful information and documentaries about Asian culture, especially of the Khmer. Once you arrive in Trà Vinh on Mekong Delta group tours, you can easily see that most of the tourism destinations more or less deal with Khmer culture, for example, the Khmer Pagoda. It is interesting to see how significantly the Khmer culture remains in the daily life of the Southern people living in the Mekong Delta. Back to the museum, as stated, was built after Đổi Mới so the architecture is not deeply affected by that of French anymore. In fact, the main theme in the style of art when the museum was at the begin of the construction was Khmer and Asian culture.


Another side of the museum

On the outside, the general architecture bears some resemblances to the communal house. Or we can say that the communal house was used as the model and the main idea in shaping the museum. The idea of taking the communal house as the main theme is such a relevance since it is the one used in the Khmer’s daily life. The easiest way to recognize this feature is the outstanding front roof. The house is built with the main roof in the middle with special triangular patterns, accompanied by two sub-roofs and compartments. This is the typical Khmer house model that you can easily spot everywhere from the Internet to life. The paint used is quite plain creating the ceramic-feel. However, it goes very well with the general form of the museum of which the roof is intentionally emphasized using warm-color bricks.

4. What does it have?

As our Mekong Delta group tours take you to discover the museum, you will be amazed to find such a divine location that the museum is situated. People say that the first impression is always important and the architects did their job well while guiding the visitors to a whole area covered in the lush greenery of trees before entering the main building. This creates quite a similar feeling to travel to a real Khmer village.


A corner inside the museum

Applied mainly the traditional architectural building and being accompanied by modern architecture influence, the museum stands out with only two floors.  However, the first floor is used for the working space of officers and people working at the museum. As you enter the yard, you can easily see a half-moon lake, which is used to raise fish. This smart design works quite well in creating a more comfortable sightseeing space for the visitors.


Ancient model display of Khmer culture

As you go to the second floor, you will find yourself surrounded by many rooms but each of them has its own display and is arranged in order so that you can visit the whole one by one or separately. The answer to the question “what does it have?” is easy since a Khmer Museum must be a place for Khmer remains! Ancient objects collected and displayed here are mainly normal tools and things used in the daily life of the ancient Khmer living in the Mekong Delta. Besides material objects, the museum also presents with immaterial heritage and culture of the old Khmer, which can be learned from videos projected in the museum as well as models created to bring back the life of the ancient Khmer once lived.


Tools used in fishing of the Khmer

Basically, the second floor is divided into three separate rooms. The first room is where you can find different models of Khmer pagodas. There is also sala – sat by the monks in their ceremonial offerings. The first room really creates the feeling of entering a holy world where the existence of The Above can be reached in hands and in minds. It is such a breathtaking experience seeing everything with your bare eyes and silently contemplate in admiration and scream to yourself that how normal hands can create such masterpieces! The interesting thing about the first room is not only how elegantly and delicately those models are made but also the appearance of the Key-no – a holy bird symbolizes and represents the image of the Goddess in the religion of the Khmer and the Pro-nam, which is bird model carved with aesthetic patterns used in the decoration of every pagoda’s exterior.


Model of a step in a traditional wedding of the Khmer

The second room is displayed with old agricultural tools of the Khmer. When looking at these tools, especially the sickle, you will notice a very unique mark of the Khmer in tool design which is the bird or the dragon “niêk” patterns. Usually, on a Khmer sickle, there will be vertical patterns or bird drawings along with the head of a dragon called niek. In this room, you can also explore dozens of cultural outfits of the Khmer including all styles used from daily life to special events. The room also shows you to a system of Khmer language and words, which was through about 12 times of modifications from Phạn – an old language system, to lead to the existence of the present Khmer language.


Illustration of a stage play

If you love art, especially music, you will definitely love the last room, which is used to display all kinds of traditional instruments of the Khmer along with performing outfits and accessories. Everything is illustrated to you in real images by models made by the best architects and artists. Here you will see how vividly the art form Rồ-băm, a form of Khmer stage play, is brought to life or Dù Kê, which was born in the 20th century. Most Khmer instruments are made of wood and bamboo. However, for instruments used in different ceremonies, the materials are diverse including wood, leather, bronze, and iron.


Different kinds of instruments

In general, the museum is a great place for a cultural exploration. Coming here, you will truly have the time to contemplate true artworks and learn more about the ancient life of the land you are traveling to visit. The museum is also talked-about and is visited by many people from all over the place to study and to learn. There are about 30.000 people coming here each year to discover interesting things about the Khmer. And maybe you should be the next. The museum can be visited during the week so take your time and come to see.

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