A small padlock hangs around the gates of Veal Mean, the once ornate garden in front of the National Museum where a specially built cremation site for late King Father Norodom Sihanouk still stands more than three months after the revered monarch was cremated.
Shortly after Norodom Sihanouk was cremated on February 5, the government said the site would be preserved as a so-called “tourism site.” But since the elaborate ceremony took place in the presence of dignitaries from around the world, the site is mostly locked and abandoned, the cremation stupa has been removed, and paint is flaking off the temporary plaster and wood walls that form the site’s perimeter, while knee-high weeds grow inside the grounds of Veal Mean.
No tourist has yet been allowed into what is left of the unkempt cremation site. Previously, locals and visitors to the country would often visit Veal Mean to play sports and take pictures of the National Museum.
Nhiek Bun Chhay, secretary-general of the Funcinpec party and deputy director of the government’s committee for the late King’s cremation, reiterated Thursday that the government’s plan is to keep the site as it is next to the Royal Palace.
But Prince Sisowath Thomico, Norodom Sihanouk’s former adviser, said the government’s decision was contrary to the country’s royal traditions. “What is being done with the site is the government decision. All I can say is that according to our traditions, they’d have to take it down,” Prince Thomico said, referring to the cremation site.
Keeping what is left of the temporary pavilions used to seat visitors during the cremation will also mean that the annual Royal Plowing Ceremony, scheduled for May 28, will now be held in Kompong Cham province instead of it traditional location at Veal Mean.
Mr. Bun Chhay offered a different vision for Veal Mean, revealing that it will likely never be host to the Royal Plowing Ceremony again.
“We may keep it [the remains of the cremation site] forever because we don’t use the [Veal Mean] site anymore,” he said. “In the future, the [plowing ceremony] will be in different provinces.”
Commenting on the run-down appearance of the cremation site, Mr. Bun Chhay said that authorities would clean it up.
“It will be kept open for the public,” Mr. Bun Chhay said, without saying exactly when the site would be opened to the public.
Asked about where a future cremation site for the royal family would be built if the remains of the current site is being kept “forever,” Mr. Bun Chhay said he was unsure if it would be built at Veal Mean. “Let’s wait until it happens,” he said.