28 September 2009

Vann Molyvann, Built Cambodia in Style

On this 1000r stamp from the 1993 National Day set is a building which used to stand boldly at the Tonlé Bassac (a river name) riverbank - the Grand Théâtre Preah Bat Norodom Suramarit (King Norodom Suramarit Grand Theatre), or commonly called the Bassac Theatre.

Graced with frangipani gardens, stylish pyramid glass roof, indoor fish pond and triangular motifs, the unforgettable national theatre was inaugurated in 1968. It escaped from Khmer Rouge's vandalism in 1970s but a fire during renovation in 1994 tragically brought the structure to ruin.

In 2008 this performing arts headquarters and another landmark of Phnom Penh, the Council of Ministers Building, were razed to the ground in the name of city development. Coincidentlly both buildings are the work of the country's most famous and influential architect, S.E. Vann Molyvann.
A recent photo of Molyvann in front of his old work, the library of now
the Institute of Foreign Languages, Royal University of Phnom Penh.
The design is inspired by a Khmer palm leaf hat.
(Photo by the Cambodia Daily)

Born in Kampot province in 1926, Molyvann furthered his studies in Paris and returned to his motherland in 1956 as the first fully qualified Cambodian architect. During the Sangkum era from mid 1950s to 1970, the talented man became the foremost figure of New Khmer Architecture.

New Khmer Architecture was an architectural movement in the 1950s and 1960s Cambodia. This distinguish architectural style blended European modernist ideas with Khmer vernacular architecture, so brought a renaissance in Cambodian traditional ornamentation and planning strategies, like the use of loggias, ponds and moats, and column and wall panels. The movement was also characterized with the idea of what we now called sustainable architecture.

Masterpieces are numerous. Molyvann's Vimean Ekareach, also known as the Independence Monument, is no stranger to tourists and stamp collectors. Built in 1958, with a five story lotus shaped prang design reaching 20m high, the stately monument has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in Phnom Penh and the subject of many post 1979 Cambodian stamps:

Other than the Independence Monument, many of Molyvann's work are Phnom Penh's most iconic structures, to name a few, the National Sports Complex (the "new" Olympic Stadium), Chaktomuk Conference Hall, State Palace, and the Teacher Training College (now Institute of Foreign Languages of Royal University of Phnom Penh). Before 1970 the architect was commissioned for more than a hundred projects throughout the country.

Chaktomuk Conference Hall, Phnom Penh.
It resembles the leaves of sugar palm, the national tree of Cambodia.
(Photo: National Museum of Cambodia)

Molyvann left Cambodia after the 1970 coup d’état, stayed in Switzerland and worked for the United Nations Human Settlements Programme. He returned to Phnom Penh in 1991, his patriotic heart makes him call the now shabby and dusty capital home again.

In 2008 the shocking news of Council of Ministers Building and Tonlé Bassac Theatre demolished with Senate's approval yet without public consent has prompted a group of Cambodian and American architects and students to launch the Vann Molyvann Project. After the war no comprehensive record of Molyvann's work survived, the project aims at documenting his creations before they vanish forever in the chaotic postwar urban development.

Please click HERE to learn more about the Vann Molyvann Project.

You may also like to learn more about the New Khmer Architecture through the blog of a Vann Molyvann Project participant, Rémy Bertin. Please click

HERE is a photo gallery of Tonlé Bassac Theatre before and after the fire, by "fmka".

21 September 2009

Theme for a Dream

This is a sporty thematic cover, franked with Atlanta Olympics commemorative stamps, posted at the Olympic post office in Phnom Penh near the National Olympic Stadium, and postmarked on the first anniversary of the opening of 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Because of difficult situations Cambodia did not have the chance to join the Olympic Games after 1972. It was over two decades later when peace returned and To Rithya became the first Cambodian to play the Games again. Rithya is Cambodia's most famous marathon walker, in 1996 the proud athlete took the Cambodian national flag to Atlanta and competed with all his might at men's marathon with top athletes in the world.

AP photographer Doug Mills captured the glorious moment when To Rithya finished the men's marathon at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, 4th August 1996.

Rithya struck once more at 2000 Sydney Olympics. Although he was one of the last ten finishers in both of his Olympic participation, he earned great respect from both counterparts and spectators. Rithta is remarkable, he received no professional training because his country could not afford to provide it, he lived on a government allowance which wasn't even enough to buy half a pair of plain running shoes, and he enjoyed absolutely no generous sponsorship from big companies.

The 5'5" small built man battled bitterly alone and finally accomplished his dream on the track. He is now director of the Centre for Education and Sport.

Athletes trained by the marathon hero flew high at the 5th ASEAN ParaGames in Malaysia this August, courage and persistence has made the weak team bring as many as 15 medals home including a gold at 400m. Let's look forward to the 25th Southeast Asian Games in Laos this December. Cambodia has a theme to dream for.

PS Click below to learn more about Cambodia's latest Marathon hope, Hem Bunting, at:

2006 Dolphins: Fishy Errors

This is a knowledge test. Look at the FDC scans, please spot three mistakes on this issue.


The cachet says FISH, posters at all post offices say FISH, the commemorative postmark says FISH too. Dolphins are not fish, they are mammals. This is the first mistake.

Dolphins found in Cambodian waters become stars on stamps in 2006, the species are:

  • 500r Sousa Chinensis (Chinese white dolphin)
  • 900r Neophocaena Phocaenoides (finless porpoise)
  • 1400r Delphinus Capensis Tropicalis (Arabian long-beaked common dolphin)
  • 2100r Stenella Longirostris Roseinventris (dwarf spinner dolphin )
  • 3500r Tursiops Aduncus (Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin)
This is where you find the second mistake, on the 1400r stamp "Dolphinus" should be "Delphinus".

It makes everyone wonder why the close to extinct Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins (less than 90 now) living in Kratié and Stung Treng provinces are not featured. Here comes the third mistake.

On the 5400r souvenir sheet (s/s), inscription indicates that the featured dolphins are finless porpoise (Neophocaena Phocaenoides). Check carefully, finless porpoise have no back fins, those in the drawing have back fins, they are in fact Irrawaddy dolphins! Finless porpoise and Irrawaddy dolphins look similar except the fin thing.

The illustrator ambitiously promotes ecotourism and Irrawaddy dolphin sightseeing, the inscripter spoils it.

Probably this is the first time in Cambodian philately for having three uncorrelated mistakes in one stamp issue .

16 September 2009

45th Anniv of Cambodia - China Diplomatic Ties (II)

(Continue from Part 1)

The 2003 "45th Anniversary of Sino-Cambodian Diplomatic Ties" issue is not only about 2 stamps and a commemorative cover. There is some fun with the postmark too.

The following shows the standard commemorative postmark of Cambodia:

Surprising enough, not all the 50,000 covers produced are with this standard postmark. There is a variation found:

This postmark type II has an edge ring formed by two concentric circular lines. Both CNPC and Cambodia did not explain why an alternative postmark exists, but from the previous similar cases in the diplomatic series, it may be a sudden and hurry alteration during production which causes such variety.

The number of covers bearing this postmark type II is unknown, to my observation the number is small. They are quite scarce and rare.

Just as the standard postmark, postmark type II features on 3 different franking covers, the Angkor Wat stamp cover, the Great Wall stamp cover, and the full stamp set cover.

The rarest of all is the full stamp set with type II cancellation.

Postmark Type II covers are included in the 50,000 production, they all have print run serial number. Those 6,000 (or 4,000, please see part 1 of this article series) sent to Cambodia are only cancelled by the standard postmark.

All "45th Anniv of Sino-Cambodian Diplomatic Ties" commemorative covers are ready made. There was no hand-back datestamping service in China and Cambodia for this.

If you think all these cover vaieties are not interesting to you, here is the Cullinan diamond. Below shows a FDC messaged and autographed by HM King Father Norodom Sihanouk for the occasion. This FDC was done in Beijing and is the possession of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs philatelic association. (photo taken by yuzhu of China at a stamp expo).

Please click here for part I: "45th Anniv of Sino-Cambodian Diplomatic Ties (I)"

Philatelist Graham Shaw has a well written article titled "45th Anniversary of Cambodia-China Diplomatic ties: Joint Commemorative Issue, July 19, 2003", please click here to read.

10 September 2009

45th Anniv of Cambodia - China Diplomatic Ties (I)

Some knowledge on Chinese diplomatic covers is needed to understand the 2003 45th anniversary of Sino-Cambodian diplomatic ties issue.

China National Philatelic Corporation (CNPC) is the national philatelic agency of China, it produces and wholesales Chinese postage stamps, covers and other philatelic products.

In 1999, CNPC and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Philatelic Association started a series of commemorative covers called "wei jiao feng", literally means diplomatic covers, for celebrating Chinese diplomatic ties anniversaries and other diplomatic events. More than 180 issues are in the series now, each with 50,000 serial numbered print run.

Other than releasing diplomatic covers, in some cases China also print commemorative stamps as a gift to countries which she celebrates diplomatic ties annviersary with. Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Laos, Morocco are just some of the many beneficiaries.

In 2003, the 133rd cover in the series was dedicated to the 45th anniversary of Sino-Cambodian diplomatic ties (WJ-133). In addition 300,000 two-stamp sets were printed in Beijing for Cambodia, they show the two countries' national monuments in a se-tenant way: 

A stamp from the set is on this commercial cover to Hongkong :


The standard format of diplomatic covers is one standard stamp and a commemorative postmark from each country. The Cambodian stamp used on the standard version is the Angkor Wat one.



Nevertheless, an unknown amount of covers has the Great Wall stamp instead. Both versions were distributed by the CNPC.


On top of the 50,000 regular production, some thousand extra covers (it is either 4000 or 6000, I cannnot remember the exact amount, reference lost when my old hard disk crashed last year) were made for Cambodia to distribute in Phnom Penh. They are almost the same as those sold in China, except the full set of Cambodia stamps is used and on the back no print run serial numbers added.



The print run serial number (bottom left corner) is absent on the Cambodia sold cover (lower one):


Please click here for part II: "45th Anniv of Sino-Cambodian Diplomatic Ties (II)"

6 September 2009

Festival Angkor 2000

For most people, Cambodia is Angkor Wat and Khmer Rouge. The country is much more than that, nevertheless one cannot deny the fact that Angkor attracts world's attention most.

Since 1993 tourism has been Cambodia's second greatest source of hard currency, and Angkor is the biggest tourist magnet. To further immortalize these ancient Khmer monuments, the Ministry of Tourism held "Festival Angkor 2000" when the old country moved into the new millenium.

The three day festival, from 30th December 1999 to 1st January 2000, was basically a parade of performing arts with Angkor Wat as a backdrop. It successfully attracted a hundred thousand tourists to flock to Angkor. (click here for the rundown)

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications joined to advertise the grand event by stamping a special cachet on outgoing mail. The illustrated cover to China postmarked 8th December 1999 bears this "Festival Angkor 2000" cachet.

Since it is to promote the event internationally, the cachet is all in English with only "Cambodia Posts" in Khmer. So far only red cachet is observed, no other colours found. A neat copy of the cachet is below:

This is not the first time for Angkor to graphically star on a cachet. Back in the mid 1950s when Cambodia just gained her independence, a "Visit Angkor" cachet in French was in use with the meter stamp to promote the nation: