31 December 2010

Mail from the Cambodian Palace

This is a cover sent in 2000 from the Royal Palace. The King's mail is usually taken to the Boengpralit District post office for dispatch.

The cover only carries 200r postage which was getting close to the bulk rate (300r) for going to France in 2000. There are also samples of the King's mail franking full postage or over.

26 December 2010

The Price of Old Phnom Penh Starting Anew

"Phnom Penh", composed by Norodom Sihanouk (OP: Rebecca Pan Productions)

In 1960s, Phnom Penh the "Pearl of the Orient" became so legendary that Prince
Sihanouk (now the King Father) wrote a song to show his passion and admiration
on her. Here is a live recording of the song performed for the Prince at a Cambodian
Red Cross event in 1969, vocal by Ms Rebecca Pan, the top cabaret singer of
Hongkong at the time.

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia and a city widely honoured and acclaimed for her beautiful and historical architecture and attractions, celebrated her 575th birthday in 2009.

Wat Phnom Daun Penh featured on a 1983 souvenir sheet with official first day
commemorative postmark, it is to celebrate the 4th anniversary of liberation from Khmer Rouge.
S/S print run: 21,750

Phnom Penh got her name from Daun Penh, an old lady who found some Buddha statues
in the hole of a tree trunk which she pulled out from water in a flood. Daun Penh built a little
hill and a temple on top of it to enshrine what she had found, the site is now Wat Phnom
Daun Penh, the holy landmark of Phnom Penh.

The city was formally founded in 1434 by King Ponhea Yat of Angkor who built his palace near the present Wat Phnom Daun Penh. Phnom Penh remained quiet until 1870s when the French colonialists gradually built it into a modern French style city. In 1950s and 1960s Prince Sihanouk further expanded Phnom Penh under the New Khmer Architecture Movement, the city was in such full splendid that the then Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew had invited Prince Sihanouk to send architects to Singapore for civil engineering advices.

It was only the series of unfortunate events from 1970s to 1990s which brought Phnom Penh to crumble.

The Chaktomuk Royal Palace, Phnom Penh.

Although the city is cultural rich, unlike counterparts such as Bangkok and Hanoi, Phnom Penh did not mark her foundation anniversary lavishly. Only a small celebration was done at Phnom Daun Penh, and no commemorative postage stamps were issued to reaffirm the national and cultural identity of the 575 years old royal capital.

A set of three stamps were issued in 1997 to celebrate
the 30th anniversary of ASEAN. Landmarks of Phnom Penh are themed:
500r Wat Ounalom, 1500r the Royal Palace, and 2000r the National Musuem. Stamp set print run: 124,350

Since peace returned in 1993 which provided a stable environment for national economic recovery, Phnom Penh has been facing a cruel fact that national and cultural identity cannot generate money directly which eventually makes heritage the least thing for the city's officials to concern. The government visions skyscrapers as symbol of prosperity and advancement, this is shown by the city's tremendous economic boom with new buildings sprout up like mushrooms, lakes and ponds filled for land, historic French colonial buildings torn down for new modern glass wall monsters.

To make room for development, original occupants of the land are forced to relocate outside the urban area, slum communities are displaced, neighbourhood is ruined, and hookers, beggars and street children are driven away or banged up.

During UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon's visit, villagers of Boeung Kak Lake
protest against forced relocation with unfair compensation, October 2010.
(Photo: Cambodia Sin Chew Daily)

Land problems regularly hit news headlines in such a way that they are getting boring to news readers. The officials come up with a simple solution, a new Freedom Park for free speech. The park is in fact a designated protest site, victims of social problems as well as policy dissenters are not allowed to gather in front of the Prime Minister's house or anywhere else. Officials say it is the Hyde Park of Cambodia, but critics argue that London's Hyde Park is not a designated demonstration area, and it is not to keep problems at bay.

My self designed commemorative cover celebrating the 575th anniversary of Phnom Penh.

Just as many great cities of the world which experience rapid changes, Phnom Penh is struggling hard to secure her centuries old heritage and speedy modern developement. The city is glowing with new neon electric lights, and at the same time, walking on thin ice of losing the old natural glowing Cambodian smile.

16 December 2010

Diplomatic Mail of Kampuchean Embassy 1976

On 9th July 2009 I wrote about a 1979 diplomatic mail from the Kampuchean embassy in Beijing of China (click here to read).

Here is a 1976 cover from the embassy for comparison:

Back of cover:

Postmarked 30th April 1976 in Beijing, this cover was sent to the East German embassy. It is the ink stamp on the back which catches my attention. The black ink Chinese stamp says "Telecommunication Receive & Dispatch Seal of Embassy of [spacing] Cambodia in China". Right after the three characters for the word "Cambodia", there leaves spacing of two Chinese characters.

The Chinese equivalent of the word "democratic" in "Democratic Kampuchea" takes up two characters, but they are put before "Cambodia", not after. A reasonable guess is that the two missing characters are "Wang Guo", which literally means kingdom; in Chinese grammar the word "kingdom" is put after the country name. And so the embassy used the old ink stamp of Sihanouk era but scraped off the characters for "kingdom".

The Khmer Rouge took power in April 1975 yet after a whole year its embassy in the capital of the Maoist group's best ally was still using a Sihanouk era old ink stamp.

Cambodia changed her name from "Kingdom of Cambodia" to "Khmer Republic" in 1970, and from 1975 to 1979 Cambodia was formally known as "Democratic Kampuchea".

9 December 2010

Phnom Penh CPO Postmarks (Part 3)

(continue part 2)

In 1998 Cambodia introduced machine cancels for the first time since 1979. Each machine cancel has a postmark dial and a cancel die. A series of blog entries have been done on the topic, please click here to read.


2006 saw the use of a new generation of postmarks on CPO mail. These postmarks are bilingual - Khmer and English, and for the first time a postcode is featured.

Basically two kinds of usage for this generation are to be distinguished, they are for arriving mail marked by the letter A and departing mail marked by the letter D. So far only A1, A2, D1 and D3 are known, they are currently in use alongside with generation II postmarks.

Although generation III first appeared on CPO mail in 2006, Khmer and English bilingual postmarks had been in use in Cambodia way before it. Graham Shaw in his article "the Post Offices of Phnom Penh" reported that in 2004 Olympic District post office of Phnom Penh had been using a postmark in Khmer and English in the format of this generation III. In my collection a 2003 cover from Poipet of Banteay Meanchey Province was cancelled by a generation III postmark as well.


CPO information source says that during the UNTAC era (1992-1993) some rubber postmarks similar to generation III but without the postcode were prepared, they were to satisfy collectors' needs. With reasons I remain sceptical on the story, and we all know CPO information is often unreliable as well. Nevertheless these bilingual (Khmer and English) offbeat cancellations mostly made their appearance in mid 2000s. A variety of size and fonts exist, the following gives two examples: