One decades-old car claimed to have a special relationship to Cambodian history sits among the many hundreds-of years-old antique items, as well as an assortment of more recent artefacts, at the privately-owned Vimean Sokha Museum in Siem Reap.
The owner of the museum, Ly Peng Heng – sometimes called ta chkuot or a crazy old coot by the public for his obsession with antiques – has claimed that the 1958 Volkswagen Beetle 1100 in his collection once belonged to famed “golden voice” Cambodian singer Sinn Sisamouth.
“Most visitors are not interested in this Volkswagen until they learn that it used to belong to Sinn Sisamouth. Now there are many people who are interested, especially people in their 50s. He used this car in the 1960s until the war in 1975,” Peng Heng told The Post.
Sinn Sisamouth’s wife, Khav Thorng Nhot, who currently lives in Stung Treng town in Stung Treng province, said that she heard about the Volkswagen car that she and her husband used to drive being at the museum, but she has never gone to see it herself in person.
“I can’t remember the exact years, but at first he and I used to drive a Volkswagen and then he changed to a Toyota and later he drove a Mercedes-Benz,” said the 84-year-old Thorng Nhot.
Thorng Nhot said that due to poor health she cannot travel to see the car in the museum for herself.
Peng Heng said that the personal belongings of celebrities from the 1960s didn’t get much attention from people in their 40s and younger who can’t remember that period of time personally and some people don’t believe that the car actually belonged to Sinn Sisamouth.
He said that when he relates the history of the car to people, some of them believe him and some do not, but he knows what his own opinion is and he doesn’t need to force his views on anyone.
Peng Heng has spent about three decades collecting hundreds of unusual antique items from various regions and all kinds of local and foreign products. He began collecting in the 1990s.
He has a miniature model boat made in 1620, a bicycle made in 1876, the smallest camera in its day that was made in 1937 and televisions and radios from the 1950s. He also has more modern items like motorcycles, phones and CD players, among hundreds of other items.
“12 of my cars have been sold and only one is left, but it is a precious item because of its long history, so I’ve kept it. I will not sell it as long as I am alive,” he said.
Peng Heng bought the Sinn Sisamouth Volkswagen from his brother-in-law Sar Vanputh, a former filmmaker, back in 1998.
“At that time, he [Vanputh] was in desperate need of money and he separated from his wife who was travelling to the United States. He was heartbroken and decided to sell the car to me. He died a few years ago,” he said.
The 1958 Volkswagen was about 50 per cent refurbished after Peng Heng bought it from Vanputh. He said that the engine was later changed from the back side to the front, because at some point during the Khmer Rouge period the engine was destroyed and fixed incorrectly, so he replaced the bad engine with a new one that he was able to drive.
“When the previous owner brought it in 1979, it had the original bumper, but when I bought it to be refurbished, the repairman threw the bumper and number plate away. In all, we refurbished the bumper, the tire and some of the mirrors. That is why some people express disbelief about its history, but I’m not interested,” Peng Heng said.
After nicely displaying it in a glass cabinet, Peng Heng plans to repaint the Volkswagen Beetle 1100 white, which was its original colour. Visitors can still touch it and take photos but they aren’t allowed to open the doors and sit inside.
Peng Heng’s museum has a lot more to see than just the Volkswagen, however. He has many 200 and 300-year-old antique items that should be of interest to any visitor, local or international, as well as an odd assortment of more modern technological items to spark anyone’s nostalgia.
“I have also collected more than 100 motorcycles and bicycles. There are a variety of models of about 300 machines, 100 clocks, 100 telephones, nearly 80 radios, among many other items. In total there are almost 1,000 items,” he said.
He added that he has a Whizzer bicycle made in 1939, some classic “Super Cross” dual engine motorbikes, a Rolls-Royce model from 1935 and a CD player made in 1986.
Vimean Sokha Museum is located in Trapeang Ses village of Sangkat Kork Chak in Siem Reap town. For Cambodian tourists the entry fee is 5,000 riel per person and for international tourists entry costs 20,000 riel per person. Pre-wedding and other photo shoots can be arranged by appointment and start at 400,000 riel.