A Bassac Theater tale
January 11, 2008, 7:33 am
Filed under: Culture


A Bassac Theater tale


The Preah Suramarit Theatre or the Bassac Theater, designed by renowned architect Vann Molyvann in 1966, it opened in 1968 as the Grand Théâtre Preah Bat Norodom Suramarit (Source: Wekipedia)

It was 25 years ago in 1982 when I and my schoolmates were lucky enough to come to the Bassac Theater at the river front south of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh and see the early traditional arts performances after the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed.

Though we had little knowledge or feeling of a national pride as teenagers, we were proud enough to see the impressive theatre and its marvelous beauty. Surrounded by a spacious garden of blooming frangipani and other flowers, the theater was really a good place to relax and enjoy oneself. Below the staircase leading to the upper floor, we watched golden and silver fish swimming in a pool and dancing to the music inside the auditorium.




resize-of-destruction-2.jpgresize-of-destruction-1.jpgThe Bassac Theater’s auditorium gutted by fire and excavators knocking down down the theater. (Photos: M.C.Nariddh)




As we looked at the Bassac River through the eastern windows, we felt like we were riding on a cruise ship across the sea when the Naga Casino, the new National Assembly and other buildings were nowhere to be seen.

Before the drama began, we mischievously flipped the chairs back and forth and felt the smoothness of their dark red velvet covers. We shouted to the tall roof and waited to hear the echo bouncing back.

No sooner had we played than the lights were turned off and many of us were startled by the beating of drums as the curtains were opened and revealed a group of gracious dancers in front of us.

After about two hours, the arts performances came to an end. While we were returning home, my feeling was still attached to the majestic theater. Over the years, I had returned to see more dramas and performances until the theater was gutted by a fire in 1994 during its unfinished renovation.

Following unsuccessful efforts by its renowned designer, architect Vann Molyvann, and other art lovers to save the theater, this national cultural symbol was swapped with a new substandard building by a private company under a shady deal with the government.

After it fell into the hands of a Chinese-Cambodian business tycoon, the Bassac Theater, which was originally named Preah Suramarit National Theater, didn’t stand long.

On December 27, the destruction started. A group of workers were hired to do the dirty work of knocking down the theater. When the sound of the first excavator started striking the front part of the theater, a security guard from the National Assembly rushed to the corner to show his sympathy to the theater while our lawmakers were busy finishing their unfinished jobs before the year-end.

On the fifth day, the lonely excavator was backed up by another yellow dinosaur of the same size to help pull down the theater. Three days later, the third excavator moved in to reinforce the existing machinery and the workers in the battle with the old but strong theater.

Under the siege of the three powerful excavators and about a dozen workers armed with hammers and welding devices, the theater was forced to surrender. The battle was over.

The theater that cost multi million dollars and took years to build was reduced to rubble in a few days, joining the fate of the shanty houses of squatters at neighboring Dey Krahorm and Sombok Chab to the south.

Now that the Bassac Theater was demolished and many other old state properties sold or swapped, many people were left wondering: Which buildings or national landmarks will become the next victims of the war of land grabs and fearsome development in Cambodia?

Moeun Chhean Nariddh
Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 17 / 01, January 11 – 23, 2008
© Michael Hayes, 2008. All rights revert to authors and artists on publication.
For permission to publish any part of this publication, contact
Michael Hayes, Editor-in-Chief
http://www.PhnomPenhPost.com – Any comments on the website to


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This is very sad to hear. It seems like Cambodian businessmen have no ideas of nationalism! People of different nationalities think taking care of their ancient or old valuable things while Cambodians destroying their roots.

Comment by Kounila Keo

Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

cheers, Chalkiness.

Comment by Chalkiness

I very like this theater

Comment by Vattey

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