Jul 11 2012
As Mark Twain is often misquoted as saying, “rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” Fans of the Olympic Stadium are hoping that holds true for this Phnom Penh institution too. Murmurings of demolition and redevelopment abound, despite a carefully-worded reassurance from the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation, currently developing land close to the National Sports Complex (the stadium’s official name). All of which is a slightly long-winded way of recommending that you visit the Olympic Stadium soon, just in case.
Architecturally, the site is important. Designed by Cambodia’s best known architect Vann Molyvann (who also designed the Independence Monument), it is an example of the 1950s and 60s New Khmer movement, which worked on creating buildings which were specific to Cambodia but included international modernism ideals. Built in 1963-64, the complex has since hosted the GANEFO games, Khmer boxing bouts, football matches and boy band leader Ronan Keating (yes, really!).
A visit to the stadium suits the frugally-minded, as it’s free to get in, and there’s no-one offering to sell you fake gold medals or copied architecture books. Perhaps someone’s missing an income stream there. You can circumnavigate the 84,000 seat outdoor arena, wander round the sports hall, and be humbled by the training facilities of the taekwondo Olympic athlete competing in London 2012. Early risers are rewarded by the spectacle of hundreds of people doing their exercises around the concrete amphitheatre — everyone has their own particular style and signature moves.
As the day goes on, the complex usually gets very quiet. The dim, cool volleyball court in the indoor arena echoes with the chirps of bats and sparrows. Nerdy photographer types who like angles and lines can play for hours with shots of the seating, roof, steps and ramps. There’s interesting views of the city from the top of the Aztec-style stairs leading to the amphitheatre.
On weekends, there are often local league football matches — come prepared with a hat and sunscreen if you don’t want to pay the modest charge for shade in the main stand. If you’re feeling inspired to be sporty, take a dip in the Olympic-sized swimming pool or join in on one of the impromptu kickabouts in the later afternoon. As the sun goes down, there’s plenty of exercise classes to techno beats for a truly Cambodian fitness kick.
However you chose to enjoy Olympic Stadium, get there soon — with Phnom Penh’s thirst for development, it’s almost certain that the status quo won’t be a winner.
Corner of Sihanouk Blvd and Monireth Blvd, Phnom Penh
(ask your tuk tuk driver to take you to Stad Oh-lim-peek)
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