Oct 19 2012
Following the death of the former King Norodom Sihanouk, an official week of mourning in Cambodia has been declared and will continue until October 23, 2012. Observance will have a minimal effect on most visitors, but if you care to acknowledge the passing of a historically significant figure, the Royal Palace has become a focal point for paying respects.
The statement from the government on the week of mourning prohibits TV and radio stations from broadcasts and performances. Instead there is a loop of obituary documentaries and reruns of the royal casket’s procession. A rumoured alcohol ban has not materialised, leading expats and bar owners to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Some Khmers have been toasting the former king but drunken antics are definitely frowned upon. Most Khmer entertainment businesses and nightclubs, including Pontoon and Heart of Darkness, will keep their doors shut until October 23rd. Loud music or live performances are off the radar for a week, although there have been plenty of reports of non-compliant karaoke bars.
The body of the King Father will lie in state for three months in the grounds of the Royal Palace. A statement from the government says that “civil servants, citizens and foreign friends” will be able to pay their respects, but it is unclear yet whether all foreigners will have access and when that would be. Tourist access to the palace may be restricted during this time but the garden in front is busy with pedestrians.
Currently, roads adjacent the palace are closed, but the gardens in front can be accessed on foot. Visitors wishing to take part in the memorials should take care to be appropriately dressed — white and black are the preferred colours but shorts and vest tops should stay in the guesthouse. Stalls sell incense and candles at inflated prices close to the Palace, and when I was there several small boys were happy to show people how it’s done.
A National Organising Committee of 49 people has been set up to plan the state funeral that will follow the lying in state. Traditionally, the cremation would take place in the gardens outside the National Museum — which happened in 1960 at the last significant royal funeral for King Norodom Suramarit — but it’s difficult to see how the logistics of that would work in modern Cambodia.
More pressingly, Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that the Water Festival celebrations in Phnom Penh will be cancelled. The traditional boat races usually finish outside the Royal Palace and attract huge crowds. The three-day public holiday, from November 27 to 29 remains, but to catch any boating action, you’ll need to head to Siem Reap or see races in one of the smaller towns.
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