The Landmine Museum is about 2 miles away from the World Heritage Site of the Angkor Wat and about a mile away from the luxurious accommodations of the city of Siem Reap. However, the museum’s bumpy and unpaved road located in a small rural community feels like a million miles away from Cambodian tourism.
Opened in 1999, the museum is little over a decade and mainly consists of a simple iron building, a handful of roughly built sheds and open-air eating and sleeping quarters. The museum was founded and is directed by the quiet Aki Ra. This brave mine clearer has a slim and small build, but despite his small stature, he has a commanding presence. Although soft-spoken, Aki Ra lures in visitors as he openly shares information about the museum and his life.
Aki Ra’s parents were killed when he was just 5 years old by the Khmer Rouge, which was the country’s ruling Communist party during the 1970s. He was then subsequently forced to serve in the army at a very young age. By the time he was 14, the Vietnamese took over and he had a choice to serve the troops or to face death. He then chose to serve with the army. By 18 years old, Vietnam withdrew Cambodia as Aki Ra joined the Cambodian army to fight against the Khmer Rouge.
In between all the bizarre twists and turns of Aki Ra’s life, what remained constant was his exposure to the battlefield and his detonation of landmines. At first, he used nothing more than a stick and his own hands. He was then helped by the United Nations who taught him to use mine-clearing equipment and metal detectors. He was then led to an extraordinary volume of weapons and mines that proved to be his inspiration to establish the museum.
Although Aki Ra has been doing this for many years, the clearing exercise is far from complete as is it said that there are more or less six mission mines remaining in the soils of Cambodia. Many of the devices are remnants of the conflicts inflicted in the country in the past decades. These unclear mine fields are regularly visited by Aki Ra. With unaided support, no funding and without sophisticated equipment, Aki Ra continues to clear the mines with funding used from his museum’s proceeds.
It is still a regular occurrence that local people are fearful of isolated landscapes as they believe that some of the devices may still remain in active condition decades after they were first placed in the ground. Aki Ra’s extraordinary work is not only focused on clearing the mines but also on educating people about mine awareness, safety and first aid.
The museum displays a wide range of defused landmines and a handful of photos of Aki Ra and his men at work removing weapons and mines from the soil. One exhibit tells the story of Cambodians whose lives have been devastated by the landmine plague.
The Landmine Museum’s simple layout and structure has been successful with its aim to educate and raise awareness of the devastating effects of anti-personal devices in Cambodia. Rather than scaring off tourists into thinking that places around the Angkor Wat are dangerous, Aki Ra reiterates that the surrounding areas of Siem Reap are now safe and clear of mines, making sure tourists have less to worry about when it comes to such potential risks in visiting the city.