Nicky McGavin, Travelfish.org Wat Damnak was a royal palace during the reign of King Sisowath, which explains the name, as “dam nak” is Khmer for palace. Today it is a functioning pagoda, and home to a school, two charities and a sewing school for young women. Pagodas are the center of the primary education system in Cambodia and it is appropriate therefore that both of the NGOs located here are concerned with education. The Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) has spent ten years here working to reinforce our understanding of Cambodia, and to support the Cambodian higher education system. As you follow the road through the wat, you’ll notice on your right a pinky-burgundy building with white columns, which is home to the CKS reading room, and directly behind that you’ll find the new library which has been specially designed to store and protect a wealth of knowledge. The groups of young Cambodians earnestly pouring over their books in the outdoor corrals will be a pretty good sign that you’ve arrived in the right place.
The new library building was officially opened in January 2010 at a ceremony led by King Norodom Sihamoni and attended by thousands of young Cambodian schoolchildren who, it is hoped, will benefit from the resources available here. The library holds books, journals, encyclopedias, directories, maps, guidebooks and daily national newspapers in English, French and Khmer, and their catalogue now lists more than 15,000 titles. The emphasis is on the social sciences, such as archaeology, sociology, art and economics. Spending a morning there absorbing information from the journals or taking in the scholarly vibe is pretty special.
The librarians also speak English, French and Khmer and were trained at the University of California, Berkeley. Once you’ve had enough of reading, or simply fancy a stroll, the gardens of the wat are quietly beautiful. Filled with aromatic frangipani trees, this is a wonderful spot if you’re up for a little improvement of the mind, or simply a little calming of the soul.