Phnom Penh Travel Guide (Part 2)
What to See & Do in Phnom Penh
The most famous landmarks in Cambodia, after the temples of Angkor Wat, have to be the Silver Pagoda and the Royal Palace complex in Phnom Penh. The Silver Pagoda is so-named because of its floor of over 5,000 silver blocks. It is also often called the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha because of the green (crystal) Buddha statue inside. The Royal Palace has the early 20th-century Throne Hall and the Royal Treasury.
The location of this complex is stunning – along the Mekong River, with stupas and spires, green spaces, and bright colors. During the dark times it surely gave the people something to look back on with pride and forward to with hope. It’s one of the few sites of note that the Khmer did not destroy. And they didn’t fully loot the complex either; about 40% of the treasures are still there.
1. The Royal Palace
Between Streets 184 and 240., the main building is the Throne Hall, built in 1917. It is built in the Khmer style with a tower and multi-stepped roof. It is still in use as a reception and coronation facility. There are agas (demi-gods) guarding the steps, French-style thrones, a sacred gong inside, and scenes from the Ramayana frescoed on the ceilings.
Take note of the nine-tiered umbrella or parasol behind the thrones. This is the Preah Maha Svetrachatr, the symbol of heaven. Notice also how the huge rug includes the same patterns found on the steps and tiles nearby. There are several additional rooms for the king and queen and for keeping cremated ashes, but only the throne room is normally open to the public.
If you head south from the Throne Room you will quickly come to the Royal Treasury and the Napoleon III Pavilion. The Pavilion was actually built as an accommodation for the Empress Eugenie during the Suez Canal opening celebrations and then moved to Phnom Penh, under the Empress’s orders, as a gift for the Cambodian king. The building is surprisingly delicate, stuffed with knickknacks and other small items.
Large picture of The Royal Palace.
2. The Silver Pagoda
This is out the north gate of the Royal Palace. The pagoda was built of wood in 1892, and rebuilt in 1962. It has marble steps leading to the 5,000+ silver blocks composing the interior floor. Housed inside is an emerald-colored Buddha made of Baccarat crystal. There is also a 200-pound (90-kilogram) gold Buddha, created in 1906, studded with almost 10,000 diamonds. This gold Buddha is accompanied by silver and bronze Buddha statues. There is another “jade“ (actually jadeite) Buddha in the back of the Pagoda.
Take time to walk along the inside of the 2,000-foot (600-meter) wall around the Pagoda. It is covered in 100-year-old frescoes showing scenes from the Ramayana, as well as scenes of the Palace, Temple and daily life. To follow the stories, start at the east gate. There is an admission charge for the complex of about $3, plus charges for cameras and videos. The lockers and “secure” storage facilities are not secure, so you are better off paying for your camera so you can keep it with you.
Large picture of The Silver Pagoda
3. Statue of King Norodom on horseback
There is a statue of King Norodom on horseback just to the east of the Silver Pagoda. It is actually a statue of Napoleon III, but the Cambodians cut the head off and replaced it with a head of King Norodom. Right next to the statue is a stupa with the ashes of an earlier king. If you continue to the south wall you will come to a series of pavilions, one of which contains a footprint of Buddha. There are a number of additional stupas, as well as a mondap (library). The entire area is filled with urns, vases, flowering plants and shrubs.
4. The National Museum of Cambodia
Corner of 13 Street and 178 Street. Located in the reddish-colored building (1920) just to the north of the Palace, this museum houses a collection of Khmer art and a large number of bats in its attics. Open from about to , closed for lunch from to . There is an admission charge of about $3, plus charges for cameras and videos. As above, the lockers are not secure, so keep your camera with you.
5. The Riverside - Wat Ounalom
Along the Mekong River is an array of Colonial buildings almost a mile long. These used to be merchants’ offices, shops, private residences, and government buildings. Today they are shops, restaurants, bars, and guesthouses. Although the Silver Pagoda is attractive, it is not the most famous wat in Phnom Penh. That honor goes to Wat Ounalom. This is located just north of the National Museum at Street 154 and Samdech Sothearos Boulevard. It faces the Tonlé Sap. Prior to 1976 over 500 monks lived here, but their leader was killed by the Khmer Rouge and the facility was heavily damaged. Even so, this wat is the official headquarters of Cambodian Buddhism. At one time it housed a hair of Buddha.
6. Wat Phnom
Located at the end of Boulevard Tou Samouth at Street 96 (the north end of the city), this is one of the oldest wats in the city. It dates from 1372, although it has been rebuilt many times.
7. The Victory Monument
If you go south from the RoyalPalace, between Street 268 and Preah Sihanouk Boulevard, you come to the VictoryMonument. It was built in 1958 to celebrate independence from French Colonial rule. In the vicinity is a variety of good-quality Colonial architecture – mostly on Streets 53, 178, 114, Norodom Boulevard, and Samdech Sothearos Boulevard.
8. TUOL SLENG
A museum is dedicated to the victims of genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. This museum, the Tuol Sleng, is on Street 113, close to Street 350. It commemorates the victims taken to the Khmer interrogation and torture center at Tuol Svay Prey High School.
More than 20,000 people passed through this school and were either killed and buried on the grounds or taken to the Choeung Ek (Killing Fields) and killed there. There are displays of photos and other paraphernalia – the Khmer were very methodical, taking photos and keeping historical records of all their victims.
There are numerous other wats and riverside sights if you have extra time to spend in Phnom Penh, but with so much else to see and do in the country and around the region, two days is just about enough for most short-term visitors.
Following are some ideas for day-trips from Phnom Penh. For the longer jaunts to the mountains, Sihanoukville, Battambang, and, of course, Angkor Wat, see the other sections devoted to those areas.
Pictures of the Royal Palace
and the Silver Pagoda
What to See & Do around Phnom Penh : Kirirom National Park, Mekong cruise,…
Map of Phnom Penh
City Guide homepage
Cambodia travel guide homepage