Why the Royal Palace Phnom Penh is a must see
The Royal Palace Phnom Penh is a stunning architectural and cultural masterpiece which shouldn’t be missed by any visitor to Cambodia’s capital. Spectacular architecture, featuring Khmer and European elements (a legacy from the time of French protectorate), beautifully manicured and maintained gardens, religious objects and priceless treasures await you within the walls of this complex. The Royal Palace complex consists of two main areas – the Royal Palace Compound and the Silver Pagoda. The first is at the disposal of the Royal Family, while the second is intended for religious ceremonies. The Silver Pagoda is also a memorial ground.
When touring the Royal Palace don’t simply run from one point of interest to another; take your time to have a look at the corners, too. Also, note that certain sections are closed to the public since the Royal Family resides here. The Royal Palace can be reached by tuk tuk from anywhere in Phnom Penh within 20 minutes.
Royal Palace Compound
High sculpted walls and the golden spires of the Royal Palace are the most dominating features of the Cambodian capital’s skyline. Once inside the compound, allow yourselves to be amazed by the cohesion of exquisite architecture and endless beauty of the tropical garden, but also take a closer look at the spires; some of these terraced creations are additionally embellished with images of Buddha.
Most of the buildings’ roofs feature the classic Khmer style, as well as the majority of structures. The most noticeable, since it dominates the façade of the Sothearos Boulevard, is known as Moonlight Pavilion. From its balcony, the king would make speeches to people gathered below and oversee parades. It is also where the king receives foreign visitors and organises Royal banquets.
On the opposite side of the Victory Gate you will find the Throne Hall. It is a principal audience hall, where high-level meetings and coronation ceremonies take place. Before entering, you should observe the roof (golden colored tiles) and the spire that makes the Throne Hall 59-metres high. Inside, sculptures and busts of Cambodian kings and queens are displayed; however, your attention will most certainly be occupied by the thrones and ceiling artwork. Two traditional thrones are accompanied with a modern western-style one, while the frescoes decorating the ceiling illustrate a local epic poem, “Reamker”. Meaning “the Glory of Rama”, the poem shows how good and evil balance each other.
In the adjacent Hor Samrah Phirun (“Where one sleeps peacefully”) you can observe gifts the king received from foreign dignitaries, as well as a collection of musical instruments and implements used in processions. The name refers to the resting area where the king, before Royal processions, awaits to mount an elephant.
Edifices featuring European architectural styles are located in the upper left section of the Royal Palace Compound.
The Napoleon III Pavilion is the oldest standing structure within this complex. Built in 1869 for the needs of Empress Eugenia (Napoleon III’s wife), and gifted to King Norodom a few years later, it houses today a small museum, exhibiting Royal memorabilia and photos.
The adjacent Damnak Chan Pavilion is a mixture of Khmer (roof) and European (body) styles. This building is closed to the public.
A word or two about the location of the Royal Palace. Commissioned in 1866, the grounds were chosen with care by the Royal astrologists. In their calculations, they discovered a connection that this place shared with the gods, whose descendant on earth is the king.
The Silver Pagoda enclosure is a rather strange religious establishment since its uniqueness lies in the fact that monks don’t reside here. Nevertheless, it is where the king meets with them in various discussions and sermon attendances, even Royal ceremonies. According to many, the gardens of the Silver Pagoda, which are dotted with monuments to former kings, best those in the Royal Compound. A model of the legendary Angkor Wat can also be found in these gardens.
As you enter this section of the Royal Palace from the Royal Compound, you’ll be immediately drawn to the “Temple of the Emerald Buddha” (Wat Preah Keo Morokat). However, be sure to turn around and take a glimpse of the Ramayana Frescoes which covers the inner side of the Pagoda compound walls. Ramayana Frescoes is the largest mural creation in South Asia, and you’ll certainly recognise some scenes from the Reamker legend if you have paid a visit to the Throne Hall.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is both a worshipping place and a treasury repository. Commonly known as Silver Pagoda, it shelters priceless cultural heritage. Here you will find various gilded Buddha sculptures, Buddha relics in a small stupa made of gold and silver, and other contributions made by nobles and royal members from foreign countries. A statue of Buddha sitting on a gilded dais, made of emerald (or baccarat) crystal, is credited for the temple’s official name. As for its unofficial name (Silver Pagoda), handmade silver tiles covering the floor are accountable for it. Another highlight is “the Buddha of the future” statue. Weighing around 90 kg, it’s a golden creation, adorned with over 2000 diamonds; the one adorning the crown is a 25-carat diamond.
If you believe in fortune telling, you have come to the right place. There are a few places where you can discover what the future may hold, but you’ll need help with the translation. These places are, the Keong Preah Bath, the Library (to the left as you enter the Pagoda compound) and Phnom Mondop.
You don’t have to bathe in Keong Preah Bath, but you have to see footprints of Buddha. The Library contains sacred texts and manuscripts, Buddha statues and an image of a sacred bull, Nandin. Phnom Mondop symbolizes Mount Kailas (a sacred mountain to Hindus and Buddhists), and an attached shrine contains Buddha’s footprint. 108 Buddha’s lives are illustrated with 108 images.
The Silver Pagoda grounds are dotted with a couple of memorials and stupas honoring former rulers and their family members. You’ll recognise them by characteristic temple-like motifs.
The Royal Palace does get pretty crowded on Sundays, but this does mean your experience could prove to be more interesting. Note that there is no way around the strict dress code, and if you aren’t dressed properly, be prepared to rent appropriate clothing to be allowed into the complex.
Guides are available at the entry point, but you should make it clear that you don’t want to be rushed during your tour. If in doubt, you can always rent an audio guide.
Best time for taking photos is in the morning, but sunset is also splendid.