CAMBODIA  |  Phnom Penh, Cambodia Travel Guide
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Sightseeing in Phnom Penh

Sightseeing 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. 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.

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 nagas (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.

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.

Other Sights Adjacent to the Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda

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.

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 7 am to 5:30 pm, closed for lunch from 11:30 am to 2 pm. 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.

Last updated December 4, 2010
Posted in   Cambodia  |  Phnom Penh
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