The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh is the epitome of Cambodian architecture and opulence. Still maintaining a monarchy, Cambodia has worked hard to preserve their Royal Palace as a tourist destination and cultural icon of Cambodia’s past. While travelling through this country in early 2015, we took the time to visit this gilded estate and see its beautiful grounds for ourselves.
Setting out to see the Royal Palace, we had read conflicting reports on dress code and had a few hang-ups of our own. Out of respect, visitors are required to wear close-toed shoes and keep their shoulders covered. Even during the winter in Cambodia the heat is a powerful adversary, so we found many people online saying that wearing a shawl or long scarf as a shoulder covering is acceptable. Thinking that we had found a way for Stephanie to beat the heat, she used a 2’x4′ scarf as a wrap and kept her shoulders covered. At the gate we were denied entry and made to buy a $10 souvenir T-Shirt for her to wear in lieu of her shoulder scarf while other women were allowed to enter wearing tank tops and scarves almost identical to Stephanie’s. I don’t know why we were singled out to buy a ugly white T-Shirt but we were. A bit peeved (read: feeling like targets for extortion instead of welcome visitors) Stephanie put on her XL shirt and we begrudgingly entered the gates.
Inside the Palace we were impressed by the perfectly manicured landscaping and facilities. A few of the buildings were under construction, but the majority were spectacularly on display and open for exploration. There were large tour groups that made some pictures a test of patience but the palace really was beautiful. The massive walls adorned with gold and white accents made for stunning accents on the crests and corners of each building. Walking through the grounds we were glad to have stayed through the t-shirt debacle to see such beautiful architecture and history. A small museum on the grounds shared the history of royal regalia and another building is used for the king to mount his elephant for royal processions.
After meandering through the few buildings in the palace compound, we passed through a masterfully carved doorway into the Silver Pagoda area adjacent to the Palace. The religious side of the royal property was, in our opinion, more stunning while being less richly adorned. upon entrance to the Pagoda you immediately see that this side has more buildings. The silver pagoda, named for the floor being made completely of silver. The majority of the floor is covered with rugs to protect the valuable tiles, but tarnished silver can be seen peeking out from under the throws at many places. The Silver Pagoda is no longer so much a religious building as it is a museum-like display of Buddhist statues and art.
Wat Preah Keo Morokat, or “Temple of the Emerald Buddha,” this pagoda houses dozens of statues as well as a large centerpiece whereby the temple earns its name. Atop a large monument inside you can see the emerald statue surrounded by other statues of the Buddha in a mesmerizing display of religious reverence. Somewhat dark inside, this massive room creates dramatic visages that are quite wonderful and expertly lit with museum lighting. As we wandered the room looking at ancient Cambodian religious artifacts, we were reminded of how fortunate it was that the Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge preserved these places when so many cultural and religious sites were destroyed.
After visiting the Silver Pagoda, we quickly toured the rest of the grounds. Two stupas stand beside a statue to King Norodom and library is nearby. If we had done more research and resisted the day’s heat a bit longer, there are also buildings containing Buddha’s footprints (supposedly) and a temple where fortune tellers will read you your future for a small fee if you can find someone to translate. While we missed out on these last few buildings, we really enjoyed the Silver Pagoda. The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda were both very interesting and filled with beautiful scenery and architecture. We highly recommend visiting this attraction if you are visiting Cambodia’s capitol city of Phnom Penh if you enjoy cultural sites or if you simply need a new XL t-shirt. Either way, this site is sure to impress and it won’t take up your whole day.