Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda

A must see

Photo of Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, , Phnom Penh

What we say: 4.5 stars

The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda sit side by side on Sothearos Boulevard and while they are two separate complexes, they are visited as one.

The palace has four gates. The eastern Victory Gate leads directly to the entrance of the throne hall and is used only by royalty and VIPs. The northern or funeral gate is only opened after the death of a monarch. After being embalmed, the monarch's body is kept in state at the palace for three months, with the face hidden by a one-kilogram solid gold mask, before being taken out via this gate. The west or executing gate was used by condemned prisoners exiting the palace to be killed. The southern gate is reserved for use by commoners and it is through this gate the public reaches the Silver Pagoda.

Atop the palace's throne hall, note the four pale, almost clown-like faces, which represent the all-seeing king. The hall itself is painted vivid yellow, a symbol of Buddhism, and white, for Hinduism, the two main faiths of Cambodia until they were combined into one by Jayavarman VII in the 12th century. The central door of the five at the front of the throne hall are reserved for royalty and VIPs. Inside, note the 1913 ceiling mural telling the story of the Ramayana. The thick carpet supplied by China in 1993 matches the lotus-bud floor tiles.

The king sits on the front throne and the queen, when there is one, on the one at the rear during their coronation. The queen's throne is taller as it is built upon a golden stage made of boats and nagas. It has three stairways, one for her and one for each of the two Brahmin priests who look after her during the ceremony. To the left of the throne is a gold bust of King Sisowath (1904-1927) and to the right stands that of King Monivong (1927-1941).

At the October 2004 coronation of the ballet-dancing son of former king Sihanouk, King Sihamoni, both thrones were left empty as he does not have a queen, and he sat in the ornate chair in front of the throne. Normally a coronation is lavish and runs for seven days, but due to the kingdom's lack of money, at the request of Sihamoni it was cut to just three. Note the new parasol, which belongs to Sihamoni for the entirety of his rule.

The small white building to the right of the hall is a resting room that used to be used by royalty to catch their breath before climbing onto an elephant to head out into the world. Royal sermons and classical dances would be held in the front pavilion that looks over the park between the Royal Palace and the river.

The king's residence was built in the 1930s. If the blue royal flag is flying, he is in residence.

On the far right sits the royal guesthouse. Following the death of former king Sihanouk's father, his mother moved from the residence to this building. Today it is used as a guesthouse for special guests of royalty.

To the left of the throne hall sits another small building. The downstairs section contains a small clothing display, including copies of the clothes Sihamoni wore during his coronation. At the rear, note the seven mannequins wearing seven days' worth of colours.

Behind and to the left of this building en route to the Silver Pagoda is the oddest building: a grey, mostly cast-iron gift from France which was initially constructed in Egypt. It was shipped to Cambodia in 1876 as a gift from Napolean III.

Silver Pagoda
Like Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, the Silver Pagoda has murals running around its outer wall telling the story of the Ramayana. The murals here, however, originally painted in 1903-4, are in poor condition and were probably not helped by a Khmer-Polish restoration project begun in 1985 but halted five years later when the money ran out. If you want to follow the full story, start at the east gate and follow the murals for their full 642 metres.

Within the grounds are five stupas, with the two largest to the east containing the ashes of King Norodom and King Udung, while between them stands a statue of King Norodom on horseback seemingly about to charge outside.

The pagoda itself is named after the five tonnes of tiles -- 5,329 of them -- covering the floor. Most of the area is covered in carpets, but a small area near the entrance is exposed. The centrepiece is the large jade Buddha statue -- referred to as the Emerald Buddha -- sitting atop a dizzying array of goodies. Standing in front of it is a tall, solid-gold Buddha weighing 90 kilograms and encrusted with 2,086 diamonds. The gem above the forehead weighs 25 carats and another on the chest is a hefty 20 carats. It was made in 1904 during the reign of King Sisowath. All up, some 1,650 artefacts are on display, ranging from platinum cigarette boxes with emeralds the size of quail eggs to gold spittoons.

After the pagoda, there is a small air-con display of Khmer housing which is interesting, albeit tacky.

Finally there are the elephant stables where the king once kept his white elephant. The Khmer Rouge starved it to death.

In order to enter, you must wear long pants or skirt and sleeved shirts.

More details
Sothearos Blvd
Opening Hours: Open 07:30-11:00, 14:00-17:00.
Last updated: 15th October, 2014

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