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Wat Phnom

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The fulcrum of Phnom Penh’s north, the story goes that Wat Phnom is the hill from which the capital city drew its name.

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According to the legend, a Khmer woman, Daun Penh, was dawdling by the riverbank one day when she noticed four Buddha statues inside a tree. She rooted the statues out and the first pagoda was built here in 1373 in order to house them. People have been coming here ever since to pray for good luck and success in business or school.

A leafy enclave. Photo taken in or around Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

A leafy enclave. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Today the well-shaded artificial hill—at a diminutive 27 metres high, it is nonetheless the only hill in Phnom Penh—sits at the centre of a roundabout and has a bit of a lively, day out atmosphere to it, with a giant clock built into the hillside, numerous hawkers ambling around, and families with kids strolling and enjoying the shade.

On the south side of the hill, by the winding path you’ll see a peculiar monument involving what looks like a French soldier, a king and some apsaras. Erected in 1909, it commemorates the event two years earlier when (under French pressure), then Siam (now Thailand) returned three provinces (Siem Reap, Sispohon and Battambang) it had annexed in 1795. Viewed from your right to left, the three apsaras come bearing three gifts (the provinces) to King Sisowath. To the king’s right (your left) a Cambodian soldier waves a French flag—the RF represents Republique Francaise. The statue of Sisowath is concrete—the original was bronze and was moved to the National Musuem in 1970.

Those French always left a mark. Photo taken in or around Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Those French always left a mark. Photo: Stuart McDonald

A long staircase, guarded by nagas, garudas and lions, leads to the top of the hill, where you can check out the wat and the view, which isn’t as great as you might expect—although the trees which block that view also provide a great deal of the shade and softly cooled air that make this such a pleasant place to be. Quite a few hustlers also prowl the area, so keep your wits ... Travelfish members only (Around 600 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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Wat Phnom
Junction of Norodom Blvd and France, Phnom Penh
Admission: $1

Location map for Wat Phnom

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Phnom Penh.
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