Welcome to Cambodia !
Dominating the southern riverfront of Phnom Penh, and yet slightly concealed by a crenelated outer wall is the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda.
Built in traditional Khmer style, the wall that encompasses the complex is painted white and yellow, the two colours representing the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.
None of the structures here are ancient, in fact they are all less than 100 years old. What you see today has been reconstructed in concrete during the early part of the 19th century. It is built upon the former palace of King Norodom, the present kings great-great-grandfather. Prior to that it was also the site of the palace of King Ponhea Yat back in the mid 1400s, so there’s definitely some history in the air.
There are three main structures to explore, the Dancing Pavillion, the Throne Hall, and the Silver Pagoda.
The Dancing Pavilion is the one building you can in fact enjoy without having to pay any entrance fee, it is perfectly visible from Sothearos Boulevard even if you can’t actually step onto it. The gardens in front of the pavilion from outside the palace is a great place to hang out during sunrise when the whole area is extremely peaceful bar the odd passer by and a few pigeons.
The Throne Hall was built by King Bat Sisowath in 1919 as a faithful reproduction of Norodom’s wooden palace. It’s used primarily for coronations and official ceremonies, and is certainly the most impressive building in the complex. The roof has seven tiers tiled in orange, sapphire and green, representing prosperity, nature, and freedom.
There are other smaller buildings surrounding the Throne Hall, none of which you’re allowed to enter but are very elaborate.
The Silver Pagoda is in a separate courtyard, so called because of it’s 5,329 silver floor tiles, each around 20cm square and weighing more than 1kg. Most of the tiles are covered up, but inside is an amazing array of life-sized Buddhas, some in gold, some encrusted with precious stones – alas with no photography you will just have to go there and see it for yourself 🙂
Around the Pagoda are a number of interesting small shrines and pavilions, some at ground level, others (such as Phnom Kailassa) you need to access via flights of stairs on small artificial hills.
For me however, the highlight was none of the structures, which you may find a little surprising. Around the Silver Pagoda courtyard is a wonderful 642m long mural telling the epic tale of Ramayana, and in the finest and most beautiful of detail.
The mythical tale was painted in vibrant colours by forty artists working in 1903-1904. There is unfortunately some damage to the painting as it has never been protected properly from the element. Although it was restored in 1985, clearly more work is needed to ensure this gem lasts a whole lot longer.
It would be very easy to miss this mural as your focus tends to be towards the structures. I’m sure it passes many people by, but for me I ended up spending longer looking at the painting than I did at, or in, any of impressive buildings.
It’s well worth spending a couple of hours exploring the complex. The entrance isn’t obvious, but is on Sisowath Boulevard. Note that photography is not allowed inside most of the buildings.
The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda are open 8-11am and 2.30-5pm. Note that the staff tend to start closing up about 30 minutes before the official closing time, so aim to arrive early to have enough time to explore.
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