Situated just a few hundred meters from the riverfront in the northeast of Phnom Penh, Wat Phnon is perched on a small hilltop sanctuary from which city got its name.
It’s a popular place for both tourists and locals, drawing quite large crowds at weekends and public holidays. If you’re planning to visit Wat Phnom it’s best to avoid those times.
There are a number of staircases taking you to the top of the 27m hill once you’ve purchased your ticket. The best one to take is on the east side of the hill, which passes some interesting bronze friezes.
The sanctuary at the summit has been rebuilt many times, most recently in 1926, so nothing remains of the original structures that once stood here. It doesn’t take long to do a quick circuit of the Vihara pagoda before entering, what is relatively plain on the outside is in stark contrast to what you will find within.
The interior of the Vihara is both impressive and dazzling, every inch is covered by either paintings or gold, some of which can be initially difficult to make out through the haze of burning incense. Over the years smoke has blackened many of the wall paintings which can make it hard to make out the scenes (I’m guessing they are from the Jakata stories).
The lighting is quite dim which makes photography a little challenging (no flash of course, which would just make the scenes look pretty awful anyway).
The Vihara is the kind of space I am always reluctant to leave in any hurry, the peacefulness that surrounds you feels almost nourishing. So I decided to sit at the very back of the room for a while and just be. There’s a constant stream of Khmer passing through the pagoda, paying their respects and depositing offerings, ranging from money, fruit, to whole cooked chickens – the fascinating scene is ever changing and you never know quite what will happen next.
Wat Phnom is easy to reach on foot if you’re staying anywhere near the Royal Palace. Simply head north walking along Sothearos Boulevard with the Tonle Sap river on your right, and after 1km keep looking left down the sidestreets until the small hill and sanctuary come into view. There’s plenty of cafes and bars along the river front you can stop off at to break the journey up.
Wat Phnon is open sunrise to sunset.
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