The marvels of the complex of buildings called Phnom Penh Royal Palace has served as the royal residence of the kings of Cambodia since it was built in the 1860s, with the only period of absence during and after the reign of the Khmer Rouge. King Norodom had it built atop an old citadel after relocating the royal capital from Oudong to Phnom Penh in the mid-19th century – though most of King Norodom era buildings have been completely demolished.
Phnom Penh Royal Palace (its full name in Khmer language is Preah Barum Reachea Veang Chaktomuk Serei Mongkol) is located at the Western bank of the cross division of the Tonle Sap River and the Mekong River, facing east. It is a great example of Khmer architecture and features a layout of the defensive wall, stupas, towering spires, mural paintings, the throne hall and the impressive Silver Pagoda, with a floor made up of 5329 silver tiles, weighing 1.125 kilograms each. This is one of the highlights of a visit to this palace.
Most of the palace buildings including the King’s living area (which is closed to public) have had some major modifications to its buildings over time, with the Silver Pagoda having to be rebuilt completely as the original structure was aging and was too weak to stand.
The palace has always been a popular tourist attraction in Phnom Penh. Visitors are able to wander around the Silver Pagoda compound and the central compound – though most of the buildings, including the King’s living area, is closed to the public. Sure, if you have been to other palaces in Asia, you come here with high expectations which are a bit dashed once inside the compound: no explanation boards, some buildings closed or roped off, and if you do not hire a guide it is hard to get anything out of a visit.
Another highlight of Phnom Penh Royal Palace is the manicured gardens, yet, with temperature soaring to 40 degrees Celcius and not much shelter in the palace grounds, an umbrella and lots of water are advised especially for a visit during afternoon hours.
One of the clear advantages of a visit to Phnom Penh Royal Palace is that you can enjoy similar architectural style to, say, Bangkok Royal Palace but without the crowds and the frustrations. A peaceful visit after all, as the palace is hardly ever crowded.
That said, the experience was worth it, very educational and with interesting architecture, and since there is little to visit in Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh Royal Palace is quite an attraction. If you don’t start making comparisons to other royal palaces in Asia, you will, like me, enjoy the visit…
Accommodation in Phnom Penh:
While in Phnom Penh, do not miss the new season of Cambodian Living Arts shows at the National Theatre: