The Cambodian Royal Palace was built in the mid-19th century in the classic Khmer style and is the official residence of Cambodia’s reigning monarch, King Sihamoni.
Bearing a striking resemblance to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, the Royal Palace, with its gilded, pitched roofs framed by nagas (serpents), is one of the most prominent landmarks of Phnom Penh. Known as Preah Barom Reachea Vaeng Chaktomuk in the Khmer language, the palace was built with French assistance on the site of a former temple, on the western bank of the Tonlé Sap River, and is designed to face the rising sun. Parts of the complex are closed to the public.
A tour of the Royal Palace begins at the main entrance, situated in the eastern part of the complex. The ticket counters are located here and visitors can also hire English speaking guides for a few dollars. Visitors should be dressed in clothes that cover the arms, shoulders, and legs. Suitable items of clothing can also be hired from here.
Pavilion of Napoleon III
A former French villa, this pavilion was built in Giza, Egypt, by Napoleon III for his wife, Empress Eugénie. Presented to King Norodom I (r.1860–1904) in 1876, it was dismantled brick by brick, shipped to Phnom Penh, and re-erected in the grounds of the Royal Palace. The pavilion stands out from all other structures in the complex on account of its Colonial design and the exquisite iron fretwork of its balconies. The pavilion was refurbished in 1991 with assistance from the French government. Today, photographic exhibits, as well as a collection of royal memorabilia such as busts, gifts from visiting dignitaries, glassware, and royal clothing are on display inside.
A tall, narrow pavilion, whose upper story, or Hor Samritvimean, houses regalia that was used in royal coronation ceremonies. Its highlights include the Great Crown of Victory and the Victory Spear, as well as the Sacred Sword. The lower floor is home to some minor regalia and utensils.
The Throne Hall was built in 1917 and inaugurated by King Sisowath in 1919, the Throne Hall is known locally as Preah Thineang Dheva Vinnichayyeaah, meaning the Sacred Seat of Judgement. Its design is heavily influenced by Bayon-style architecture, evident from its cruciform shape and triple spires.
The central spire is crowned by an imposing 194-ft (59-m) high tower. The roof is adorned with nagas (serpents) and garudas (mythical beasts, half- man, half-bird). Today, the Throne Hall is used for extending a formal welcome to visiting diplomats, and coronations. The Throne Room, accessed from a door to the east, is painted in white and yellow to symbolize Hinduism and Buddhism respectively. It is an excellent example of the harmonious fusion of the two religions, which was encouraged by the 12th-century monarch, King Jayavarman VII.
Its ceiling is adorned with a beautiful mural depicting the Reamker, the Khmer version of the Hindu epic, Ramayana. A lotus-patterned carpet, donated by China in 1933, perfectly complements the lotus bud floor tiles in the room. The Throne Room also houses the majestic thrones of the king and queen of Cambodia.
While the king’s throne is small and sits at the front, the queen’s is taller and built on a golden stage adorned with nagas. There are three stairways running from the queen’s throne – two for the Brahmin priests who tend to her during the king’s coronation, and the third for the queen herself.
Set on the eastern end of the complex, the Victory Gate leads directly to the Throne Hall. Once used only by the king and queen, it is now also used by visiting dignitaries.
Royal Waiting Room
Situated to the right of the magnificent Throne Hall, Hor Samranphirum, or the Royal Waiting Room, is used by the king and queen while waiting for their ceremonial elephants on coronation day. Posts to tether the beast are visible on the east side of the building, as are the platforms used by the king and queen to mount the elephants for the coronation procession.
The Dancing Pavilion is located near the Victory Gate, the Dancing Pavilion, or Chan Chaya Pavilion was originally built in 1914 with wood. It was traditionally used by Cambodian kings to view parades and to enjoy performances of classical Khmer dances.
A balcony to the east of the pavilion was used for viewing parades along Sothearos Boulevard, beyond the royal grounds. Today, the Dancing Pavilion is used for royal celebrations, and royal as well as state banquets. The building was memorably used to celebrate the coronation of King Sihamoni in 2004.
Built in the mid-20th century, during the reign of King Sisowath Monivong, by well known Khmer architect Oknha Tep Nimith Khieu, the Royal Residence is also known as the Khemarin Palace or the Palace of the Khmer King.
It currently houses the present monarch, King Sihamoni, whose presence in the capital is indicated by the blue royal flag, which flits at full mast. The Royal Residence is off limits for visitors. Next to this beautiful building stands the royal guesthouse known as Villa Kantha Bopha, which was built in 1956 and is only used to house foreign guests.
Near the low-strung riverfront of Phnom Penh, the 19th-century Silver Pagoda lies within the same complex as the Royal Palace and is a prominent jewel of the city’s squat skyline. With its golden roofs and tropical gardens, the Silver Pagoda is a short walk from Sisowath Quay and is the perfect place to savour the calm, away from the rush of the city.
The Dhammasala, which is also known as the Royal Pavilion, is an open hall used by the royal family as a reception area as well as by Buddhist monks to recite religious texts.
Chedi of Suramarit stupa holds the ashes of the former king, Suramarit, and his queen, Kossomak – grandparents of the current ruler, King Sihamoni.
The Keong Preah Bathhouses the Buddha’s footprints. This shrine is especially popular with Cambodians and is surrounded by fortune-tellers.
The inner compound wall of the complex is beautifully ornamented with vivid frescoes of scenes from the Reamker – the Khmer version of the Indian epic, Ramayana.
Wat Preah Keo Named for its centrepiece, a Baccarat crystal Buddha, Wat Preah Keo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is also famous for a golden, life-sized Buddha and miniature Buddhist statuary.
The Mondap is a small library housing sacred texts written on palm-tree fronds. Also of interest are a statue of a bull’s head wreathed in flowers and an exquisite stained-glass window.
Equestrian Statue King Norodom (r.1834–1904) and Napoleon III were firm friends – this statue of Norodom in full Napoleon III regalia is a parody of the French emperor on his steed.
The Silver Pagoda is named for its floor, which is inlaid with over 5,000 solid silver tiles. The name also describes the complex that houses the Buddha’s Footprints, the Mondap library, the Reamker murals, and a number of royal family shrines.