The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Cambodian Royal Family and the most popular and impressive tourist attraction in Phnom Penh.
Throne Hall at the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is open to visitors between 08:00 and 11:00 and then again from 14:00 to 17:00 every day except for public holidays and major religious events. Entrance costs $10 USD and the services of guide cost extra. We recommend visiting in the morning as the light is better.
About the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is a relatively recent addition to the city dating back to 1866. Phnom Penh first became the capital city of Cambodia in the 1400s after the fall of the regime in Angkor Wat. At that time the most important building in the city was Wat Phanom. The Royal Family, however, moved on from Phnom Penh in 1494 to Basan, and then moved to several different locations before settling on Oudong. Cambodia was an unstable country for several centuries due to war with neighbouring countries, most notably Siam (modern day Thailand), hence the constant moving around of the capital city.
Victory Gate at the Royal Palace
The big change came in 1863 when Cambodia became a French Protectorate. The security this gave allowed the capital to be moved back to Phnom Penh, and the Royal Family set about building the first incarnation of the Royal Palace in 1866, moving the Royal Court to Phnom Penh in 1871. The original buildings from 1866 have been replaced over the years, and updated, and most of what currently stands at the Royal palace was constructed during the 20th Century.
Bronze Palace at the Royal Palace complex
The Royal Palace is a walled compound with four gates. The most impressive gate, which is the one facing the river, is the eastern or ‘Victory’ gate. This European style gate is used by only the Royal Family and VIPs for formal occasions. The northern or ‘Funeral’ gate is only used when used after the monarch dies, and the last occasion when it was opened was in 2013 after the death of King Norodom Sihanouk. The western or ‘Execution’ gate is used when prisoners are to be taken to be killed in front of the palace. The southern or ‘Commoner’s’ gate is where tourists and workers enter the palace compound.
Phochani Pavilion at the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is split into four parts: the Throne Hall compound, the Silver Pagoda compound, the Inner Court and the Khemarin Palace compound. Visitors are only allowed in the Throne Hall and Silver Pagoda compounds as the other two areas are in active use by the Royal Family. If you see a blue flag flying at the Royal Palace that means the King is actually in residence.
Damnak Chan at the Royal Palace
The Throne Hall compound contains a total of 7 buildings, including the Throne Hall itself. The Throne Hall is the most impressive building. It has a footprint of 60 metres by 30 metres and its central spire is 59 metres tall. The current Throne Hall was built in 1917 as a replacement for Throne Hall which was constructed out of wood in 1870. The other really fascinating building is the Napoleon III Pavilion, which is a European style building made from cast iron. This building was originally built in Egypt as place to carry out the inauguration ceremony for the Suez Canal but was gifted by France to the King of Cambodia in 1876. The ‘N’ on the front of the building was originally a reference to Napoleon III, Emperor of France, but also happened to be the first letter of King Norodom’s name making it an appropriate gift to the Cambodian Royal Family.
Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace
The other complex visitors can access is the area around around the Silver Pagoda. The Silver Pagoda is also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, note the use of the same name as the famous temple in Bangkok of great rival Siam. The temple houses a small crystal Buddha statue which is known as the Emerald Buddha of Cambodia, and a much larger gold Buddha statue weighing 90 kg with thousands of diamonds embedded in it. The temple also has over 5,000 silver tiles on the floor which is why it is commonly referred to as the Silver Pagoda.
Library at the Royal Palace
The Silver Pagoda is one of 12 interesting structures in this part of the Royal Palace. The buildings are less grand than those in the Throne Hall complex but in some ways more interesting. Next to the Silver Pagoda is a library containing the Tripitaka, which are the three ancient texts of the Buddhist faith written in Pali. There are also 5 stupas containing the ashes of Kings and Queens who resided at the palace.
Phnom Mondop at the Royal Palace
Another, and very curious, structure within the Silver Pagoda complex is Phnom Mondop which is a temple built on small man made hill. The temple is partially hidden by a small cultivated forest on the slope of hill and visitors reach the temple at the top by following a stone staircase which winds around the side of the hill. Phnom Mondop is a shady and private area within a very public space, basically a ‘hidden garden’, and to add to its mystique fortune tellers operate out of the temple for a small fee.
Model of Angkor Wat at the Royal Palace
When you visit the Silver Pagoda compound take a moment to look at the excellent model of Angkor Wat which serves as a reminder of the country’s origins in the former Khmer Empire centred on the area around Siem Reap in the West of Cambodia.
Mural of the Reamker on the walls around the Silver Pagoda compound
The last remaining point of interest in the Silver Pagoda complex is the mural of the Reamker, the Cambodian version of the Hindu epic the Ramayana, which is painted in the inside of the walls around the Silver Pagoda. The mural was painted between 1903 and 1904 by a team of students working under the direction of famous Cambodian artist, Vichitre Chea. Part of the mural near the bottom of the wall has faded over the years and needs restoration, but over all the mural is very impressive.
The Golden palanquin used by King Norodom
On the way out of the Royal Palace the last things worth seeing are the museum displays and the statues near the exit. There are lots of old thrones and palanquins on display here, some with photographs showing them in use by the royal family, along with some information boards giving an interesting account of the history of the Cambodian Royal Family particularly during the turbulent times following independence from France, and the period when the Khmer Rouge took control of the country.