Category Archives: Cambodia

The Trees of Ta Prohm

The Trees of Ta Prohm
 

Out of all of the temples in Angkor, I was most looking forward to visiting Ta Prohm. From what I had seen online, it looked like an abandoned temple, left for the trees and vegetation of the area to consume it.

One of the most recognisable trees in Ta Prohm
One of the most recognisable trees in Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm was constructed in 1186 as a Buddhist monastery and temple dedicated to the mother of Khmer king Jayavarman VII. As Khmer rule moved elsewhere, Ta Prohm, like some of the other temple complexes in the area, succumbed to nature, leading to what we see now: the stones of the temple dislodged by the roots of large trees.

The masses of roots from this tree adds to the atmosphere of Ta Prohm
The masses of roots from this tree adds to the atmosphere of Ta Prohm

It is these trees and their spectacular root systems that set Ta Prohm apart from its neighbouring temples, which have been better maintained over the years. At Ta Prohm, the trees appear to be growing on the roof of the temple itself, their roots stretching over the stonework, clawing their way to the ground.

Tree root running along a wall of Ta Prohm
The shapes that the tree roots make are so interesting to me.

As you move through the temple complex, you see the effects of nature reclaiming the buildings as you come across walkways and corridors blocked off by rubble – fallen stones dislodged a long time ago as the tree roots fought their way through the temple walls. While restoration efforts by both Indian and Cambodian organisations are preventing further deterioration from occurring to Ta Prohm, you still feel like you have stumbled over a forgotten place (if you ignore the other visitors exploring the complex!).

Looking down one of the corridors in the temple complex
Looking down one of the corridors in the temple complex

When you do visit Ta Prohm, make sure to glance to your left as you walk back to the carpark. There you’ll see a somewhat out-of-place carving of what on first glance appears to be a stegosaurus. Whether it’s intended to be a dinosaur or something else entirely is up to you to decide!

While this carving looks like a stegosaurus, it could be a depiction of another animal entirely.
While this carving looks like a stegosaurus, it could be a depiction of another animal entirely.

Phnom Penh from the Water: A Cruise Along Tonle Sap River

After a week of catching up with old friends, learning about the recent tragic history of Cambodia, and getting used to culture shock, we decided to go on an early evening river cruise to celebrate our last night in Phnom Penh.

Houses along the river in Phnom Penh
Houses along the river in Phnom Penh

After five days sweltering in the humidity, I was ready for a break from the weather. Even as the daily afternoon rains poured down, it did little to stop the sticky heat. Getting out on the water, away from the traffic and buildings, sounded like a nice way to escape to somewhere slightly cooler.

Walking down to the boats to begin the river cruise
Walking down to the boats to begin the river cruise

Our boat departed from Riverside, an area filled with markets, restaurants and hotels, right next to the Royal Palace complex. As the boat pulled away from its mooring, we slathered ourselves with mosquito repellant and headed to the back of the boat to take in the scenery.

More views of Phnom Penh from the river
More views of Phnom Penh from the river
Seeing Phnom Penh from the river gave us more time to appreciate the style of Cambodian buildings
Seeing Phnom Penh from the river gave us more time to appreciate the style of Cambodian buildings

Being on the water gave me a chance to look at Phnom Penh from a different angle than what we had seen zooming past us from the back of a tuk-tuk. We were out of the thick of the moto drivers, away from the constant beeping of horns and the random odd smells of the city itself.

The grandness of the Sokha Hotel from the river
The grandness of the Sokha Hotel from the river

We saw fishermen trawling for catches, local youths hanging out on the concrete river banks, and the grand Sokha Hotel on the eastern bank contrasting with the fishing boats that were clustered behind it.

Boats clustered behind the hotel
Boats clustered behind the hotel

As our boat slowly turned back once it had reached the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, Phnom Penh put on a beautiful view for us – a double rainbow.

A double rainbow: a lovely way to end the cruise!
A double rainbow: a lovely way to end the cruise!
Admiring the double rainbow from the back of the boat
Admiring the double rainbow from the back of the boat

Climbing Ta Keo Temple

Ta Keo temple
Ta Keo temple

Don’t like heights? Then Ta Keo might not be the temple for you!

Situated to the north of Ta Prohm, Ta Keo was built during the reign of Jayavarma V (968 – 1001) and is thought to be the first of the Angkor temples to be built of sandstone.

However what most captured my attention during my visit to Ta Keo was the stairs that visitors must climb in order to reach the top of the pyramid-like temple. I love the challenge of climbing to the tops of hills and belltowers and Ta Keo offered me another!

The entrance to Ta Keo
The entrance to Ta Keo

In order to enter the temple compound itself, you have to climb up a set of wooden steps. These are easy compared with what’s to come – there are handrails and the steps are set a reasonable amount apart.

The second flight of stairs are more discouraging. The stone steps stretch up towards the sky so far that you can’t see what’s waiting for you at the top of them.

At the bottom of the daunting second flight of stairs at Ta Keo
At the bottom of the daunting second flight of stairs at Ta Keo

The final flight of stairs to the central tower, rising to almost fifty metres above ground level, are deceptive. They might not look that bad, but they are the most difficult to scale. There is no graceful way of climbing them – you have to clamber up with your hands and feet to get to the top. They lead up to a sanctuary containing a shrine to the god Shiva. (And a tip: climb down using the stairs behind the shrine – they’re much easier to navigate!)

The stairs that lead to the highest point of Ta Keo
The stairs that lead to the highest point of Ta Keo

Even if you don’t make it to the top of the third flight of stairs, you can still take a rest, catch your breath, and look over the Cambodian jungle at how far up you have climbed.

Looking over the entrance to Ta Keo temple and taking in the view from the top of the second flight of stairs
Looking over the entrance to Ta Keo temple and taking in the view from the top of the second flight of stairs

Once you’re back down on the ground level, make sure you look up at the top of the central tower as it pokes up above the wall that surrounds the temple. How fantastic it feels to know that you’ve conquered all of those stairs!

Guide to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh

The dancer's pavilion
The dancer’s pavilion

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was constructed on its current site in the mid-eighteenth century after King Norodom relocated the capital from Oudong to Phnom Penh. It contains three separate compounds – one area housing the palace grounds, another containing Wat Preah Keo, and a final area where visitors can view displays of traditional costumes, music, and artefacts. The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh is the official residence of King Sihamoni, and because of this many buildings and spaces are closed to visitors. However, there are some that remain accessible: you can glimpse the opulence of the throne room, pay your respects in ‘The Silver Pagoda’ of Wat Preah Keo, and learn more about Cambodian traditions and culture in the exhibition halls.

Where is the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh?

The Royal Palace is located on Sothearos Boulevard near the riverfront of Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.

How do I get there?

The easiest way of getting to the Royal Palace is by tuk-tuk (although if your accommodation is on the riverfront, then it could be just as easy to walk there!).

The gardens as you enter the Royal Palace
The gardens as you enter the Royal Palace

How to Dress

All visitors must conform to dress standards in order to enter the Royal Palace grounds. You will need to make sure your shoulders and knees are covered – a top with sleeves or a T-shirt, with three-quarter length trousers or a long skirt is enough. It’s also a good idea to wear shoes you can easily remove, as you must take your shoes off in order to go inside the Silver Pagoda.

A naga stands at the foot of the steps to the throne room.
A naga stands at the foot of the steps to the throne room.

What to See

It can be a bit disorienting as you enter the Royal Palace grounds, pass through the entrance gates and come out on to a large open area with manicured gardens. Don’t worry – a map of the grounds is provided with your entry ticket, and shows the expected way of visit, passing by Preah Tineang Tevea Vinichhay, Hor Samritvimean, a model of Angkor Wat, the Stupas, Wat Preah Keo, Kailassa Mountain, the Reamker Mural and the Exhibition Halls. The areas of the palace grounds that are prohibited to visitors are clearly marked with signs. If you lose your map, there is one on the wall between the Royal Palace and Wat Preah Keo compounds.

Preah Tineang Chanchhaya

Preah Tineang Chanchhaya (the throne hall) is one of the first buildings you see upon entering the palace grounds
Preah Tineang Chanchhaya (the throne hall) is one of the first buildings you see upon entering the palace grounds

Preah Tineang Chanchhaya is the royal throne hall. Built in 1917, it is the place where coronation ceremonies and meetings with foreign dignitaries are held. While you can’t step inside, you can view the throne room with its thrones and beautiful chandeliers through the open windows that surround the hall. Photos of the inside of the throne room are not allowed.

The main spire of the throne hall is magnificent in itself. Standing 59 metres tall, it displays four faces of Brahma.

The four-faced spire on the throne hall
The four-faced spire on the throne hall

Hor Samritvimean

Looking out over the grounds of the Royal Palace
Looking out over Hor Samritvimean and the grounds of the Royal Palace

The only other building within the palace compound that we were able to go inside of was listed as ‘Hor Samritvimean’ on the map we were given. It contained a collection of costumes and coronation regalia, including the seven outfits pictured below, whose mannequins were named ‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’, ‘Wednesday’, ‘Thursday’, ‘Friday’, ‘Saturday’ and ‘Sunday’.

Mannequins inside the Hor Samritvimean wearing colourful costumes labelled as the days of the week.
Mannequins inside the Hor Samritvimean wearing colourful costumes labelled as the days of the week.

Wat Preah Keo (The Silver Pagoda)

 Wat Preah Keo (The Silver Pagoda) is known for its emerald Buddha and its silver-tiled floor
Wat Preah Keo (The Silver Pagoda) is known for its emerald Buddha and its silver-tiled floor

Wat Preah Keo is a Buddhist temple and contains an emerald Buddha. Wat Preah Keo is also known as ‘The Silver Pagoda’, because of the 5000 silver tiles that cover the floor. Unfortunately, these are hard to see, as the floor is covered up by carpet that protects the tiles from being damaged by foot traffic.

All visitors are required to remove their shoes before entering Wat Preah Keo – there are cubby holes outside where you can store your shoes.

Out of all of the buildings in the Royal Palace/Wat Preah Keo complex, this was the one that I wished had more explanations in English. There were cabinets upon cabinets of statues, icons and precious objects, and I would have loved to have known more about them and their significance.

Model of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat in miniature
Angkor Wat in miniature

Behind Wat Preah Keo is a model of Angkor Wat. If you’ve been to the temple which is part of the UNESCO-listed Angkor region, compare it with your memories of your visit. Or, if like me you’ve yet to go to Angkor Wat, get a bird’s eye view of the miniature version before seeing the real thing.

The Mural of the Reamker

The Mural of the Reamker
Part of the Mural of the Reamker that was poking out from behind the scaffolding

The Reamker mural is a Cambodian re-telling of the story of Ramayana. It was covered up for the most part during my visit as it was undergoing restoration, but I managed to glimpse some of the sections peeking out from behind the scaffolding.

The Stupas

Her Royal Highness Kantha Bopha's stupa
Her Royal Highness Kantha Bopha’s stupa

There are four intricately decorated stupas (memorials to members of the royal family) clustered around Wat Preah Keo.

Kailassa Mountain

A statue of Buddha in the gardens of 'Kailassa Mountain'.
A statue of Buddha in the gardens of ‘Kailassa Mountain’.

This shady garden wrapped around a hill provides visitors with a well-needed escape from the sun. Take a seat on the stone wall and admire the plants and flowers in the peaceful garden, before setting off to explore more of the Royal Palace and Wat Preah Keo.

The Exhibition Halls

After you have visited the compound of the Silver Pagoda, you pass by a series of exhibition halls on your way to the exit.

You’ll find on display various carriages, traditional Khmer folk dance costumes and masks, silverware, live music and weaving demonstrations. If the heat and humidity’s bringing you down, you’ll love the air conditioning in some of these rooms!

Traditional dancer's costumes on display in the exhibition rooms
Traditional dancer’s costumes on display in the exhibition rooms
Musicians playing traditional Cambodian music
Musicians playing traditional Cambodian music
Silver elephants in one of the exhibition rooms
For elephant lovers, this was the room to see! There were gold and silver elephants along with a collection of crockery
The White Elephant in one of the exhibition rooms
The White Elephant. We stayed in this room for a while looking at the carved elephant – the air conditioning was lovely!

Things I didn’t expect

  • As it was my first time visiting a palace outside of Europe, I didn’t know what to expect. The palace buildings seemed lighter and more spread out than their European counterparts, and each building was essentially one big room.
  • The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda were essentially two different compounds. From outside the walls of the Royal Palace, it looks like the palace compound and the Silver Pagoda are part of the same space. Actually, they are two distinct compounds, separated by an alleyway and gates. The same ticket gets you in to both areas though, and once you’ve paid for your ticket at the entrance to the Royal Palace, there’s no need to show it again.
  • Restoration. You’d think by now I’d expect there always to be some restoration going on when I visit a place – it seems lately it’s been inevitable. But during our visit, a lot of the buildings which would have been open were closed for restoration, including the Pavilion of Napoleon III and the Mural of the Reamker.
  • We were outside for most of the time. Make sure you bring sun protection with you – you’ll be out in the sun a lot!
Reclining Buddha, Dharmasala
Reclining Buddha, Dharmasala

Guided tour or self tour?

There are guides offering tours that you can find standing in between the palace entrance and the ticket booth, however we chose to wander around by ourselves.

It was mostly fine. There were enough signs in English that helped us work out what things were, along with the map we were given when we purchased our tickets, though as you would expect most of the information was in Khmer.

By hanging around a tour group for a little bit we were able to listen to a bit of information about the Throne Room, though it was a lot more detailed than I was looking for!

The exhibition hall exits into a lush garden setting
The exhibition hall exits into a lush garden setting

Can I take photos?

You cannot take photos of the inside of the throne room or inside the Silver Pagoda. These are well marked with signs and monitored. Photos are permitted everywhere else.

Now it’s your turn!

Have you visited the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh? Let us know your thoughts!