Adopting Traditions From My Travels: St Nicholas Day

St Nicholas Day
Celebrating the tradition of St Nicholas Day, with chocolate and small presents being left in children’s shoes

Tomorrow is St Nicholas Day (Nikolaustag), where ‘Saint Nicholas’ makes his yearly visit to the houses of children in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and many other countries throughout the world. If you’ve been well-behaved he’ll leave you chocolates and sweets. Been bad? Coal, twigs, or other less pleasant things might be headed your way.

The real Saint Nicholas was known for his generosity, and there are many stories about how he would use secret gift-giving to help those most in need. I first heard of Nikolaustag when I was eleven years old and sitting in my first year of German language classes. We learned about German children waiting anxiously for the arrival of Saint Nicholas and learned to sing German songs, such as “Sei gegruesst, lieber Nikolaus”. It all sounded wonderful – Saint Nicholas seemed to be a Christmas version of the Easter bunny, leaving chocolate in his wake.

Six years later, I experienced it first hand while on a German exchange trip. While Saint Nicholas visited the other students in my school group the morning of December 6, he took until that evening to get around to my host family’s house! There, in one of my boots left out by the stairs, was not only a Kinder Surprise and a bar of Milka chocolate, but also some gloves and a scarf. The extended family came over, songbooks were handed out, and a night of fun and song commenced (no “Sei gegrusst lieber Nikolaus” but plenty of other traditional German Christmas carols).

My brother stayed with the same family when he was on school exchange, and since he returned we’ve made sure to celebrate Nikolaustag every year. It usually falls right near our family’s long-held tradition of putting up our Christmas tree on the first Sunday of December, which is our first sign that the holiday season has started.

Have you ever adopted the traditions of other countries for yourself?


Christmas Tree Day: Celebrating Family Holiday Traditions

My family has many traditions around Christmas. From singing carols on Christmas Eve, to the extended family lunch, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without them.

Putting up the Christmas tree is my favourite of all of our family traditions. Each year, on the first Sunday of December, we get together, pull out the Christmas Tree box (my parents’ fake Christmas tree has lasted for more than 30 years and is still going (mostly) strong!), and put together the tree branches, string up the lights, and adorn the tree with tinsel, baubles and decorations. Since they’ve had the same tree and most of the same decorations for forever, there’s a lovely sense of nostalgia to the routine of putting up the Christmas tree.

My parents' 36 year old Christmas tree
My parents’ 36 year old Christmas tree. I couldn’t imagine Christmas without it.

This year is the first time I’ve had my own tree, so after we had gathered at my parents’ house to put together and decorate their tree, we all came around to my house to do the same for mine.

My Christmas tree
My Christmas tree. As the years go on and I travel more I hope to add more decorations! to it.

While travelling, I usually buy Christmas decorations to give to my parents as souvenirs, which makes decorating the Christmas tree that much more interesting. We reminisce about each decoration as it is given a place on the tree. Among them, there’s a puffin from Iceland, a Scottish guard from Edinburgh, and a train made out of Waterford crystal that I bought for Mum on my latest trip to Ireland.

My globe Christmas decoration
My globe Christmas decoration, bought in 2014 from an Oliver Bonas store when I was staying in London.

Now that my Christmas tree is up and my living room is decorated with candles and tinsel, it feels like Christmas is finally here. All I need is the weather to make up it’s mind and for the Aussie summer to show up – it’s currently 34 degrees Celsius here but pouring with rain!

What are your favourite holiday traditions?

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!
Fleurieu Peninsula Other

Walking the Heysen Trail: Cobbler Hill to Cape Jervis

Early on a Saturday morning, I met up with a group of friends and we drove just over ninety minutes south of Adelaide to the coastal town of Cape Jervis. Our plan was to walk the first section of the Heysen Trail, a long distance hiking trail named in honour of Hans Heysen, a famous German-born South Australian artist. Leaving one car at the Kangaroo Island ferry terminal, we drove the other into Deep Creek conservation park to the Cobbler Hill campground so that we could walk from the fifteen kilometres from the campground to Cape Jervis, and then drive back to collect the other car.

Looking over to Kangaroo Island from Fishery Beach
Looking over to Kangaroo Island from Fishery Beach

As we left the Cobbler Hill Campground, signs warned of a steep descent, and it wasn’t long before we told ourselves we had made the right decision to walk to Cape Jervis instead of beginning there and walking towards Cobbler Hill Campground. The ground sloped sharply downwards, and when we came across some stairs, we had enough trouble walking down them – climbing up when going the other way would have been an exhausting way to end the walk!

The rugged coastline, with Kangaroo Island hazy in the background
The rugged coastline, with Kangaroo Island hazy in the background

The landscape soon took its revenge on us, however, as we climbed up and down a series of rolling hills. The scenery was spectacular though – the deep blue waters of the Backstairs Passage with Kangaroo Island hazy in the distance was our constant view as we walked through farmland past grazing sheep and cattle.

Thankfully, three-quarters of the way through the hike, the trail began to flatten out!
Thankfully, three-quarters of the way through the hike, the trail began to flatten out!

Both Blowhole Beach and Fishery Beach were opportunities for us to catch our breath and gaze at the white sands, turquoise water and rugged cliff faces that formed the coastline. We were lucky enough to see a dolphin as well as a pod of seals!

The rugged coastline near specactular Blowhole Beach
The rugged coastline near specactular Blowhole Beach

By the end of the walk I was exhausted – we had underestimated how long the walk was going to take! What we had originally envisaged as being a two to three hour walk ended up being a six hour trek. I kept my eye out for the Sealink ferry as it made its way back and forth between Cape Jervis on the mainland and Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island, knowing that the bigger the ferry appeared to be the closer I was getting to the end of the walk. It kept my motivation up for the final three kilometres of the walk as we trudged through sandhills, the harsh rays of the afternoon sun beating down on us.

Since we had done the walk in reverse (it’s intended for people to begin at Cape Jervis and finish at Cobbler Hill), it wasn’t until we saw the Trail sign at the very end that we realised how far we had actually walked.

Start of the Heysen Trail sign
We walked the trail backwards, so it was only when we got to the end that we realised we’d walked fifteen kilometres!

On the way back to Adelaide we stopped in at Yankalilla Bakery to re-fuelWe managed to recover by stopping in at the Yankalilla Bakery for Cornish pasties and chocolate donuts to re-fuel before making our way back to Adelaide.

Along with gorgeous sea views, the rolling hills and the dams of the neighbouring farms were pretty in their own right
Along with gorgeous sea views, the rolling hills and the dams of the neighbouring farms were pretty in their own right

Open from April to October the Heysen Trail covers 1200 kilometres in total, making our sixteen kilometres seem insignificant! Though if the rest of the scenery along the trail is as picturesque as the walk from Cobbler Hill to Cape Jervis was, then it might be worth the effort to explore a few more sections of it.


Where to buy the Paris Museum Pass

Where to buy the Paris Museum Pass

If you’re heading to the City of Light this July, you might have heard of the Paris Museum Pass – a multi-day pass giving you entry (and in some places the ability to bypass the queues) to more than sixty museums, art galleries, and monuments in and around Paris.

While you can buy it online, if you’re anything like me, you might not make up your mind about the Paris Museum Pass until after your plane has landed at Charles de Gaulle. If you find yourself in Paris before you’ve had a chance to order a pass online, should you rush out to get it? And where can you get your hands on one when you’re on the ground in Paris?

Is the Paris Museum Pass worth it?

Before buying the Pass, make sure you will get value for money. If you’re not going to save money by getting the Pass, then perhaps buying tickets at each of the museums that you visit is a better option for you. For a guide on how I spent my time in Paris using a four-day Museum Pass, see the following posts:

Where can I buy the Paris Museum Pass?

You can buy the Paris Museum Pass online, or according to the Paris Museum Pass website it can be bought at the ticket desk of most museums.

I have purchased the Paris Museum Pass twice, and both times I waited until I was in Paris. I have bought it from:

  • From the tourist information stand in front of Notre Dame de Paris. In July 2012 I purchased a Paris Museum Pass from a tourist information stand outside of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. The stand might only be set up during the peak tourist season – when I returned to Paris in November it wasn’t there.
  • From the Museum’s membership centre on the Allée du Grand Louvre. We tried buying a pass from the Louvre ticket desk, and they sent us to the membership centre, in between the large pyramid and the Galerie du Carrousel arcade. They also offer Friends of the Louvre memberships here, if you think you’ll come back to the Louvre often.

Have you bought the Paris Museum Pass? Where did you buy it from? Did you think it was worth it? Let us know in the comments!


A Day Out At Monarto Zoo

A Day Out At Monarto Zoo
A Day Out At Monarto Zoo

It’s usually a spur of the moment decision to visit Monarto Zoo. It starts with an hour-long road trip through the Adelaide Hills along the South Eastern Freeway, past rolling hills and farmland, and ends with finding yourself at the gates of one of the largest open range zoos in the world.

Just arriving at the visitor’s centre carpark feels like an adventure in itself – the speed limit in to the park is set at 30km/h, and gives you plenty of time to spot wild kangaroos and emus stalking their way through the bushland as you make your way towards the carpark.

Monarto Zoo Visitors Centre
The Visitors Centre – home base for any day out at Monarto

Once you reach the visitor’s centre, there are two ways of exploring the zoo – you can either hop on a free bus that drives you through the exhibits, or if you’re feeling energetic, there are over ten kilometres of walking trails that take you through the zoo.

We decided to tackle the trails.

Right outside the Visitor’s Centre you’ll find a mob of meerkats. Meerkats are one of those animals that I could spend all day watching as they scurry and dig and stand up on their hind legs when something captures their attention.

Meerkats at Monarto Zoo
Meerkats are one of my favourite animals – I could sit and watch them for ages!

Unfortunately, we couldn’t spend all day with the meerkats – we had an entire zoo to explore!

Walking away from the visitors centre, we came across the Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby enclosure. Usually when we come through here, we don’t glimpse the timid wallabies but today we were lucky and saw two basking in the wintry sun.

Yellow footed rock wallaby at Monarto Zoo
We were lucky to see this adorable yellow footed rock wallaby – they’re usually pretty good at hiding!

Close by are the chimpanzees, who come right up close to you in their undercover playground, which is where they tend to hang out. The success of Monarto’s chimpanzee breeding program means that there’s often young adventurous infants playing, though today the most recent addition to the troupe was cuddled up with its mum, hidden from view.

The Ridge Track at Monarto Zoo
Walking through the scrub along the Ridge Track, on our way to the Waterhole to see the zebra and giraffes

From there we took the Ridge Trail, walking through the mallee scrub, where we stopped at various lookouts to gaze at herds of black rhinoceros, zebra, Indian antelope, scimitar-horned oryx.

It’s a peaceful walk – most families who come to the zoo opt to take the bus around the zoo so there’s generally not too many people around – and it’s pretty cool to look out and feel like you’re in the wild.

At the end of the walking trail, we came out on to the Water Hole – an area containing ostrich, Chapman’s zebra and Australia’s biggest herd of giraffe.

Feeding time at the Water Hole
Feeding time at the Water Hole

Arriving just in time for the keeper talk, we were introduced to ‘Kinky’ – a giraffe who was born at the zoo but because her mother sat down to deliver her instead of standing, she was born with a broken veterbrae, thus giving her a kink in her neck.

Giraffe at Monarto Zoo
‘Kinky’ the giraffe at Monarto Zoo

We took the Creek Track back to the Visitors Centre, narrowly missing being crashed in to by two emus dashing across the path (emus and kangaroos roam around the zoo).

After lunch at the on-site cafe, we queued for the Zu-loop shuttle bus. Besides the driver, a zoo volunteer also comes onboard to provide commentary on the history of the zoo and trivia about the animals it houses as well as the conservation programs they undertake to ensure the survival of the animals.

Giraffes and the Zu-loop bus at Monarto
Going on one of the guided bus tours allows you to enter the animals’ enclosures and see them up close

Doing the bus tour around Monarto Zoo always makes me feel like I’m about to enter Jurassic Park – the bus draws close to a gate, and waits for it to open, and before you know it you’re inside the animal’s enclosure. If the animals are feeling curious, they’ll come right up to the bus.

Przewalski's horse
Przewalski’s horse

On the bus tour, you’ll see Prewalski’s horses, bison, deer, white and black rhinoceros, zebra, bongoes, ostriches, eland, waterbuck, oryx and cheetah.

Cheetah at Monarto Zoo
One of the cheetahs at Monarto Zoo

There are bus stops along the way to get a closer view of the animals – including at the Water Hole to see the giraffes, and the Boma to get up close and personal with a rhino (and maybe have a chance to pat one!).

To see the carnivores, you’ll need to get off at Windana, the furthest away of all the bus stops, and either view the hyenas, African painted dogs, and lions and lionesses from the viewing platform, or by taking a separate bus through their enclosures.

Lionesses at Monarto Zoo
The lionesses enjoying a sleepy Sunday afternoon

Ryan captured our visit on video – he’s just invested in one thing he thought he’d never buy – a selfie stick – and tried it out for the first time during our zoo trip.

Zoos are important for animal conservation and the work they do with breeding programs to protect animals under threat from extinction. Because of this (and the opportunity for a lifetime of ‘free’ zoo visits!), I purchased a Zoos SA Lifetime Membership on my thirtieth birthday, so I could support the zoos in the work that they do in ensuring these endangered animals will thrive and be around for many generations to come.

It’s always a good day out at Monarto Zoo – I get to have the feeling of going on a safari without straying too far from home!


Simple Pleasures

Over the past few days, I’ve been reading Lessons from Madame Chic, a book about author Jennifer L Scott’s study abroad trip to Paris, and the habits and traditions upheld by her French host family which she has brought into her everyday life.

Lessons from Madame Chic got me thinking about my own school exchange trip to Germany, and my own host family. The more I thought about the time I spent with them, the more nostalgic I became about the whole experience. If Jennifer could bring aspects of her host family that she liked and admired in to her life, could I do the same?

Radio in the Morning

Madame Chic would prepare breakfast while listening to the radio. Having the radio playing in the mornings had also been a staple in my own host family’s routine.

Lately I’ve picked up the habit of having the morning news on TV playing as I get ready for work. Unfortunately, I’ve tended to watch it when I should be listening to it, which means I waste time and make myself late for work. I’ve decided to listen to the radio instead, and have been switching between the local radio station, and listening to French and German Internet radio stations, to practice my languages while getting ready in the morning. It’s been a far more relaxing start to my day!

The Magic of Driving in the Dark

I spent December and January living with my German host family, which meant that the sun didn’t rise until 8AM and it was dark soon after 4PM. It took about forty minutes to drive from the village we lived in to the school in the nearest town. The drive there was soothing; there was something about driving in the morning darkness that has stuck with me ever since.

Kaffee trinken

After coming home from school and work, my German host family would all congregate and have Kaffee trinken (literally, ‘to drink coffee’) together, which was basically a daily afternoon tea where we’d have coffee and hot chocolate, as well as homemade cakes and biscuits. It was one of my favourite traditions. It was nice to come home and relax for a bit, and catch up with everyone, before the rush of the evening routine began.

When I went back to visit my host family in the summer, homemade lemonade replaced the hot beverages and fresh fruit bought from a roadside seller replaced the heavier baked goods, but it was still a nice and relaxing interlude as day turned into evening.

Weekend Explorers

Maybe it was because they had an exchange student with them, but it seemed like every weekend we were going out and exploring the local area. I was lucky enough to see many of the castles which dotted the countryside, climb the Harz mountains (and watch my hair freeze!), go sledding in the freshly fallen snow, and visit gorgeous Christmas markets. It reminded me of the days when Mum and Dad used to take my brother and I on Sunday drives, where we’d take off in the car for a day and stop at whatever place looked interesting. It’s a habit I should really pick up again. I don’t really do much travelling when I’m home, and I need to make it more of a priority – there’s so many interesting things to do and beautiful places to explore!

Christmas Traditions

I stayed with my host family over Christmas and New Year’s. Every family has their own unique Christmas traditions. For my own family, it’s putting the Christmas tree up on the first Sunday in December, having a huge get together with my extended family the week before Christmas, baking gingerbread biscuits, singing along with my family to the televised carols on Christmas Eve, and eating so much for Christmas Day lunch that we don’t eat anything for dinner! My host family had their own traditions. They made their own carol songbooks (and included some English language carols for me alongside their traditional German carols) and brought them out several times in the lead-up to Christmas. They lit Advent candles and my host parents made an Advent calendar for each of us where we received a small toy or a chocolate every day in the lead-up to Christmas. They baked Stollen and biscuits, and visited Christmas markets. They gave each other gifts on Christmas Eve, and then spent the next three days celebrating with family gatherings.

My brother has also spent time over Christmas with the same host family (they’ve even hosted my parents!), and every year since then we’ve included German carols in our repertoire. Our favourites? Kling Glöckchen, Oh es riecht gut! and the traditional Stille Nacht.

I am so fortunate for having spent time with my host family – my time in Germany wouldn’t have been as wonderful without them. I must keep in mind what I enjoyed the most about spending time with them, and incorporate what I can into my daily routine, remembering to appreciate the simple pleasures in life.


A Night of Illuminations

A Night Of Illuminations

It was getting close to 10PM, the summer air had cooled and I pulled my scarf closer around me as we joined the people gathered in front of the Art Gallery of South Australia.

The normally brown facade was changing. A blue bird perched itself on a rock, peered at us, and then flew off, disappearing in to the black. Fish swam into view, before jumping and diving their way around the building. Waves of ocean were quickly dispersed by blades of green grass. A stegosaurus appeared out of nowhere.

Tom Moore's surreal 'The Bureau of Comical Ecologies' projected on to the Art Gallery of South Australia
Tom Moore’s surreal ‘The Bureau of Comical Ecologies’ projected on to the Art Gallery of South Australia

Tom Moore’s ‘The Bureau of Comical Ecologies’ is just one of the many projections on display as part of the Adelaide Fringe Illuminations. A free event held as part of the Fringe, the projected ‘Illuminations’ are displayed on buildings along Adelaide’s North Terrace, and just add to the fun of being in Adelaide right now.

South Australia is known as ‘The Festival State’, and at this time of year, Adelaide plays host to so many festivals that we call it ‘Mad March’. It all begins in February, with the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the Southern Hemisphere. But we don’t stop there. We cram the rest of February and all of March full with even more festivals: the Adelaide Festival of the Arts, the Clipsal 500 car race, the world music festival WOMAD, and the Adelaide Cup to name a few. You find yourself going to two shows every night and needing a rest by the time April comes around!

We stood and watched the Art Gallery animated projection as it finished its cycle, and then moved on to the next beautifully lit up building along North Terrace, dodging pedalos ferrying people between Fringe shows, and stopping to listen to a Scottish bagpiper on the way.

Roll Up Roll Up by The Electric Canvas - projections on the South Australian Museum
Roll Up Roll Up by The Electric Canvas – projections on the South Australian Museum

Ever since I went to the Sound and Light Show at Château de Blois I’ve been fascinated about how projections like these can transform these beautiful buildings from something I’m used to seeing every day to amazing works of art. In just one hundred metres, you could see portrayals of Aboriginal culture, learn about the treasures of the State Library, discover the surreal ecology on the Art Gallery of South Australia, and be entranced by the circus montages on both the South Australian Museum and Bonython Hall.

You could even try it out for yourself, with a station set up to give passers-by three minutes to try creating their own works of projected art!

The Fringe Illuminations is on from February 12 – 28 2016 from 8:30PM – 1:30AM.


Hello February!

Hello February!Where did January go?! Every year it seems that time speeds up and each month flashes by faster than the last one. Now January has disappeared in a haze of summer holidays and February is already upon us! Time to make some plans for this month.

I never do well with following up on my New Year’s resolutions in January. With the start of a new month, it’s a perfect time to reboot, and plan to fit more language learning, day trips, and relaxation into my days.

Here’s what I’m working on for February:

Re-introducing myself to French

This will technically be the sixth year I’ve learned French, so you’d expect me to be pretty good, right? Mais non! Having taken a break from it since last October, I can feel myself forgetting my vocab and grammar. Classes start back this month, and at the level I’m at, staying quiet and self-doubting in class is not an option anymore. If I’m going to get better, I must practice speaking.

I need to drag out my French books, brush up on my vocab, and face my fears of conversing in French by attending my local French Meetup Group.

If you have any suggestions to help with this, I’d love to hear them!


I’ve taken a break from blogging, mainly due to the lack of faith I had in my writing style, and why people would care about what I write. Every time I’d sit down to write I would judge myself even before I had written anything. My mind would go blank and the doubts would creep in. This changes this month.

I need to establish a writing routine and stick to it. If I keep showing up to write, eventually the writing will happen.

Exploring my local area

I want to travel more around South Australia as well as interstate. We have so many great and interesting things to see and do here in Australia, that I want to take advantage of what my local area has to offer.

It’s unseasonably cool here in Australia at the moment (last weekend was in the low twenties) – the perfect weather to get out and about exploring the Adelaide Hills and checking out the city.

Finalising my next overseas trip

I’m currently planning to visit the US and go to Disneyland, which I’m really excited about, and working out how to fit in Canada and Ireland into the same trip. Scotland and Norway, get ready to meet your match!

What are your plans for February?


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!