by Sharon Henry
The Royal Palace Phnom Penh is one of the top attractions in Phnom Penh. To gain access you must observe the conservative Royal Palace Phnom Penh dress code…don’t get caught out!
We’re in the city of Phnom Penh Cambodia, queuing for tickets to visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. I’ve never been so hot in my life. It just so happens we touched down at Phnom Penh airport during April, the hottest month of the year. The Phnom Penh temperature is topping 37C, sweat is rolling off us in beads. Not even a hint of breeze comes off the nearby Tonle Sap River.
There’s a lady selling ice-cold water from a cooler which sounds tempting but it’s priced a bit steep at US$2 for a small bottle so we sip our tepid drinks instead.
Our first day out in the city we’ve explored around the Independence Monument, done a Riverfront walk and now about to tick the Khmer Royal Palace off our list of top things to do in Phnom Penh city.
Royal Palace Phnom Penh Entrance Fee
The Royal Palace Phnom Penh opening hours are 8 to 5pm daily for tours but closes for lunch between 11 – 2pm. Unfortunately, we missed the cooler morning visit. Big mistake.
The Royal Palace entrance fee costs US$6.50, the entrance gate can be found on Sothearos Boulevard. Click here for a detailed map of Phnom Penh to help navigate the city.
Displayed upon the outer palace walls are huge portraits of the Cambodia King Norodom Sihamoni who famously declined an invitation to Kate and Will’s wedding. There’s also portraits of the late King Norodom Sihanouk.
The Phnom Penh Royal Palace Dress Code
I had read earlier that Cambodia prefers women to dress conservatively so despite the sizzling heat I’ve opted to wear pants for good coverage; hopefully I won’t melt into a puddle.
Dress Code for Royal Palace Phnom Penh
Just after we’re handed our tickets and move toward the entry gate an attendant very abruptly shouts at me, “You can’t go” pointing at my cap sleeved t-shirt. It didn’t pass the dress code. Thankfully I’d come prepared and whip out a thin cardigan from my bag which gets a nod of approval.
Whilst I am slipping it over my sticky, sweaty arms (eeew) a lady wearing a vest top is rudely stopped in her tracks and denied entry. The scarf/shawl she has on is not sufficient coverage but she refuses to buy a $3 t-shirt on sale near the ticket stall, choosing instead to get her ticket refunded. I can tell she’s bitterly disappointed and not appreciative of her treatment.
For the record the Royal Palace Phnom Penh dress code is: shorts below the knee and t-shirts or blouses with sleeves that reaches to the elbows. The shoulders and knees are to be covered. Don’t get caught out like that unfortunate lady. The Silver Pagoda Phnom Penh dress code is the same.
What To Do In Phnom Penh City
Those of us who pass the dress code test, walk into the pristine grounds and step inside the Royal Palace complex. There are a number of group tours here as well. The grounds are immaculate, grass, hedges and topiary trees have been manicured to precision. The buildings are impressive, daintily ornate with pointed gable roofs that resemble licks of flame. The glittering structures are fit for Cambodia royalty; gilt spires, doors and roof tiles. There is certainly a lot of gold.
With our tickets we’ve been handed leaflets that gives a basic layout of the grounds. The map has arrows leading to numbered points of interest but no detailed information about the palace in Phnom Penh.
We eavesdrop on a few English speaking tour guides and get a few interesting nuggets.
Following the crowd, we walk the rising steps to the Throne Hall. This is where coronations, official and religious ceremonies take place.
Royal Attractions Phnom Penh
The Throne Hall is cordoned off; we can only look through from the threshold. It’s a large room with high frescoed ceilings, crystal chandeliers and tall gold lamps. The walls are lined with heavy gauge wallpaper. Three thrones sit at the far end.
A girl next to me lifts her camera to take a photo of the interior. Suddenly a guard abruptly shouts at her, “no photo, no photo,” like she’s some kind of criminal. Clearly shaken she quickly offers her apologies; she did not know. The guard points sharply to a small ‘no photography’ sign obscured by the crowd of people.
The unnecessary manner in which he treated her has really irked me, coupled with the previous experience at the entrance. Customer service obviously doesn’t rank high here at the Royal Palace Cambodia.
Rolling Out The Carpet For Khmer New Year Celebrations
A thick red carpet is being rolled out and women are delivering garlands of exotic Cambodia flowers, possibly in preparation for the upcoming Khmer New Year celebrations.
The Silver Pagoda Phnom Penh
From the corner of my eye I twig three monkeys scampering around in the courtyard showing no interest in tourists. I can’t resist zooming in for a shot before they disappear.
The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh compound is made up of a number of buildings which includes the Moonlight Pavilion and the Silver Pagoda aka the Emerald Pagoda.
There are also beautifully painted but disintegrating wall murals known as Ramayana frescoes that are undergoing restoration. Painted in 1903 – 1904 these beautiful murals tell the stories from the Reamker. It is a Khmer version of the classic Indian epic the Ramayana.
The Silver Pagoda Phnom Penh entrance fee is included in the Cambodia Palace ticket. We’re required to take off our shoes before entering which gives us a chance to cool off next to a few electric fans that are working overtime.
The Phnom Penh Silver Pagoda Cambodia
Inside the Silver Pagoda it’s dark and quiet. Tables and glass cabinets flank the room showcasing old relics and numerous Buddha figures made of gold, wood, jade, marble and even a life-sized diamond encrusted one. Actually, it’s 2,086 diamonds to be exact, the largest is thought to be 25 carats. Wow!
The Emerald Buddha, made of green Baccarat crystal sits crossed legged on top a pedestal overlooking the room.
The Silver Pagoda is a most extravagantly beautiful highlight of Phnom Penh attractions.
It’s easy to see why this is a famous building in Cambodia, along with Angkor Wat in Siem Reap that is.
By now it’s so stifling hot we are waning fast and have drained our water bottles. We jokingly wish for the lady selling $2 water to come by; we’ll pay double. There are stupas and other buildings we haven’t seen but concede that we’ve lost the will to continue – the Phnom Penh weather has defeated us.
Royal Palace History
Given Cambodia’s long history, although the Phnom Penh Palace complex looks steeped in history, the buildings are fairly new, constructed from 1866 when Phnom Penh became the country’s new capital city. Many of the buildings were built using a combination of traditional Khmer and Thai architecture with European features.
The Royal Pagoda
The Silver Pagoda is so called because there are over 5000 silver floor tiles. These have now been covered by a red carpet for protection, but apparently a corner section is visible that we missed on our visit.
The Cambodian name for Silver Pagoda is Wat Preah Keo Morokat meaning Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This is where the King meets with monks and listens to sermons.
The Cambodia King
The Royal Palace is the official royal residence however, King’s living area is off limits on the tour and takes up half of the total palace grounds area. A blue flag flies when he is in residence.
King Norodom Sihamoni is an interesting character. He’s a bachelor who spent most of his life outside of Cambodia, having schooled from a young age in Czechoslovakia. He taught dance in France before ascending the throne following his father’s abdication in 2004.
The Pavilion Phnom Penh
Because of the heat we didn’t explore the grounds extensively. We missed the Napoleon III Pavilion, a gift from France in 1876. Because of our Napoleon-St Helena connection this would have been interesting to see.
Napoleon III had made the doll-like iron structure for Empress Eugenie in 1869 for use in the inauguration of the Suez Canal. The Pavilion is now a museum displaying Royal memorabilia and a photographic exhibition.
Phnom Penh Sightseeing
If you’re looking for things to see in Phnom Penh the Royal Palace is worthy a jot on any visitor’s itinerary. Even if just for a glimpse of how the other half lives, away from the poverty and hard slog of those living on the other side of the palace walls. Just be sure to dress appropriately to gain access.
There are multi-lingual Phnom Penh travel guides available for hire although we weren’t aware of this at the time. T-shirts and wide legged trousers are on sale or for rent near the ticket stall at US$3 each as an option for those caught out by the dress code (one size fits all and don’t expect to win any fashion prizes.)
If like us, you can’t handle the broiling temperatures of Phnom Penh Cambodia, the best time to visit might outside the months of April, May and June to avoid the intense heat.
How To Get A Cambodia E visa or Visa On Arrival
Visas are required for tourists to enter the Kingdom of Cambodia, visas cost US$30. Here’s a link to apply for a Cambodia e visa on the official Government website. The process could take up to 3 days. To get a tourist visa on arrival at the capital of Phnom Penh or Siam Reap International airports and you will need to provide a passport photo.
We only had a few days before heading off to Siem Reap but managed to squeeze in a few of the best things to do in Phnom Penh Cambodia. One of the day tours from Phnom Penh is a visit to the Killing Fields. This very sad, thought provoking place gives an insight and appreciation of the resilience of the Cambodia people. Totally worth a stop when you visit Phnom Penh city.
Currency in Phnom Penh
You’ll have noticed the Royal Palace Phnom Penh price quoted above and the ice cold water is in US dollars. That’s because US dollars is the unofficial second currency of Cambodia. The official currency is the Cambodian riel. The US dollar has become a Cambodia dollar of sorts. Here’s further information to read up on.
Other Phnom Penh tourist attractions are:
the Independence Monument, Toul Sleng Museum, Statue of the Late Kind Norodom Sihanouk, the Cambodia Vietnam Friendship Monument, National Museum, the Central Market, Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh and river cruises.
One of our most memorable nights in SEA was celebrating Khmer New Year’s Eve in the park outside the Royal Palace. The easy-going, happy atmosphere of the local people was contagious.
Here is a Phnom Penh tourism travel guide from Tourism Cambodia.
Phnom Penh Tour
Tuk-tuks are the most popular and easiest form of transport in Phnom Penh. We met Nim, the best tuk-tuk driver in Phnom Penh outside the Royal Palace entrance, who we booked for tours throughout our stay. His story is fascinating and we still keep in touch today.