ALL THAT GOLD | Sharon Henry
We’re at the Royal Palace Phnom Penh in Cambodia waiting in line for the gates to re-open, sidling closer to the perimeter walls for shade.
I’ve never been so hot in my life (and no, I’m not boasting as Darrin would ask). It just so happens we touched down at Phnom Penh airport during the hottest month of the year. Our first day out in the city, and the Phnom Penh temperature is topping 37C, sweat is rolling off us in beads. Not even a hint of breeze comes off the nearby Mekong 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.
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 $6.50 and listed as one of our things to do in Phnom Penh.
Hanging outside on the palace walls are huge portraits of the Cambodia King Norodom Sihamoni who famously declined an invitation to Kate and Will’s wedding.
The Royal Palace Phnom Penh Dress Code
I have read that Cambodia prefers women to dress conservatively so I’ve opted to wear my ‘Banjo’ pants for good coverage despite the sizzling heat; hopefully they’ll be light enough so I don’t melt into a puddle.
We buy our tickets and move to the entry gate when the operator very abruptly barks at me, “You can’t go” pointing at my cap sleeved t-shirt. Having always tried to abide by my Girl Guide motto: ‘Be Prepared,’ I smugly whip out a thin cardigan from my bag and get a nod of approval.
Whilst I am reluctantly slipping it over my sticky, sweaty arms (eeew) another ‘foreigner’ a lady in a vest top is rudely stopped in her tracks and denied entry. Her scarf/shawl is not sufficient but she refuses to buy a US$3 t-shirt on sale near the ticket stall, choosing instead to get her ticket refunded. I can tell she’s disappointed and not appreciative of her treatment.
The Magnificent Throne Hall of The Royal Palace
Those of us who pass the dress code test, walk into the pristine grounds and step inside the Royal Palace complex. There are a lot of group tours here as well. Grass, hedges and 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 a king; gilt spires, doors and roof tiles. There is certainly a lot of gold.
With our tickets we’ve been given leaflets that includes a basic layout of the complex. The map has arrows leading to points of interest but gives no detailed information about the palace.
We eavesdrop on a few English speaking tour guides to glean a few nuggets of interest.
Following the crowd, we walk the rising steps to the Throne Hall. This is where coronations, official and religious ceremonies take place.
The Throne Hall is cordoned off; we can only look through from the threshold. It’s a large room with high mural ceilings, crystal chandeliers and tall gold lamps. The walls are flocked with heavy 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 palace.
Rolling Out The Carpet For Khmer New Year Celebrations
A thick red carpet is being rolled out and women are delivering trays of exotic Cambodia flowers, possibly in preparation for the upcoming Khmer New Year celebrations.
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.
A number of buildings make up the complex of the Royal Palace Phnom Penh which includes the Moonlight Pavilion and the Silver Pagoda aka the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. There are also beautiful but disintegrating wall paintings that are undergoing preservation.
The Silver Pagoda Phnom Pehn
It’s dark and quiet inside the Silver Pagoda and we’re required to take off our shoes before entering. Electric fans are working overtime.
Tables and cabinets flank the room showcasing old relics and numerous Buddha figurines made of gold, wood, jade, marble and even a life-sized diamond encrusted one.
The Emerald Buddha sits crossed legged within a golden tower overlooking the room.
By now it’s so stifling hot we are waning fast and have drained our water bottles. We jokingly wish for the lady selling US$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.
The Silver And Gold Of The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace complex looks steeped in history but in fact the buildings are fairly new, constructed from 1866 when Phnom Penh became the country’s capital. Many of the buildings were built using a combination of traditional Khmer and Thai architecture and European features.
The Silver Pagoda is so called because there are over 5000 silver floor tiles. These have now been covered by a red carpet but apparently a corner section is visible that we missed on our visit.
The King’s living area is off limits on the tour and takes up half of the total palace ground area. 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.
If you’re looking for things to do 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 and lower your customer service expectations.
Getting A Cambodia Evisa or Visa On Arrival
The Royal Palace Phnom Penh entrance fee is US$6.50 and apparently there are multi-lingual tour guides available for hire although we were not made aware of this. T-shirts and wide legged pants are on sale near the ticket stall at US$3 each as an option for those caught out with the dress code (one size fits all but don’t expect to win any fashion prizes.)
If like us, you can’t handle the broiling temperatures of Cambodia, the best time to visit might outside the months of April, May and June to avoid the intense heat.
Visas are required for tourists to enter the Kingdom of Cambodia; evisa or visa on arrival at a cost of US$30. Click here to apply for a Cambodia evisa. The process could take up to 3 days. You can get a tourist visa on arrival at Phnom Penh or Siam Reap International airports and you will need to provide a passport photo.