If you have a spare hour in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, it’s worth visiting Wat Phnom. Wat Phnom is the tallest religious structure in the Cambodian capital and located in the centre of Phnom Penh and surrounded by a busy roundabout.
How to get to Wat Phnom
The easiest way to get to there is by taking a tuk-tuk through the GRAB app (this allows you to know the fare in advance and avoid getting ripped off). If you are staying in the city it shouldn’t be more than $1-2 dollars to get there.
The entrance fee for foreign tourists is just $1 – well worth it to see the temple. You should plan to spend at least half an hour to explore the temple complex and maybe up to an hour if you are exploring the surrounding park and gardens and visiting the nearby Chinese temple.
History of Wat Phnom
The temple was originally built in 1372. The story says that a women (known as lady Penh) found 4 Buddha statues inside a large koki tree on the Mekong river and that a temple was needed to house them.
The tallest point of the temple is twenty-seven meters high. It has been rebuilt several times during the 19th century, with the most recent construction happening in 1926.
Climb the main staircase guarded by lions and nagas (mythical dragon like creatures).
You can enter the main Vihara (prayer room housing Buddha) as a Westerner, but remember to dress conservatively (legs and shoulders covered) and remove your shoes before entering.
Inside you will find beautifully painted walls and ceiling which show stories of the reincarnations of the Buddha and also of the ‘Reamker’ which is the Cambodian translation of the Ramayana.
The main Buddha is a large Bronze statue and there are several other standing and seated Buddha statues inside that have received monetary offerings from worshippers.
Behind the main Vihara is a stupa that contains the ashes of King Ponhea Yat (r 1405–67).
On the South Side of the hill is a sacred house adorned with red Chinese lanterns. This is known locally as ‘the Chinese temple’ – a place where a Cambodian Buddhist temple makes way for Chinese beliefs.
When the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh in 1975, they gathered all the statues of gods and goddesses in Chinese temples from various locations in the city, and they brought them here. It’s unknown as to why they chose the site, or why they put them here rather than destroying them as the Khmer Rouger were supposed to be against all religions. You will see a number of smaller shrines including one to lady Penh herself and several Chinese Gods and Goddesses.
Giant Clock and other Shrines
Look out for the giant flower clock built built into the hillside on the other side of the temple. You will also come across several other mini shrines including a small shrine to King Norodom.
Tips on Visiting Wat Phnom
- Take $1 notes for your entrance fee and tuk-tuk.
- Dress conservatively covering legs and shoulders.
- No hats in the temple, no selfies with Buddha and never point your feet towards Buddha.
- Avoid the women keeping birds in cages – the idea is that you pay to release them, but then they just end up back in the cage or caging more birds.
- Wear sunscreen – it can get hot.
- Beware of the monkeys – some can be cheeky. You don’t want to get bitten or scratched by one due to the risk of rabies.
What to Pack for Cambodia
Take light cotton tops, long comfortable trousers and maxi dresses that cover your shoulders. Thailand is a conservative Buddhist county and you are likely to be refused entry to top sites like the Phnom Penh Royal Palace and Angkor Wat with shoulders showing and shorts or short skirts. You can pack shorts and vest tops for hanging around your hotel or the pool.
Pack a water bottle because many guest houses are eco friendly and have a refill and reuse policy to cut down on plastic waste. The drinking water is fine and many hotels supply cold purified drinking water.
Bugs bite particularly in the evenings in Cambodia and so a bug repellant is essential. Also the sun can get hot – this Christmas and New Year temperatures were exceeding 32 degrees and so sun screen is another essential.