LivingTravelVisiting the Wat Phnom temple in Phnom Penh

Visiting the Wat Phnom temple in Phnom Penh

Wat Phnom, translated as ‘temple on the hill’, is the tallest and most important temple in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. The temple, first built in 1373, was erected on an 88-foot-tall man-made mound overlooking the city.

The pleasant garden around Wat Phnom offers tourists and locals a green respite from the noise and chaos on the busy streets of Phnom Penh. The attractive grounds are used for concerts, festivals, and once a year it becomes the epicenter of the Cambodian New Year celebration.

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap may monopolize most of Cambodia’s tourism, but Wat Phnom is a must-see if you’re near Phnom Penh.

The legend

Local legend claims that in 1373 a wealthy widow named Daun Chi Penh found four bronze Buddha statues inside a floating tree on the Tonle Sap River just after a great flood. He gathered the nearby residents and had them create an 88-foot mound and then erected a shrine on top to support the Buddhas. This hill is said to be the origin of modern Phnom Penh, which literally means “hill of Penh.”

Another theory claims that King Ponhea Yat, the last king of the Khmer civilization, built the temple in 1422 after moving his empire from Angkor to the Phnom Penh area. He died in 1463 and the largest stupa at Wat Phnom still contains his remains.

The history of Wat Phnom

Don’t be fooled into thinking that everything around Wat Phnom dates back to 1373. The temple had to be rebuilt several times over the centuries; The current structure was built in 1926.

The French improved the gardens during their colonization and the dictator Pol Pot made many modifications during the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Many new statues have been added to suit different political and religious interests, even shrines have been sprinkled for Taoist beliefs. and Hindus.

The faded ceiling mural above the largest Buddha statue is original and has never been restored.

Visiting Wat Phnom

Tourists must buy a ticket at the box office before going up the hill to the temple. The ticket office is at the foot of the east staircase. Admission to the attached museum is extra.

Take off your shoes as you enter the main worship area.

Carts offering water, snacks and trinkets have been installed everywhere around the temple entrance. Children and old women sell small caged birds to release at the top of the hill, which is said to bring good fortune. Don’t think spending your money will help frightened creatures, the same birds are caught again shortly after release.

Things to see around Wat Phnom

  • The small shrine dedicated to Daun Chi Penh in a neighboring pavilion.
  • The original wall painting on the ceiling of the main worship area.
  • The large stupa containing the ashes of King Ponhea Yat.
  • The Preah Chau shrine, which is worshiped by Vietnamese devotees.
  • Behind the temple is a stupa destroyed by the roots of a large tree.
  • Paintings depicting stories of Buddha before enlightenment.

Get there

Phnom Penh is the largest city in Cambodia and is well connected by air and bus to the rest of Southeast Asia.

Wat Phnom is located in the northern part of Phnom Penh, near the Tonle Sap River. From the Central Market, walk seven blocks northeast to the temple or follow the busy Norodom Boulevard that runs north-south directly to the temple.

Safety and Warnings

  • Any concentration of tourists in Cambodia will inevitably bring street vendors, vendors, and beggars; Be prepared to politely decline many offers.
  • Thieves targeting tourists patrol the temple grounds; watch your bags.
  • Naughty monkeys roam Wat Phnom; Always drop anything you grab quickly to avoid a bite and possible rabies shots! Make sure you are familiar with monkey bites and safety.
  • During Chaul Chnam Thmey, the Cambodian New Year, Wat Phnom fills up and traffic spirals out of control.

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