"SHOES OFF," read the sign at the entrance of the temple. Remembering that shoes are not allowed to be worn inside of Buddhist temples, I slid my sandals off and placed them on the nearby shoe rack.I continued into the temple sans les chaussures, feeling the hot,sun-soaked tiles under my feet. My jaw dropped as I walked into my very first Buddhist temple, Wat Phnom.
The first thing I noticed was the bright colors of Wat Phnom. Saffron candles stood proudly in the temple's corners. Burgundy bunches of incense released silver streams of smoke past the silent, yellow gold Buddha. Lilac-hued flowers lay on the ground and jasmine petals lay immersed in silver jars of water. Every inch of the temple seemed to glow.
While my eyes were drawn to all that was glittering and gold, Wat Phnom was a feast of scent and sound as well. I could hear the whispered chanting of loyal Buddhists who knelt before the golden alter. A light breeze stirred a clamour from tiny bronze bells. Invigorating jasmine cut through the smoky, rich scent of old-world spices that hung in the air.
I slowly walked around the central alter, upon which sat a gilded Buddha figure. The Buddha was quite stunning but my eyes were really drawn to the temple walls. Covered with murals, the walls of Wat Phnom are painted with scenes from Buddhist mythology such as from the Reamker, the Khmer version of the Ramayana. I reveled in the paintings of gods, goddesses, elephants and men.
Looking up, I noticed even more murals on the ceiling of Wat Phnom! It seemed like every inch of this temple was covered in vivid color. To this day, Wat Phnom remains one of the most impressive religious sites I've ever seen. These murals are really hard to beat!
Even the floor of Wat Phnom radiated color! I loved how delicate the fushia and cream lotus pods looked as they rested delicately over the printed tile floor.
After circling the central alter, taking in the gorgeous murals and people-watching for a bit, I continued outside to have a look at the exterior of Wat Phnom. Because it is situated atop a man-made hill, Wat Phnom offers some nice views of the city. I had to dodge a few wild monkeys while walking around the temple but I found the temple's exterior to be lovely!
I walked down the naga-lined stairs to see a sculpture in honor of the Khmer King Sisowath. I learned that he was king during a time of fierce conflict within the country when French colonial rule became norm.
I enjoyed the beauty of Wat Phnom and I think it was a perfect introduction to Cambodia, Phnom Penh and Southeast Asian Buddhism. If you're traveling through Phnom Penh, Wat Phnom shouldn't be missed.
History and Practical Info
Originally built in the 14th century, Wat Phnom has remained Phnom Penh's most important religious site for centuries. The origin of temple is somewhat blurred: legend has it that one of the city's widow's, Lady Penh, began using the site as a shrine to protect the four Buddha figures that she found. Others soon followed her lead until finally the temple itself was erected. Today, a sculpture of Lady Penh rests at Wat Phnom (pictured on the right). The temple and stupa have been rebuilt several times over the past 500 years and the interior murals have also been retouched.
Visiting Wat Phnom
Location: Wat Phnom is located near the Grand Palace and Mekong Riverfront.
Entry Fee: It is requested that tourists pay $1 USD to enter Wat Phnom
Safety Tips: Watch out for the following things around the Wat Phnom.
- Bird Scam: People sell caged birds for a few dollars. According to a Buddhist ritual, once you release the birds, you will be cleansed of your transgressions. However, these birds' wings have been clipped and the the sellers quickly recapture them. This practice is a scam and a form of animal cruelty.
- Beggars: Unfortunately, beggars are a fact of life in Southeast Asia. Cambodia suffers a large number of beggars, due to landmine accidents and general poverty. As harsh as it sounds, you should not give money to beggars, especially children. Doing so only encourages a begging culture and dependence on tourists. If you want to help disadvantaged people, donate to reputable organizations.
- Monkeys: There is a scary number of free-roaming monkeys around Wat Phnom. They'll mostly likely leave you alone, but to be on the safe side, keep food hidden. I was unlucky enough to be the victim of a mischievous money who pulled out a chunk of my hair.
Have you ever been to a temple?
What are your thoughts on visiting religious sites?