The Story of the Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh
In the south-central region of Cambodia, on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Bassac and Mekong Rivers, lies Phnom Penh, the country’s permanent capital since 1866. Within the city sits the Cambodian Royal Palace whose complex contains, to the south, the stunning Silver Pagoda.
In a country with a troubled past, the Silver Pagoda remains as a monument to a different age and, despite much internal destruction at the hands of the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s, most of the temple remains for visitors to see. It is also a symbol of the country’s survival and continuing growth, and should be included in the itinerary of any visitor interested in investigating the links between past and present that are embodied in this gloriously significant structure.
The Royal Palace was built in the 19th Century as the abode of the King of Cambodia. It continues to be the residence of the restored monarchy and court, and remains a symbol of royal power throughout the country to this day. The Silver Pagoda, constructed in 1892, is just one of the formal buildings of the palace complex, and is the official temple of the reigning monarch, although it is not a monastic residence. Instead, it is now mainly used to house and display over 1600 of the country’s historical treasures, both cultural and religious – all survivors of the dark days of the rule of the Khmer Rouge.
Treasures of the past
The Silver Pagoda was originally constructed in wood and was rebuilt in the 1960s. The floor is made of 5329 silver tiles, which give the building its popular name (its official title is Wat Preah Keo, a reference to the Emerald Buddha which is housed within). It also contains other treasures and statues of Buddha in a variety of materials, such as the Maitreya Buddha – life-sized, made of solid gold and encrusted with almost ten thousand diamonds. These items are the relics of an earlier era, a brilliant and vibrant civilization that no longer exists, and which can now only be glimpsed in the spectacular collections of priceless treasures such as those housed in the Silver Pagoda.
Surrounding the Pagoda, the grounds of the palace complex are beautifully maintained and the cloisters are decorated with ancient frescoes. There is much to see for the curious traveler within the precincts of the Silver Pagoda, even though much of the Royal Palace itself is not accessible to the public, due to its continued use as a residence and official government building.
Visitors can reach Phnom Penh by a variety of methods. Flights from international hubs in Thailand and Singapore, among others, arrive at the capital’s airport, which is serviced by taxis and a local bus service. Visitors can also enter the country by boat, sailing on the Mekong River over the border from Vietnam and, once in Phnom Penh, can continue by local transport or even rent a car.