Clearly the most important and visited landmark in Phnom Penh is the Royal Palace near the Sisowath Quay. Within the compound of the Royal Palace is the equally important Temple of the Emerald Buddha that was opened in 1902 and renovated by King Sinahouk in 1962. During the renovation, Sinahouk laid on the main floor area a total of 5,329 pieces of silver tiles, which add up to more than 5 tons of pure silver. This is why the temple is more popularly referred to as the Silver Pagoda. The pagoda’s other name is “Temple of the Emerald Buddha” because of the emerald Buddha within the main worship area.
Known in Khmer as Preah Keo Morokat, the Emerald Buddha is not really made of emerald but of jade, while others believe it is Baccarat crystal from the 17th Century. Another precious image is the 200-pound Buddha in front of the altar. It is made of pure gold and amazingly studded with more than 2,000 pieces of diamonds. Depicting the fully enlightened Maitreya Buddha, said to come to earth in later times, this life-size gold Buddha was built inside the Royal Palace workshop in 1907. To add to its regality, King Sisowath (who reigned from 1904 to 1927) dressed the Buddha in royal regalia.
Meanwhile, nearby are other priceless gold pieces that were offered and donated to the temple in 1969 by Queen Kossomak Nearyreath, mother of King Sihanouk. The gold donations are safely stored and displayed inside glass cases, and so are other gifts that were given to the Royal Family through the years.
Another important highlight of the temple would be the gallery walls around the temple grounds. They are covered by magnificent murals that tell the story of the Indian epic, the Ramayana. The entire compound is used as the royal graveyard. Also within the compound are a shrine in honor of the sacred bull, Nandi, and bronze statue of King Norodom sitting on a horse. This statue of the first modern Khmer king was made in Paris in 1875 and transported to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, in 1892.
Since it is located within the city’s religious and commercial center that is frequented by foreigners and expats, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is difficult to miss. Tourists may even walk to it from nearby major hotels. For those who’d rather not walk under the scorching tropical sun, all tuk-tuk drivers know the way to the palace. To local and foreign tourists, a visit to this temple is a must. It is open to the public every day from 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM and from 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM. As a form of donation, the temple asks for an entrance fee of only US$3 per visitor. There is an additional US$2 camera fee and US$5 video fee. There are specified areas within the temple that must not be entered or photographed by anyone. It is also very important that tourists wear clothes that do not reveal one’s knees and shoulders.