Khmer Empire

The most popular place to visit in Cambodia is the Angkor Wat. While in itself it’s already quite impressive being the largest religious structure in the world, it’s even more impressive to learn that it was only one of many temples in an area called Angkor that at one time was the largest pre-industrial city in the world (about 1,000 square kilometres in area — more than 10 times the size of Manhattan). This was during the heights of the Khmer Empire, between the 9th and 15th centuries. The Khmer Empire at its height spans all the way to modern day Thailand in the west, the modern day Laos in the north, and the modern day Vietnam in the east.

During our visit to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, we also saw some museum display that showed artifacts from the Khmer Empire era, and particularly interesting to me was seeing a map of the Khmer Empire superimposed on the geographical map of the modern world — clearly showing how vast that empire was. I couldn’t help to think of the contrast between seeing this map that in a subtle way saying the Khmer culture is more superior than its neighbors the Thai and the Vietnamese, and seeing the model of Angkor Wat at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, which was built to commemorate the time when the Thai conquered the Angkor area. It’s interesting to think of these two cultures that are both deeply rooted in Buddhism (thus advocating peace and not being confrontational), but they still have the nationalistic pride when comparing themselves with their neighboring countries.

The photo below was taken at the museum in the Royal Palace. It was the Khmer Empire map I mentioned above.

Khmer Empire map

Royal Palace

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, has been the residence of the king of Cambodia since 1866, with a period of absence during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. One prominent building in the complex was the Throne Hall. This building was used only for important ceremonies like the king’s coronation or royal weddings. Behind the Throne Hall, there was a building behind a closed off and guarded gate. The building was the Khemarin Palace, the official residence of the king of Cambodia, King Norodom Sihamoni. Aside from these two buildings, there were a couple of buildings that were open air pavilions where traditional dance performances were performed, and there were several other closed-off buildings that seemed to be used for offices. On the south side of the Royal Palace complex, there was a long wall decorated with Ramaketi (the Khmer version of the Hindu epic Ramayana) frescoes, several large stupas commemorating past Cambodian royalties, and the royal temple known as the Silver Pagoda. The whole set up was very much similar to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

We visited the Royal Palace as our first destination during our full day visit to Phnom Penh. When we arrived there, we just had to purchase the entrance ticket, and then just walked into the complex to visit areas that are open for the public. It wasn’t as crowded as the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Inside the complex we could walk around and check out the interior of some of the buildings, but many were closed off. Unlike the Grand Palace in Bangkok that is used for ceremonies but is not the actual residence of the King of Siam anymore, the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is actually the residence of the King of Cambodia, King Norodom Sihamoni. So we could observe a closed area with armed guards watching the entrance gate. Many visitors came with tour guides (they are easily recognizable because official tour guides in Cambodia had to wear uniforms when they’re on duty). We didn’t have one, so we just had to rely on our own guidebooks and the pamphlet handed out at the ticket booth. The palace is not as glitzy as the Grand Palace in Bangkok, but it’s still showing the dignity of the people of Cambodia, and provided some reminder of the past glory of the Khmer Empire.

The photo below was taken inside the complex. This was the Moonlight Pavilion that can also be seen from outside the complex. This particular pavilion has a balcony where the King can stand and watch One of the most notable buildings in the palace complex as it’s easily seen from outside. This pavilion had a balcony where the king could see parade passing by the boulevard outside the palace.

Moonlight Pavilion