Volume 1 No.7

What's New

Place of Interest

Phrase Of The Month


Pagoda Of Silver And Emerald
By: Moul Jetr. Pictures by : Nathan Dexter and Courtesy of Royal Palace ( December, 2001 Volume 1 No.7 )

So many visitors think of Toul Sleng and the Killing Fields when they think of sights in Phnom Penh, but in the middle of the city there is a happier attraction, where the glories of Cambodia’s past are on display. The Silver Pagoda, or the Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morokat (the Emerald Pagoda) to Khmers, lies within the grounds of the Royal Palace, situated near the banks of the Tonle Sap. Originally a wooden structure, the palace was initially constructed in 1892 during the reign of King Norodom, but rebuilt in its present grandeur by King Norodom Sihanouk in 1962. And he spared no effort to make this a true embodiment of the brilliance of Khmer art and a rich of an ancient culture. More than 5300, 1.125 kilo silver tiles make up the floor of the Silver Pagoda, giving it its name among foreigners. The silver floor alone weighs over six tones.
The staircase leading into the pagoda is marble, and inside, two breathtaking representations of the Buddha hold court. The Emerald Buddha is, in fact, made of Baccarat crystal, and dates back to the 17th century. A small glass case nearby enshrines a sacred Buddha relic, brought from Sri Lanka by the Venerable Loeva Em, formerly of Wat Lanka, in 1956. But the second statue of Buddha is the one which often catches the eye of visitors the most strongly. Its 90 kilo gold body is studded with 2086 diamonds. The largest, on Buddha's crown, weighs 25 karats. Cast in 1904 by King Sisowath at the request of his elder brother King Norodom, it represents Maitreya Buddha in the Buddhist Year 5000 the future Buddha. But even here in the Silver Pagoda, there has been loss. Although the Khmer Rouge regime preserved the pagoda to convince foreign governments that their regime was interested in maintaining culturally important sites in Cambodia, more than half of what was once displayed here was still destroyed. Even so, cast gold headdresses made for the royal dancers, golden Buddha statues in different poses the gifts of royalty and dignitaries from around the world and a myriad of jewels and precious antiques still remain, with a total of about 1650 pieces on display. Guides skilled in English, French, Japanese and even Dutch and German can provide visitors with a wealth of information. "Among the thousands of artifacts on display in the palace and the pagoda, I find my guests are most interested in the Emerald and Gold Buddha's," Mrs. Tan Lynette, a French-speaking palace guide, said. "But the floor of the Silver Pagoda, too, is very impressive for most to walk on tiles made of pure silver!" Mr Hoeung Kiet, a royal clerk at the ticket window, says although the number of visitors was down overall during September, they are now on the rise again, and most visitors are Khmer.

"This November there were about 700 visitors a day coming into the Royal Palace, and about two thirds of them were local," he said. The entrance fee for Khmers wishing to visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda is 1000 riel. Foreign visitors pay $2, and are required to pay $2 more to bring in a camera, or $5 for a video camera. The Royal Palace is open between 8am and 11am, and 2 till 5pm daily. Photography is not allowed inside the pagoda itself. But even without photographs of the magnificent temple, this is one of the most glorious sites in the whole of Cambodia. The Silver Pagoda is an important celebration of Khmer arts and achievements over hundreds of years, and the sight of the glittering Buddhas and the precious ground will remain in any visitor's memory for many years to come.