When we made the choice to return to Cambodia with baby bean, there were two “must do’s” on our itinerary – a visit to the royal palace and a visit to at least one temple. We were only there for a couple of days, so we wanted to make sure we had enough time to see some of the sights we wanted to. Both the Royal Palace and Wat Phnom Temple were only either a 10 minute walk or 10 minute remork ride from our hotel Rosewood Phnom Penh, which made them ideal to visit with a 9-month old baby.
We had the National Museum on our list too, but sadly we didn’t have enough time to squeeze that one in. Instead, we have decided to save that for when baby bean is a little older, along with the Genocide Museum. Cambodia has a lot of deep history, with some very recent, and I want to be able to teach baby bean and show her at the same time. While we didn’t get to visit any museums this time, we did get to walk through the history of the royal palace and Wat Phnom.
The Royal Palace
The Kingdom of Cambodia features an elective monarchy, one of the fewest in the world. The current monarch was elected by a throne council, and so the royal palace is currently his residence. The royal palace sits on the western bank of the Mekong River and is completely visible in its entirety from the Rosewood Phnom Penh. Surrounded by lush green trees with the skyline of Phnom Penh’s skyscrapers in the background, the Royal Palace’s stunning architecture stands out amongst the hustle and bustle of the city.
The royal palace was built in 1866 and completed in 1870. At the same time, King Norodom relocated Cambodia’s capital to Phnom Penh from Oudong, which had become Cambodia’s capital after its previous capital city Longvek had been abandoned after its invasion by Siam (modern day Thailand). Prior to Longvek, Cambodia’s Khmer capital city was Basan and preceded by Angkor, just outside of Siem Reap and home to Angkor Wat before it was also invaded by the Ayutthaya Empire within Siam. With that said, compared with Cambodia’s long and rich history, the current royal palace is relatively new at just under 200 years old.
When you first enter the royal palace grounds, the impressive structure to your left is the Throne Hall which is also relatively new as it just turned 100 years old. The original Throne Hall was a bit smaller and demolished in 1915 to make room for this new, larger throne hall which opened in 1919. It is unknown who designed the architecture of the royal palace, which consists of many pavilions within a walled complex, but the older buildings are all designed and built in traditional Khmer style.
Adjacent to the Throne Hall is the Chan Chhaya pavilion, or also known as the Moonlight Pavilion, is used for state banquets or dance performances. It is off limits to visitors, so we could not go inside, but even on the outside the building is extremely beautiful. Baby bean let out an audible “wow” as we got as close as we could. Beyond this point are the current monarch’s private villas for him and his family, which visitors are not allowed to see for obvious reasons.
For those wondering about visiting the royal palace with a baby, we did not know if strollers would be allowed within the complex as we assumed there would be many steps so I decided to wear baby bean in my Ergobaby carrier. As it turns out, while there are many steps especially up into any pavilions, strollers are in fact allowed. We saw two families with our exact stroller and we immediately regretted not bringing ours to the palace since it would have made things a bit easier, especially as we approached baby bean’s morning nap time. It does mean having to lift your stroller up the steps if you’d like to visit inside the pavilions, but if you don’t mind that then by all means please bring your stroller for your little ones! Just be prepared for security to examine it before allowing you to enter.
When it came to wardrobe for visiting the royal palace, I followed the same rules for when we visited Angkor Wat in Siem Reap in 2019. For women, that means shoulders and knees covered. While you can get away with wearing a scarf over your shoulders at some temples within Cambodia, scarves are not allowed at the royal palace. They do have cheap t-shirts you can rent to cover up if need be, but my recommendation is to wear long linen pants (pants are best for steps in my opinion), a short sleeve cotton shirt or long sleeve cotton button down top (with sleeves rolled up) tied in a knot at the waist so it can be removed after the palace visit.
For men, the beau wore a t-shirt and pants, but we did see some men allowed to enter that were wearing long shorts. There was no one monitoring baby bean’s outfit as babies are exempted from wardrobe rules until they reach a certain age, but I still had baby bean wear a dress that covered her shoulders. Since it was incredibly hot and sunny during our visit, we also carried around portable fans to keep us cool whenever we could not escape to the shade.
Less than a 10 minute walk from our hotel is the beautiful Wat Phnom Temple, which is considered the center and heart of Phnom Penh. This Buddhist temple is also visible from our hotel, surrounded by trees as the Ponhea Yat Stupa rises above the green and the busy roundabout the encircles the temple. It is very close to the edge of the Mekong River, which is a part of its legend as to how the temple was founded.
Legend has it that a woman named Lady Penh found a Koki tree in the Mekong River where she went to take a bath, and inside the tree were four Buddhist statues made of bronze, brass, and marble and a Vishnu statue. She had the nearby villagers build a hill by the river and a small temple for the five statues. Afterwards, Lady Penh invited monks to their small temple so they could bless the statues, and after their pilgrimage they named the site Wat Phnom. Today, the main pagoda of the temple is named after Lady Penh.
If you get the chance to visit Phnom Penh, make sure the Royal Palace and Wat Phnom are high on your list of places to explore. If you’re traveling with little ones, both sights are great for littles but just be patient with how many steps there are as their little legs will only be able to go so fast. While we don’t expect baby bean to remember anything from this particular trip, we are looking forward to bringing her back when she’s older and showing her photos from her first visit when she was a baby.