With the exception of a brief absence during the dark days of the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace has been home to Cambodia's kings since its construction in 1866. A sprawling complex of gardens, pagodas, stupas, spires, pavilions and ornate halls for every royal occasion, it's reminiscent of Versaille or Buckingham, but with traditional Buddhist architecture and without the hordes of tourists. Its impressive grounds allow space to wander, so much so that it’s easy to feel like you’re paying a Saturday afternoon visit to King Sihamoni himself.
The Kingdom, and its royal family, is taken very seriously in Cambodia. It’s difficult to miss the large, framed photos of King Sihamoni, as well as his father Norodom Sihanouk and wife Norodom Monineath Sihanouk, which are proudly displayed in nearly every restaurant or hotel in Phnom Penh. At the Palace, spires reach high into the clouds and gold tiles shine in the sun. In true royal fashion, the beauty is found in the details, with intricate ceiling frescos, gold-plated busts, and Buddha statues encrusted with diamonds found throughout. The Silver Pagoda in particular is breathtaking, with over 5,000 floor tiles made of silver and housing some of the kingdom’s most prized artifacts and treasures.
The palace is beautiful; a symbol of royalty, wealth, and opulence. However, it’s difficult not to think of the outer city limits, the dirt roads, the barefooted children and the people collecting plastic bottles for recycling. Another example of hierarchical tradition in a modern, and in this case, struggling world.
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