Why Wat Phnom?
Occupying the city’s highest point, Wat Phnom is a quiet, shady and incense-infused respite. According to legend, the first pagoda on this site was erected in 1373 to house four Buddha statues deposited here by the waters of the Mekong. These were discovered by a woman named Penh, hence the name Phnom Penh, literally “Hill of Penh”. As well as the temple, you’ll find droves of Khmers praying for luck and a few amputees looking for some sympathy and riel.
Wat Phnom is main entrance is via the grand eastern staircase, which is guarded by balustrades of lions and mythical beasts. Expect to encounter beggars, street urchins, women selling drinks and children selling birds in cages (you pay to set the bird free – locals claim the birds are trained to return to their cage afterward). Fortunately, it’s all high-spirited stuff, and it’s difficult to be annoyed by the vendors. Today, many people come here to pray for success in school exams or business affairs. When petitioners’ wishes are granted, they return to make the offering promised when their request was made – such as a garland of jasmine flowers or a bunch of bananas, of which the spirits are said to be especially fond.