Wat Ounalom (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)


Wat Ounalom (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

Ounalam is a large complex with quarters for monks and nuns, classrooms, meditation centres, as well as halls, shrines and stupas. Originally constructed in the mid-15th century, the wat consists of 44 buildings. It once housed over 500 Buddhist monks and held over 30,000 books in its Library of the Buddhist Institute. However, when the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh in 1974, they destroyed much of Wat Ounalom. Today, notice how the temple has been lovingly restored. The library is now located nearby on Sihanouk Boulevard.

Behind the vihear (to its west) stands the most historical structure in the Wat, dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. Built in the Angkorian tradition and from laterite, the old stupa (cheddi) once stood on a high hill. Today, it is only a few steps high and is surrounded on three sides by free-standing, single rooms. Statues of The Buddha, mostly sitting and in meditation, adorn the stupa and its labyrinth.

The side of the wall facing the vihear depicts a story in bas-relief and in imitation sandstone. The narrative is interrupted in three places: around 10 metres of the wall is no longer present, and two sections – each three metres long – cannot be seen because they are hidden behind two makeshift doors. These green, corrugated metal doors may have once served as gates controlling passageways between the Wat's north and south sides.

On the 2nd floor of the main building, to the left of the dais, is a statue of Huot Tat, fourth patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism, who was killed by Pol Pot. The statue, made in 1971 when the patriarch was 80 years old, was thrown in the Mekong by the Khmer Rouge to show that Buddhism was no longer the driving force in Cambodia. It was retrieved after 1979. To the right of the dais is a statue of a former patriarch of the Thummayuth sect, to which the royal family belongs.

If you are lucky you may be able to access the stairs behind the dais that lead to the third floor, here you will find the glass encased marble Buddha which has origins to Burma, this was broken into many pieces by the Khmer Rouge but has since been restored, you can walk around the balcony outside the building where you get views across Phnom Penh and the Mekong River.

Please remember that this is a religious site and dress accordingly.

Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Address: Ly Yoak Lay St. (172), Phnom Penh 12000, Cambodia
More information: +855 12 890 010
Opening hours: 8am-6pm
Entrance fee: Free

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