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Travel Report: Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap.

Wat Damnak Pagoda Siem Reap.

January 2020. There are a number of fine temples and pagodas to enjoy in Siem Reap. My favourite of these is the pretty Wat Damnak Pagoda, SR’s largest Buddhist centre located on the eastern side of The Siem Reap River. Moreover, it was just a short tuk tuk ride from our place at Foster Apartments, in the neighbourhood of Sala kamreuk. Thus we decided to go and have a look one afternoon in a lull between blogging and teaching duties.

Visit Wat Damnak Pagoda Siem Reap.

Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap.

We immediately loved Wat Damnak’s peaceful vibe. I’d read that a community of Buddhist monks live here, though there was no sign of them that sleepy, sunny afternoon. In fact, it was just us as we made our way through the main entrance into the pretty, wooded garden.

Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap.

Wat Damnak Pagoda.

The former Royal Palace for King Sisowath.

The pagoda dates back to the early 1900s when a royal palace was built here for King Sisowath. The king’s main residence was in Phnom Penh, but this is where he stayed during his visits to Siem Reap between 1904 and 1927. It’s certainly a handsome building, although sadly we found it locked up that day.

Beautiful pagoda door Siem Reap.

Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed admiring the exterior. Particularly its intricate doors, decorated with flowers, warriors and mythical creatures. By the 1940s the palace had been handed over to monks, who turned it into Siem Reap’s main Buddhist site. However, in the mid 1970s the murderous Khmer Rouge stormed the compound, slaughtered its residents and turned the place into a military base.

Khmer cemetery Wat Damnak Pagoda.

The pagoda cemetery.

To the side of the pagoda stands a leafy cemetery, the final resting place of numerous monks who’ve lived here. The cemetery sprang up following the fall of Pol Pot as part of an effort to restore the complex as a Buddhist pagoda.

Wat Damnak Pagoda Siem Reap.

Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap.

The monks have done a wonderful job with the pagoda gardens. The grass, plants and flowers are well kept and there are plenty of sculptures, statues and shrines to discover. In recent years the pagoda has morphed into one of SR’s leading education centres.

What To See & Do Siem Reap.

In 2005 the monks established The Life and Hope Association in order to provide education to the city’s poor and vulnerable. The pagoda also houses the lovely Centre for Khmer Studies, which supports research in the social sciences, arts and humanities.

The Centre for Khmer Studies Siem Reap.

The Centre for Khmer Studies, Siem Reap.

During our wander, we saw a few students quietly working on the building’s gorgeous, wooden porch. The centre includes a public library, with a grand collection of books, a journals section and half a dozen computers. Apparently, a number of scholars also work here publishing historical manuscripts and translating foundational texts into Khmer.

Centre for Khmer Studies Siem Reap.

Centre for Khmer Studies, Siem Reap.

The centre has support from several phlianthropic organisations from France, The United States and within Cambodia itself. Perhaps most importantly of all, it seems to be an idyllic home for a handful of lucky cats.

Centre for Khmer Studies Siem Reap.

“Can I help you?”

Wat Damnak’s educational vibe oozes right throughout the grounds. Look out for the cutesy wooden, handmade signs made by the pagoda’s students. Sure, this is normally the kind of cheesy, fridge-magnet-wisdom that gets my eyes rolling. Somehow though, it seems to belong here. Certainly more than on some attention seeker’s disingenuous Instagram feed.

Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap.

Confidence is the first step on the road to success.

Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap.

At the back of the complex, we came across the pagoda’s modest but lovingly crafted public school. Classes were in session as we walked by and the air was punctuated by the sound of happy chatter, scribbling pencils and group chanting. Consequently, it was impossible not to smile as we made our way out of the grounds and back into the relentless noise and dust of Siem Reap.

Public school Wat Damnak Pagoda Siem Reap.

Public School, Wat Damnak Pagoda.

Like this? Check out more travel reports from Siem Reap.

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6 Comments

  • wanderlustig

    Thank you for your very interesting report with great pictures. During my trip to Vietnam I visited Siem Reap for two days and was of course very impressed by Angkor and I liked the locals . Therefore returned to Cambodia two years later. I travelled, this time without the help of a travel agent, to Thailand, Laos and Kambodia and stayed in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. Not sure why but I liked staying in Siem Reap best !

    September 18, 2020 - 6:10 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey, thanks for reading. We really enjoyed our seven months in Siem Reap and having been posting dozens of articles about our experiences there. Finally, we’re getting to the end of everything we want to share!

      September 18, 2020 - 7:06 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Fabulous photography. The colors are so warm. I especially liked ending with the school. Put heart emoji here.

    September 18, 2020 - 10:30 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hurrah! Thanks as always Memo.

      September 18, 2020 - 10:47 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    The pagoda might look understated compared to other pagodas, temples, and palaces in Cambodia, but one can’t deny the beautiful golden doors! Thanks for sharing another small part of Siem Reap; I’m inspired to go to Cambodia some day!

    September 19, 2020 - 10:28 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks, this one was really elegant. Another Siem Reap temple on the way on Sunday.

      September 19, 2020 - 10:29 am Reply

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