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Travel Report: Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap.

Wat Damnak Pagoda Siem Reap.

Wat Damnak Pagoda.

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. It lies on the eastern side of The Siem Reap River jus a few minutes from the heart of downtown. 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.

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.

Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap.

Beautiful pagoda door Siem Reap.

Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap.

Nevertheless, there was plenty to enjoy and admire with a walk around the stunning exterior. Particularly its intricate doors, decorated with flowers, warriors and mythical creatures. The above red and gold shutters feature scenes from Reamker (Glory of Rama), Cambodia’s national epic poem. A staple of the National Ballet scene, it is a dramatic tale of good versus evil and explores the themes of justice and fidelity.

former Royal Palace Siem Reap.

The outer hallways of Siem Reap’s former Royal Palace.

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.

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.

What To See & Do Siem Reap.

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 republishing historic manuscripts and translating foundational texts into Khmer.

Centre for Khmer Studies Siem Reap.

Centre for Khmer Studies, Wat Damnak Pagoda.

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 through every corner of 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 exited Wat Damnak Pagoda 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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  • 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
  • kagould17

    A beautiful peaceful place Leighton. Love the colours and architecture. Too bad the interior was not open, but the students and classes in session were a nice gift. Thanks for sharing. Have a great Sunday. Allan

    July 3, 2022 - 2:31 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Allan, it is a real oasis away from the dusty road and all it’s cars, motorbikes and thumping trucks. Thanks for reading!

      July 3, 2022 - 3:09 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    You’re right Leighton … it is a pretty place. It’s always difficult to portray the peacefulness of a place – but you have managed well to do this with your wonderful description of the Wat Damnak Pagoda and pictures.

    July 3, 2022 - 6:11 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Corna, it’s the perfect place for the Life and Hope Association I think. Appreciate your visit!

      July 3, 2022 - 8:22 pm Reply
  • Iman Lily

    Lovely pictures. I especially love the one in front of the former royal palace. The symmetry is just perfect.

    July 3, 2022 - 8:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you, it is a peaceful place and so well tended for. Thanks for stopping by!

      July 3, 2022 - 8:24 pm Reply
  • Stan

    What a lovely colorful peaceful place. Imagine having an apartment in there with a balcony for coffee in the morning.

    July 3, 2022 - 10:48 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah that would be quite something. Maybe that old royal palace will end up on Airbnb ha ha. Thanks for reading Stan!

      July 3, 2022 - 10:54 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    What a tranquil place with its golden doors. I rather like the look of the Wat Dammak Pagoda at Siem Reap.

    July 3, 2022 - 10:55 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for stopping by Marion, this is such a pretty and peaceful pagoda. And usually ignored by the average Siem Reap tourist. Hope your weekend went well.

      July 3, 2022 - 10:57 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    Another good piece of work, pleasant and interesting to read.

    July 4, 2022 - 3:23 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for dropping by!

      July 4, 2022 - 9:36 am Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    Your post is delightfully thorough in uncovering important but probably little-known aspects of the sites you visit. It makes me feel like I was there, too.

    July 4, 2022 - 4:27 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers John, appreciate that. We were in Siem Reap for seven months, so we really went to town on its sites. It was surprising how many of them had little to no online footprint.

      July 4, 2022 - 9:44 am Reply
  • jasonlikestotravel

    Some gorgeous photos, looks like a wonderful place to have a wander. I can see why you’d leave smiling. I haven’t yet been over to Siem Reap but I can imagine this felt like a world away from the busier areas 🙂

    July 4, 2022 - 12:02 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Jason, lovely to have you back! Thanks for checking out Wat Damnak, it’s a delightfully chilled out compound.

      July 4, 2022 - 12:17 pm Reply
      • jasonlikestotravel

        Yes, I seem to have found a bit of time for some blog-reading of late 🙂

        July 4, 2022 - 1:32 pm
  • Travels Through My Lens

    Lovely place. I enjoyed visiting shrines and temples in Japan and South Korea and hope to return someday to that part of the globe, and expand my travels. Thanks for sharing.

    July 4, 2022 - 4:18 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks, I’m sure you would also love the Cambodian temples. Both the ruins of Angkor and these quirkier more modern compounds. Appreciate you stopping by!

      July 4, 2022 - 5:30 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    I can see why this was such a favorite place. I really love when beautiful buildings who have seen their share of the heartache can then be redesigned to be a place of hope of encouragement and education. How wonderful that it houses not only an education center but also a public school.

    July 5, 2022 - 4:26 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Meg, thanks for checking in. The school and education centre did set this place apart from the other city temples. Not a bad place for a cat either in a city where generally one wouldn’t want to be a cat! 🐱

      July 5, 2022 - 4:28 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    It does seem very peaceful from your pictures. It’s too bad you weren’t able to go inside, but at least you could appreciate the beauty and attention to detail of the exterior and in the grounds

    July 6, 2022 - 2:22 pm Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    The Wat Damnak Pagoda looks like such a beautiful and elegant Buddhist center. That is also very sweet that it is home to cats there as well!

    July 6, 2022 - 7:41 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for dropping by Allie, I wonder if those cats know how good they’ve got it!

      July 6, 2022 - 7:47 pm Reply
  • Anna

    I just booked a ticket to Siem Reap for end of September! Im so excited! Your page is a wealth of info, thanks heaps!

    August 3, 2022 - 10:22 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Anna, that’s great! I’m glad these articles are useful, hope you have a great adventure out there.

      August 3, 2022 - 10:24 am Reply

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