Wat Damnak is the largest pagoda in Siem Reap. When it was first built, it was King Sisowath’s palace before it was moved to its current location. After the king moved out, it transformed into a pagoda for the public use.
During the Khmer Rouge era, all religion was abolished. The pagoda was used as a military base for the Khmer Rouge. After the fall of the Pol Pot regime, it was again used a Buddhist pagoda.
Nowadays, it’s a working pagoda and many monks live here. It’s also home to a public primary school, the Centre for Khmer studies and the Life and Hope Organisation. Many tourists enjoy visiting Wat Damnak and exploring the large grounds.
- From 1904 to 1927, Wat Damnak was the Royal Palace for King Sisowath. His official residence was in Phnom Penh, but would stay here when he was in Siem Reap.
- From 1975 to 1979, the pagoda was a military base for the Khmer Rouge.
- In 1998, the Centre for Khmer Studies was founded.
- In 2005, the Life and Hope Association opened.
- In 2010, the library opened to the public.
Visitors are welcome and encouraged to visit the pagoda. The monks here are very friendly and will be happy to chat to you about the pagoda. There is no fee to enter Wat Damnak, but it is suggested that you make a donation.
Wat Damnak is a nice a peaceful place to visit with a lot of grounds to explore. The peaceful environment of the pagoda is in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle outside. There are Buddhist shrines, statues, a pond, colourful grave stones, and murals to see and explore.
Life and Hope Association
The Life and Hope Association was started by the monks at Wat Damnak in 2005. It continues to be run by the monks to this day. It was established to break the cycle of poverty in Siem Reap by providing education and care to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Cambodia. Most of those helped are women and children.
At the pagoda there is a sewing school, a program for girls’ education, a children’s development village, and a sustainable community project. All of these programs have the sole aim to provide Cambodians with employment opportunities so that they can build themselves a better future.
Centre for Khmer Studies
The Centre for Khmer Studies’ supports research and teaching in the social sciences, arts and humanities. They provide a public library with books, journals and computers. They support the education of Cambodians, train young people, publish scholarly manuscripts and translate foundational texts into Khmer.
This non-governmental institution is supported by educational institutions, scholars and philanthropists from Cambodia, France and the United States. You can go to see public lectures and read publications at the centre. Their website has up to date information about the latest events at the centre.
Wat Damnak is located Behind the Siem Reap Art Center Night Market on the east side of the Siem Reap River. If you’re coming from Pub Street, then it’s only a very short walk. It should take around 5 – 10 minutes to walk there from the Old Market.
If you’re coming from Pub Street, head towards the river. Cross over the river on the foot bridge outside the night market and turn left. Keep walking until you get to the roundabout and turn right. You’ll see Wat Damnak Pagoda on the left side.
Wat Damnak can be part of a Siem Reap town tour. Often, you’ll visit the three most popular pagodas in town, Wat Damnak, Wat Preah Prom Rath and Wat Bo. It’s often incorporated as part of the walking tour. You can speak to your tour guide about visiting the pagoda.
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There are hotels and guest houses all around Wat Damnak. Many people choose to stay in this area because it is only a short walk to the Pub Street and Old Market area. The pagoda is usually quiet, but during holidays and festivals there will be some noise. The area is very popular with tourists as there are also many restaurants, bars and shops nearby.
Why Visit Wat Damnak Pagoda?
Wat Damnak is a pleasant experience if you want to experience the culture of Cambodia. It’s not too far from the town centre and it’s a short walk to get there. Moreover, Wat Damnak is the most popular and largest pagoda in town.
You can also speak to the local monks who will be more than happy to speak to you about their lifestyle and about Buddhism in general.
Just like when you visit any pagoda, you should be respectful to the fact this is a religious site first and a tourist attraction second.
Make sure that you show respect to other people. Speak softly and be aware of others. Don’t speak loudly and don’t disturb the other people who are here. There will be monks, students, workers, local people and tourists there. Make yourself seen but not heard.
You should dress accordingly when entering a pagoda. Don’t wear a hat and remove your shoes when you go inside. You should also make sure that you’ve covered your shoulders and knees. Don’t go to the pagoda wearing skimpy clothes or you may be asked to leave.
You shouldn’t touch the monks. This is especially true for women. Monks are not allowed to be alone with a woman, especially inside a building. Use the proper greeting by placing your palms together in front of your chest with your fingers pointing upwards and bow your head slightly. This is called a “Sampeah” in Cambodia.
Finally, you shouldn’t point at people. Pointing is a rude gesture and will make people feel uncomfortable. Monks are held in particularly high regards and it is offensive to point at monks.
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