You won’t find the Golden Temple of Phnom Penh on a lot of city tours or lists of top attractions — both tend to focus on the sites in and around the main tourist hub of Riverside, like the Royal Palace, National Museum, Independence Monument, and Wat Phnom.
While not far from the tourist enclaves, the Golden Temple is just far enough to make it inconvenient for those with just one full day to devote to Phnom Penh.
Complicating matters further, there aren’t a lot of tours geared towards Westerners stopping at the temple.
And, there’s some confusion across the web regarding the temple’s name and where it’s actually located.
In this visitor guide from our own first-hand experience of visiting the temple, we hope to clear up the confusion, offer insight into why you might want to visit the Golden Temple of Phnom Penh, and provide helpful tips for making the most of your journey.
First-Hand Guide to Visiting the Golden Temple of Phnom Penh
The Golden Temple is a very recent structure, so don’t go expecting the ruins of an 11th century Khmer temple (though there is a slightly older pagoda on the same grounds that’s worth a look).
If you visit hoping to see, well, a GOLD temple, you won’t be disappointed (unless you’re expecting to find a temple made out of solid gold, that is…)
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The Golden Temple is one of the most ostentatious, gaudy, over-the-top temples you’re likely to encounter anywhere in the Buddhist world.
When it comes to gold paint, it’s clear they’ve spared no expense. On a sunny day, the entire structure dazzles in the sunlight (make sure to bring sunglasses, and avoid staring directly at the Golden Temple!).
While the gleaming exterior is the star of the show, the interior of the grand hall is also quite impressive, featuring large gold statues and colorful floor-to-ceiling murals depicting the life of the Buddha.
The east portico and stairs might be the most photogenic feature of the structure, and was certainly our favorite.
The surrounding grounds offer a pleasant oasis from the bustle and noise of the city, with views of the Mekong and a smattering of other religious structures spread across the property.
While the Golden Temple makes for a great photo op, please be respectful and remember that this is an active place of worship.
How to Get There (The LONG Way)
This section covers our misadventures in spending the better part of a morning finding the Golden Temple. For step-by-step instructions on how to get there the quickest and easiest way, we cover that in the next section.
As of mid-2020, if you searched online for the Golden Temple of Phnom Penh, chances are, you’d find it associated with the name “Wat Kean Kleang”. And…if you went to Google Maps and put in Wat Kean Kleang (like we did), you’ll be directed to this location, 12 km outside the City Center.
And that’s exactly where we directed our tuk tuk driver to take us to, on one particularly hot Sunday morning in February. ** SPOILER ALERT ** This is NOT where you want to go to see the Golden Temple.
Thirty minutes later, and with two restless toddlers, we arrive at our destination.
Or so we thought.
As far as contemporary temples go, this is a nice one, worthy of a walkabout. Is it worth of a thirty-minute tuk tuk ride? Probably not.
Situated on the banks of the Mekong with a half dozen interesting structures, you can do a lot worse than Wat Kean Kleang…if that’s its real name. Our tuk tuk driver called it Bakken pagoda (also spelled Bakheng).
Whatever this temple is called, it’s pleasant enough. But it’s NOT the Golden Temple.
Turns out we overshot the real Golden Temple by over 8 km!
View of Phnom Penh city center from Wat Kean Kleang (or Wat Bakken…or Wat Bakheng…).
How to Get to the Golden Temple (The QUICK Way)
The real Golden Temple of Phnom Penh is actually only a short 10-15 minute tuk tuk ride from Wat Phnom and Riverside.
The main two hang-ups are that it requires crossing the “Japanese Bridge” which can be hellish during rush hour; and directing your tuk tuk driver to where exactly you’re headed.
With regards to the latter, if you get lucky, you’ll hail a driver that knows the temple by its English name “Golden Temple.”
However, you might be better off trying to use the name of the adjacent pagoda, Wat Mongkol Serei Kien Khleang, or showing the driver a pin on your phone.
At any rate, the real Golden Temple is located here.
If you have a smart phone and Cambodian SIM card, download the Grab App and use it to hail a ride from your phone. By using the app, you can select the exact location. In Grab, your destination is “Kien Khleang Pagoda”.
When to Visit
The official hours of operation are listed as 8am to 5pm, however, these are subject to change for observing various Buddhist holidays and festivals.
Visiting earlier in the day is recommended, particularly on weekends, when the heat and crowds are minimal.
We advise against trying to go to/from the temple from the city center on weekdays during the hours of 7-9am and 11:30am-1:30pm, and 5-6pm every day, due to severe traffic congestion crossing the bridge.
If you do choose to go at these days, make sure you factor in additional 20-30 minutes of travel time, depending on where you’re trying to go next in the city center.
Touring the Golden Temple
The centerpiece of the temple grounds is the imposing hall completely smothered in gold.
The interior of the main hall is decked out in colorful murals from floor to ceiling, as well as a dozen Buddha images.
Visitors are welcome to sit and observe, provided they are silent, respectful, and conservatively-dressed. As in any temple, always make sure to sit with the soles of your feet facing away from the main altar and Buddha images, as well any monks that may be in your vicinity.
Leaving the main hall through the east doors, you’ll reach a large terrace with a number of small altars.
Proceeding onward brings you to a large and incredibly ornate golden staircase leading down to the Mekong River.
The surrounding property is also home to some very cool trees.
And, a bit quizzically, this Chinese-style altar — a fairly rare sight in Phnom Penh.
Tucked in the southeastern corner of the temple grounds is the older Mongkol Serei Kien Khleang pagoda, stunning and rather imposing in its own right.
Returning to the City Center
If you hail a tuk tuk or remorque from the city center, simply ask your driver to stay and wait for the return journey. It’s helpful to negotiate a roundtrip fare before getting in the tuk tuk.
If you go the Grab route, you could negotiate a return journey directly with your driver, or simply get another Grab for the return journey when you’re ready to head back.
The Golden Temple is close enough to the city center that you shouldn’t have to wait more than 5-10 minutes for a Grab tuk tuk outside of peak times.
If you choose to visit during peak times (rush hour and lunch hour), we recommend using the same driver for both inbound and outbound journeys.
Have You Visited the Golden Temple of Phnom Penh?
Did you find it on the first try? What did you think? Tell us in the comments below!