Wat Ounalom

Explore the tranquil center of Cambodian Buddhism, where you can even see a revered eyebrow hair that may have come from Buddha’s head. 

Wat Ounalom is the focal point of Cambodian Buddhism. Established in the 1440s, it is one of Phnom Penh’s five original monasteries and the seat of Cambodia’s Maha Nikaya order, where the country’s most important monk resides. Explore its fascinating history and learn more about Cambodia’s primary religion.

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.

Starting from the outside, Wat Ounalom is an impressive sight. Look for its typical Cambodian architecture, with arching rooflines accented in red and gold. Lush shrubs and a manicured lawn add to the site’s serenity.

On the second floor of the main building, find a statue of Huot Tat. Pol Pot’s supporters murdered this prominent Buddhist during the Khmer Rouge regime. After killing him, they threw his statue into the Mekong River to demonstrate the collapse of Buddhism in Cambodia. When the regime toppled, the statue was retrieved from the river and returned to its rightful place.

Continue up to the third floor via a small stairway. Look at the little marble statue of Buddha. This ancient artifact was crushed by the Khmer Rouge and then meticulously reassembled. Enjoy fantastic views across the Mekong River from this vantage point. As you walk through the building, note the splendid paintings and statues depicting Buddha’s life.

No trip to Wat Ounalom is complete without a look at its prized relic. Exit the main building and enter the small stupa behind it. Inside sits a precious eyebrow hair said to have belonged to Buddha.

Visit Wat Ounalom any day from early morning to early evening. There is no admission fee.

Wat Ounalom is located in the heart of Phnom Penh along the banks of the Tonle Sap River. Walk from the wat to the National Museum or the Royal Palace within a few minutes.