Cambodia is a country of wonderful contrasts; from ancient monuments to natural wonders, cultural heritage to smiling modernity the country is one that never fails to leave a lasting impression on those who visit. Almost all visit the temple wonders of Angkor, some continue to explore the busy capital of Phnom Penh and continue to the beaches at Sihanoukville. It doesn’t stop there however, small rural towns like Kampot, Kompong Cham, Battambang or Kep give you the chance to step out of the modern rat race and look back into more relaxing times whilst enjoying the opportunity to look beyond the normal tourist facade of the country gaining a deeper insight and understanding of this wonderful country’s culture and people.
Whilst the country is a ‘stand alone’ destination in its own right, many visitors come here on a side trip from their longer visits to either Vietnam or Thailand. Siem Reap, the town located next to the Temples of Angkor is easily accessible from Bangkok, Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Our first recommended program is for visitors coming for a brief temple stop only from one of those cities, whilst the 2 programs offer the visitor greater depth and time in the country.
Day 1 . Arrive by flight from SGN/HAN/BKK (Daily flights) to Siem Reap
Arriving by flight into Siem Reap you are met at the airport by your local guide and are escorted to your hotel so that you can check in and freshen up. Today we invite you to an introduction to the temples of Angkor and to watch the sunset from the crematorium temple of Pre Rup where we can watch the sun set into a scene of rice fields and sugar palms. In the evening or at early night (if you wish), your tour leader will offer to guide you around the town itself, and will suggest the most enjoyable dining options available, from international restaurants to hidden Cambodian culinary gems.
There really is something for everyone here in Siem Reap, from the partygoer on ‘Pub Street’ to the fine dining options at the FCC, Raffles or Amansara. Your guide will be able to help you with a suitable option at the time.
Meals included: Breakfast
Today we immerse ourselves in one of the most astounding archaeological sites in the world. The magnificent Angkor complex of temples is scattered over an area of 200 square kilometers, with only Egypt’s Nile Valley providing any kind of comparison in terms of such a vast array of monuments. The Khmer kings ruled from this ancient seat, reigning over one of the largest, most prosperous and sophisticated kingdoms in the history of South East Asia.
We start our exploration this morning by Tuk Tuk. Making an early start to avoid the crowds and enjoy the relative cool of the morning, we use Tuk Tuk to take us into the temple complex avoiding the busy roads that service the temples. Today’s tour focuses on Angkor Thom, the walled city built by Jayaverman VII in the 12th Century. It has the greatest concentration of temples in the Angkor complex and is heavily forested providing shade and atmosphere. This tour focuses more on the excitement of discovery and exploration. We start early at Ta Prohm when the birds and parrots out number the tourists. Ta Prohm is one of the highlights of any visit to Angkor, giant trees spread their roots across the temples giving the impression that nature is very much in control.
We then continue towards to Angkor Wat, Erected in the 12th century, Angkor Wat stands as a powerful symbol of Cambodia, and built in the high classical style of Khmer architecture will perhaps form the centerpiece of your memories, long after you have returned home. We return to our hotel for a well-earned siesta.
This afternoon we return to the temples by private vehicle and visit to the ancient city of Angkor Thom, built by the most prolific of all temple builders King Jayaverman VII. Having expelled the marauding Chams from Angkor, the king set about building a huge walled city, surrounded by a wide crocodile infested moat and entered through 5 enormous ornate gates. Within the great walls were numerous temples, palaces and residences.
We enter at the best preserved South Gate and take an in depth look at the Terraces of the Elephants and the Leper King, the Royal Palace, and Baphoun. But we save the best till last, the Bayon is perhaps Angkor’s most moving of all temples. There are 37 standing towers each bearing four faces of a figure believed to represent both Loksvara (the Bodhisittva of compassion) and the great King of daily life depicting childbirth, pig fights, drinking and farming. We time our visit carefully to ensure we that we are there after the crowds have moved on. As the sun gently falls it casts its rays on the giant stone faces and as the light changes so do their expressions, a magical experience!
In evening we enjoy a wonderful dinner performance of traditional Apsara and Folk dances. Although not as famous as Thai dance, Khmer Apsara dance is actually where Thai dance originated from. Tonight we are entertained by dances originally saved for Royal audiences in Siem Reap’s most beautiful palaces.
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner Performance
Day 3. Phnom Kulen and Banteay Srei
This morning we leave Siem Reap behind and travel north through villages and rice fields to the holiest of all mountains in Cambodia Phnom Kulen. It is believed that the founding father of Angkor, King Jayavarman II, proclaimed himself a “God King” and the ruler of an independent Cambodian Kingdom in 802. As a result, this is a place of pilgrimage for locals and gets very busy at weekends, holidays and auspicious days. However, if receives few tourists and spending a day away from the hoards of travelling tourists with our local hosts can be a most rewarding experience. Khmers take time to visit the modern pagoda, sacred statues and waterfall. It’s very easy to spend the full day here!
This holy mountain is littered with interesting sites and the order of our visit today will depend on your preferences. We arrive after travelling on a wonderful winding road carved through the surrounding jungle. A look back reveals where we have just come from, a landscape littered with giant prehistoric boulders.
Today we plan to visit a large reclining Buddha carved into a massive sandstone boulder. There are also hundreds hundreds of lingas carved into the rock bed of a waterfall that runs into the Siem Reap River, this distributed holy water to the irrigation channels that supplied the ancient cities. We will stop for lunch at stunning waterfall. Here we can take a cooling splash and relax for a while. Just across the stream are other ruins creating a fantastic atmosphere!
Later we prepare for our return back to the civilization of Siem Reap Town. En-route we stop at the small temple of Banteay Srei. This is another of the highlight temples and boasts the finest and most intricate of all the carvings to be found in Angkor. Carved from pink sandstone the name translates as “The citadel of Women” because it was felt that the hands of men could not create such delicate beauty.
We then return back towards town and our hotel.
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 4. Program Ends
Following breakfast your program ends, with an included airport transfer available to ensure you join your onward journey home.
Transfer to your hotel for two nights.
Today learn about Cambodia’s past under the leadership of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge when you visit the infamous Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields. This afternoon, visit the Royal Palace which is the residence of the King and Queen and although closed to visitors, the beautiful building and palatial gardens are still visible from the outside. Also visit the National Museum.
Fly to Siem Reap for three nights. Visit the monumental magnificence of Angkor Thom – last capital city of the Khmers and home to the Elephant Terrace, the Terrace of the Leper King and the Bayon Temple. Enjoy a beautiful sunset from the Pre Rup temple.
Early this morning visit the breathtaking Angkor Wat. Afternoon visit Kampong Kleang, situated on the northern shore on the edge of Tonle Sap Lake. Board your boat and pass by submerged forests and fishing farms and discover the fishing villages that thrive at the edges of the lake.
Another amazing day will be spent in Siem Reap visiting the temples of Banteay Srei and Banteay Samre, better known as ‘the citadel of women’. After lunch, visit Ta Prohm Temple, the Banteay Kdei Buddhist monastery and Srah Srang which is also known as the ‘pool of ablutions’. Continue onto the most beautiful temples of the Grand Circuit, the Preah Khan Temple and Neak Pean.
Transfer to the airport.
Transfer to your hotel for one night. This afternoon, visit the Royal Palace which is the residence of the King and Queen and although closed to visitors, the beautiful building and palatial gardens are still visible from the outside. Visit the National Museum which houses the world’s foremost collection of ancient Khmer archaeological, religious and artistic pieces.
Today visit Kirirom National Park, which means ‘Mountain of Joy’ and is recognised for its unique high elevation pine forest and many endangered species. Enjoy a short 3km trek to the Chambok Waterfall where you will be treated to a simple, yet delicious home cooked lunch by the local community. Spend the evening in an eco-lodge with a stunning river setting and a perfect place for nature lovers.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day at leisure to explore on your own. There are so many choices – take a boat trip, swim in the clear waters, trek to the Tatai Waterfall or just relax and enjoy the eco lodge.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Continue south across to Kampot, nestling below the imposing Bokor Hill. A former casino during the pre-war era, the resort was ravaged by the various armies but has recently been redeveloped to its former nepotistic glory. We spend our time in the village below, a fine example of rural Cambodia.
Day at leisure.
This morning travel through the Cambodian countryside stopping to visit Kampong Cham, a port town on the banks of the mighty Mekong River and Wat Nokor, an 11th century Buddhist temple. Your tour will continue with a visit to Phnom Srey and Phnom Pros before ending in Kampong Thom where you will stay for two nights.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Drive out of town to see the 6th and 7th century temples which lie deep in the jungle and off the tourist trail. Many of the towers are in good condition with tree roots and vines growing over the structures. Stop at the Isanborei Craft Hut, a local community run shop established to preserve traditional handicrafts made from bamboo and rattan. Continue onto Phnom Santuk Mountain and climb nearly 1000 steps to the top where you will admire the beautiful sunset at the pagoda.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Start with a visit the monumental magnificence of Angkor Thom – last capital city of the Khmers and home to the Elephant Terrace, the Terrace of the Leper King and the stunning Bayon Temple. Also visit Ta Prohm Temple, the Banteay Kdei Buddhist monastery and Srah Srang which is also known as the ‘pool of ablutions’. Continue onto the most beautiful temples of the Grand Circuit, the Preah Khan Temple and Neak Pean. Enjoy a beautiful sunset from the Pre Rup Temple.
Early this morning visit the breathtaking Angkor Wat. Afternoon visit Kampong Kleang, situated on the northern shore on the edge of Tonle Sap Lake. Board your boat and pass by submerged forests and fishing farms and discover the fishing villages that thrive at the edges of the lake
Another amazing day will be spent in Siem Reap visiting the temples of Banteay Srei and Banteay Samre, better known as ‘the citadel of women’. After lunch, travel out of town to the early Angkor temples of Bakong, Lolei and Preah Ko which are surrounded by beautiful Cambodian countryside of paddy fields and sugar palms.
Journey by road through beautiful countryside and rural villages to Battambang where you will stay for two nights. The atmosphere of Battambang is very relaxed and this afternoon you will discover this charming river town has many fine examples of French colonial architecture.
Begin with a visit to Phnom Sampeau or ‘Ship Hill’ in Khmer as it has a distinctive shape and is one of the few hills that stand out on this otherwise flat plain. Continue onto Wat Banan where you will walk (short and tough) through local villages and farms until you reach the 11th century temple on the mountain top. This afternoon, enjoy mixing with the locals when you visit cultural villages and learn how they produce rice paper, prahoc (fish paste), grolan (sticky rice stuffed in bamboo) and other Cambodian treats. Tonight enjoy traditional Khmer cuisine at a local restaurant.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
This morning we return by road to Siem Reap in time for you to connect with your ongoing flight. Transfer to the airport.