Kick things off with dinner at Friends the Restaurant in Phnom Penh to support an excellent local cause with a memorable (and delicious) dining experience. Enjoy a day out in the countryside nearby the French colonial town of Kampot where we walk through rice fields, discover a hidden cave temple, and relax with a sunset river cruise. Learn about local cottage industries in and around historic Battambang, visiting local businesses from pottery and silversmithing to sticky rice and fish paste production. Travel by boat with your small group down the Sangker River to Tonle Sap lake – certainly the most scenic way to arrive in Siem Reap
From the majestic temples of Angkor to the gorgeous colonial-era architecture of Battambang and the devastating Khmer Rouge reign of the 1970s, Cambodia is a country that emanates history at every turn. Jungle vines crawl over Angkor Wat’s weathered walls and villagers work their land in much the same way they have for generations. This remarkable small-group adventure will get you deep into the heart and soul of this inspiring destination, meeting local residents, and uncovering the spectacular sights that defy belief.
Breakfast Included: 9 Lunches Included: 1 Dinner Included: 1
Sua s'dei! Welcome to Phnom Penh. An airport arrival transfer to the hotel is included today. Your adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm. After this, enjoy dinner with your fellow travellers in the excellent Friends restaurant, a Phnom Penh institution (and noble social enterprise). If you arrive early today and have some free time, why not stop in at the art deco-designed Psar Thmei (Central Market) – a great place for browsing. Or stroll along the atmospheric Sisowath Quay and grab a coffee or cocktail at one of the many cafes while watching the busy river traffic.
Head south this morning along National Road 2. You'll pass through the town of Takeo and continue towards Kampot, one of Cambodia's most attractive old towns. Arrive in Kampot and enjoy an afternoon of free time. You might choose to stroll by the river and observe the French colonial architecture or relax on the veranda of one of the riverside restaurants and admire the view of the Bokor mountains. A massage at Seeing Hands is also highly recommended – surely one of the most enjoyable ways to support a great local cause.
Enjoy a day out in the countryside. Visit the Kampot Pepper Project and learn why Kampot pepper has been acknowledged by international chefs as the world’s best. Also visit the Kampot salt field, the only salt field in Cambodia. Take a short walk through the rice fields and climb to where some lovely views of the surrounding countryside are found. A few steps later you will enter the mouth of Phnom Chhnork limestone cave, which has a small 7th-century brick temple inside. Enjoy a walk along the beach at Kep, passing the old buildings near the ocean front. The town was Cambodia's most popular and prestigious beach town from the early 1900s until the 1960s. Sadly many of the mansions and villas didn't survive the reign of the Khmer Rouge, and their ghostly remains mark a dark history.
Say goodbye to the beach and take a different route back to Phnom Penh (approximately 4 hours). In the afternoon you will visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. These serve as sobering reminders of the violent rule of the Khmer Rouge. Here you can learn more about this confronting but important chapter in history. If you'd rather not visit these sites, simply let your leader know. This evening, with free time, you might opt for a relaxing sunset drink at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club – a great way to spend the night, overlooking the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.
Travel by private minibus through the countryside to Battambang (approximately 5 hours, not including stops). Along the way you will stop to see some local pottery and silversmithing at work. This gives a fascinating insight into small cottage industries in a lesser-visited spot in Cambodia. Arrive in Battambang (pronounced Battambong) and put your feet up after the journey. Perhaps take a stroll along the riverfront to soak up the elegant French vibes of the town. Some of the colonial architecture has been beautifully preserved, and there are friendly Khmer people abound.
Jump in a remork (Cambodian tuk-tuk) and travel through the beautiful surrounding countryside of Battambang. You will visit some small cottage industries that produce rice paper, dried banana, sticky rice cooked in bamboo, and aromatic fish paste (Cambodia’s equivalent of Vegemite or Marmite). In the afternoon, head to a heritage Khmer house, where you will be met by the owner and taken on a journey through Cambodian history. The village of Wat Kor is known for its historic stilted wooden houses, some of which pre-date French colonial times. The house’s large wooden floorboards are shiny from generations of feet walking across them. The owner’s small collection of antiques and agricultural tools paint a picture of Cambodia in the early 1900s. Later in the evening, head to Phnom Sampov and witness the strange phenomenon of the Battambang Bat Caves. For around half an hour each night, the caves come alive with a dense swarm of bats flying out for their night of hunting. Watch the bats fly off into the sunset with a drink in hand.
Enjoy some breakfast, check out of the hotel, then take a private boat to Siem Reap (approximately 6-7 hours). This classic journey follows the Sangker River downstream to the Tonle Sap – the largest lake in South East Asia. Along the way you'll see fishing villages, a scattering of fishermen and no doubt some local people living atop floating and stilted houses. The roof of the boat provides shade while open sides make for nice viewing as you float along (there's also a toilet on board). Arrive in Siem Reap, the gateway to the famous Angkor complex, which is roughly 7 kilometres out of town. Relax before your temple-hopping begins tomorrow. You might like to hit the night markets for some cheap and delicious street food, or maybe indulge in a traditional massage.
Siem Reap/Angkor Wat
Spend a full day visiting the amazing temples of Angkor on a guided tour. Angkor Thom, the 'Great Royal City', is famous for its series of colossal human faces carved in stone. The impressive Bayon temple is the centrepiece. The famous Angkor Wat is the largest and most complete structure. It is the only one of Angkor's temples with its entrance facing to the west (the others face east), the reason being that it was constructed as a funerary temple for King Suryavarman II and a westerly countenance was seen to represent a sunset. Ta Prohm temple is an incredible sight, with large trees embedding themselves in the stone foundations of the structure. Today for lunch you will visit the Sala Bai Hotel School, where disadvantaged local youths learn skills that enable them to find gainful employment in the hospitality industry.
Siem Reap/Angkor Wat
An early morning start for those looking to catch the sunrise over the temples. On a clear morning this is a truly spectacular sight. After breakfast, travel out to Banteay Srei, famous for its detailed and intricate stone carvings. It is not a big temple but has been sometimes referred to as the jewel in the crown of Angkorian art. Back at the main temple complex, Preah Khan contains a maze of vaulted corridors and is another complex that has been largely reclaimed by the jungle. Tonight, after dinner, you will visit Phare the Cambodian Circus. Coming from vulnerable households, the performers have gained international recognition through their art practice. Think a Cambodian Cirque Du Soleil, with modern Khmer tales mixing theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, juggling, aerial acts, and contortion.
With no activities planned for today, you are free to depart anytime. If you are not yet temple-d out, your three-day temple pass allows you to return to explore some more of Angkor Archaeological Park on your own, if you’d like. Your leader can help you arrange a remork or car to take you out. If you have extra time you might like to schedule a tasty Khmer Cooking Class, indulge yourself with high tea at Raffles Hotel, or simply relax by the pool.