This 10-day itinerary is ideal for travelers seeking the splendor of Cambodian history, wildlife, and culture. Exploring by pedicab, you'll begin in Phnom Penh for the Royal Palace and National Museum before kayaking the Mekong River in search of Irrawaddy dolphins, then visiting the "floating villages" of Tonlé Sap Lake by boat. Finish your adventure in Siem Reap as you explore the magnificent temples of Angkor by tuk-tuk, accompanied by a local expert.

Highlights

  • Tour Phnom Penh's highlight sites by "cyclo" (pedicab)
  • Kayak alongside Irrawaddy dolphins on the Mekong River
  • Explore the temples of Angkor by "remork," including the "Tomb Raider" temple
  • Visit the "floating villages" of Tonlé Sap Lake and enjoy lunch with Cham villagers

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Phnom Penh, City Tour by Cyclo (Pedicab) Phnom Penh
Day 2 Royal Palace & National Museum, Friends Lunch, Tuol Sleng & Killing Fields Phnom Penh
Day 3 Across the Mekong to Koh Trong Island via Kampong Cham Koh Trong
Day 4 Kayak with Dolphins (Half Day) & Free Afternoon Koh Trong
Day 5 Transfer to Kampong Thom, Relax & Explore Kompong Thom
Day 6 To Siem Reap via Sambor Prei Kuk Siem Reap
Day 7 Explore Angkor Thom and Preah Khan Temples by Remork (Full Day) Siem Reap
Day 8 Angkor Wat Sunrise, Explore Banteay Srei & Ta Phrom Siem Reap
Day 9 Discover Life on Tonlé Sap, HeroRATS & Phare Cambodian Circus Siem Reap
Day 10 Free Morning, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Phnom Penh, City Tour by Cyclo (Pedicab)

The majestic Royal Palace is Phnom Penh's pride and joy

Upon arrival at Phnom Penh, you'll be met by your English-speaking guide and transferred to your hotel. There's time to freshen up before an afternoon cyclo (pedal-rickshaw) ride along the Mekong Riverside, lined with colonial-era French buildings. Stop wherever you wish as you visit Post Office Square, the former Grand Hotel Manolis and Banque de l'Indochine (with exquisite tiles and antique vaults ), and the National Library. Finally, you'll visit the pagoda atop the small hill of Wat Phnom—the founding place of the city and a popular spot for Cambodians to come and pray for good luck.

Your evening is at leisure to relax or explore the city's vibrant nightlife on your own. Perhaps treat yourself to one of Phnom Penh's most renowned and stylishly contemporary restaurants: Kroeung Garden. You'll experience a Signature Menu of nouvelle Cambodian dishes from Master Chef Luu Meng, using quality local aromatic spices at the peak of freshness.

Day 2: Royal Palace & National Museum, Friends Lunch, Tuol Sleng & Killing Fields

A stupa filled with skulls offers a haunting reminder of the Khmer Rouge era

This morning, visit the Royal Palace, built in 1866 by King Norodom as a pagoda-style compound highlighted by the Silver Pagoda—named for its floor of 5,000-plus silver tiles and boasting the life-sized gold Maitreya Buddha decorated with several thousand diamonds. Next, explore the National Museum, displaying an astonishing collection of pre-Angkorian and Angkorian artifacts. You'll then lunch nearby at Friends restaurant, which employs and trains former street children in hospitality. 

Dedicate this afternoon to learning about the dark side of recent history. You'll visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school converted to a torture center by the Khmer Rouge, and the "Killing Fields: of Choeung Ek, where prisoners and other innocent Cambodians were brutally murdered. Today, the Choeung Ek site includes a memorial stupa that displays more than 5,000 human skulls. However emotionally disturbing, these visits provide an educational insight integral to understanding contemporary Khmer history and culture. Your evening is free to enjoy the nightlife of the "Pearl of Asia."

Day 3: Across the Mekong to Koh Trong Island via Kampong Cham

Cham floating houses along the Mekong river near Koh Trong island

Depart Phnom Penh with your tour guide and follow the course of the Mekong River as you head upriver to Kratie. En route, you'll pass settlements of old wooden houses and Cham (ethnic Vietnamese-Cambodian) floating villages. Enjoy lunch and a short tour in Kampong Cham, a peaceful river port with a colorful mix of lovingly faded Chinese, French, and Khmer-style buildings, including a vibrant undercover market.

Arriving at the mellow and charming riverside town of Kratie in mid-afternoon, you'll take a small ferry across the Mekong to Koh Trong island, where the exquisite Khmer-style Soriyabori Resort is your home for the next two nights. You can borrow a bicycle from the hotel to cycle around the island or hike the coastal trail to find the perfect location to enjoy the sunset.

Day 4: Kayak with Dolphins (Half Day) & Free Afternoon

Kayak with the endangered pink-toned Mekong River dolphins
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This morning, cross back to Kratie and drive the short distance to Kampi—the starting point for a kayak tour in search of Irrawaddy dolphins. These critically endangered mammals spend most of their time in "dolphin pools" of the Mekong River. Spottings around Kampi are frequent. You'll paddle across the river toward the west bank of the Mekong, then downstream through sand islands and the flooded forest, before crossing back, all the while enjoying the chance of seeing the dolphins from a unique perspective. Then take time to explore Kratie, or return to Koh Trong to relax and reflect on your rare experience.

Spend your afternoon relaxing by the hotel pool. Alternatively, you may like to cycle around the island on one of the hotel's bicycles or hike the coastal trail, stopping to watch the water buffalo cool off in the river and interact with Cham residents who farm rice and delicious grapefruit-like pomelos. You can even arrange a personalized tree planting at a reforestation program at a local farm or receive a monk's blessing at the lovely little Kbal Koh pagoda at the island's northern end.

Day 5: Transfer to Kampong Thom, Relax & Explore

Entri Sam Voreak pagoda, in Kampong Thom

You'll have most of the morning free to relax by the hotel pool or to explore Koh Trong island further before taking the ferry back to the mainland. Enjoy an early lunch in Kratie, then drive south to Kampong Cham, crossing the river by the Kizuna Bridge to reach the small yet lively riverside town of Kampong Thom and your boutique hotel beside the Stueng Sen River.

The rest of your day is yours to relax at the hotel's swimming pool, set amid lush gardens that include a natural pond with water lilies. Or explore Kampong Thom, including its extravagant Entri Sam Voreak pagoda complex and the town's pagoda-like clock tower rising over the Elephant Stepping on Tiger monument (showing two tigers attacking an elephant) near the southern entrance to town. Or borrow one of the hotel's bicycles and head out of town to explore a little of the nearby countryside.

Day 6: To Siem Reap via Sambor Prei Kuk

Check out the UNESCO-protected Sambor Prei Kuk

Venture north a short distance this morning to the temple ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enfolded by forest, this 6th- to 9th-century Chenla-era capital once boasted more than 100 temples, comprising some of the oldest structures in the country, and Cambodia's largest group of pre-Angkorian monuments (many of the original statues are now in the National Museum, in Phnom Penh). You'll stroll the sandy paths beneath the shady forest, accompanied by a local English-speaking guide. Then, enjoy a simple and delicious Khmer meal provided by the local community.

You'll then drive to Siem Reap, the gateway town to the great temple site of Angkor. Check in to your hotel and enjoy the evening at leisure. Suggested options include heading to the teeming Psar Chaa (Old Market), whose alleyways are packed with locals haggling over everything from household goods to meats, grains, fruits, and fresh produce. Or you might enjoy a rejuvenating spa treatment at one of Siem Reap's spa centers (or maybe stick your feet in a fish-laden aquarium to have the dead skin sloughed off by fish) before heading to the restaurants and bars of Pub Street.

Day 7: Explore Angkor Thom & Preah Khan Temples by Remork (Full Day)

Entering Angkor Thom by "remork"

This morning, hop aboard a remork (tuk-tuk) for an unforgettable full-day visit to Angkor Thom—the largest and last capital of the Khmer Empire, enclosed within rampart walls. Entering the vast complex by one of its colossal entrance gates, you'll begin by exploring the central Bayon Temple, where 54 towers are adorned with 216 huge stone smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara (the personification of compassion). Then roam the pyramidal Baphoun, representing mythical Mount Meru, the Terrace of the Elephants, and the Terrace of the Leper King, plus little-visited Preah Pithu, once guarded by stone elephants and lions.

You'll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant beside Srah Srang, the former Royal Bathing Pool. Then, exit Angkor Thom through the north gate and head to Preah Khan, built by King Jayavarman VII as a vast monastic and teaching complex, now entangled by tree roots. Its vaulted galleries boast extraordinary carvings. Return to your hotel in the late afternoon for an evening at leisure.

Day 8: Angkor Wat Sunrise, Explore Banteay Srei & Ta Phrom

An unforgettable sunrise over Angkor Wat

Rise early today to arrive at Angkor and settle by the reflecting pool in time to watch the sun rise over the five temple spires of Angkor Wat—the largest religious building in the world. You'll then explore this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site complex, with its bas-relief carvings that include more than 3,000 Apsaras (seductive heavenly maidens), each unique. Then, return briefly to your hotel for a late breakfast and to freshen up before heading north through the Cambodian countryside to the pink sandstone Banteay Srei, a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

One of the best-preserved temples in Cambodia, Banteay Srei, features exquisite carvings of scenes from the epic Ramayana, as well as Apsaras dancing with lotus flowers in their hands. You'll then double back to Angkor to visit Ta Prohm, perhaps the most iconic (and photogenic) site, renowned as the "Tomb Raider" temple for having featured in the 2001 Angelina Jolie movie. This maze-like, tumbledown temple is embraced by huge banyan tree roots, as if in the clasp of an octopus' tentacles. You'll return to your hotel in Siem Reap, satisfied, for another evening at leisure.

Day 9: Discover Life on Tonlé Sap, HeroRATS & Phare Cambodian Circus

Adorable giant HeroRATS at APOPO

Depart Siem Reap for a morning at Tonlé Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve renowned for its "floating villages," such as Kompong Khleang, with its combination of stilted and floating houses. You'll watch passing boats that serve as mobile markets; see fish raised in floating enclosures attached to homes, and observe children paddling and bathing in the lake. After learning about the local lifestyle, you'll enjoy lunch at a traditional wooden house before returning to Siem Reap.

En route, you'll stop at the APOPO Visitor Centre to meet the "HeroRATS"—giant African pouched rats trained to sniff out landmines, which still litter the Cambodian countryside. You'll learn how the rats are trained and get to witness a HeroRAT in action. This evening, enjoy a performance of Phare, The Cambodian Circus, telling uniquely Cambodian tales using theater, music, dance, and traditional circus acts.  

Day 10: Free Morning, Depart

Goodbye Siem Reap!
Today, depart Siem Reap for home. Depending on your departure time, you may have free time at leisure before being transferred to the airport for your flight.

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Map

Map of Cambodia History & Nature: Phnom Penh, Mekong Dolphins & Angkor Temples – 10 Days
Map of Cambodia History & Nature: Phnom Penh, Mekong Dolphins & Angkor Temples – 10 Days