- Watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world
- Marvel at the French colonial-era buildings in sleepy Battambang
- Experience a magical performance of Phare, the Cambodian Circus
- Take a cruise down the Mekong River and explore Cambodia's floating villages
|Day 1||Arrival in Phnom Penh||Phnom Penh|
|Day 2||Phnom Penh City Tour||Phnom Penh|
|Day 3||Phnom Penh to Battambang via Ondong Rossey & Floating Villages||Battambang|
|Day 4||Battambang Cycle Tour & Phnom Sampeau||Battambang|
|Day 5||Battambang to Siem Reap, Angkor Temples & Aspara Show||Siem Reap|
|Day 6||Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, & Angkor Thom Sunset Boat Trip||Siem Reap|
|Day 7||Siem Reap Countryside Tour, Artisan Crafts & Market Visit, and Phare Circus Performance||Siem Reap|
|Day 8||Departure from Siem Reap|
Day 1: Arrival in Phnom Penh
Welcome to Cambodia! You will be met at the airport by your tour guide and driver and transferred to your hotel to check in. The drive from the airport to your accommodation in the city center should take around 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic.
After a chance to freshen up, it's time to go exploring. Start off your city tour with a visit to Phnom Penh's bustling Central Market. One of the most beautiful buildings in Cambodia, this art-deco style market was constructed in 1937 by the French architect, Louis Chauchon. In recent years the market has been restored with the support of the French government. The market has a huge domed roof and four wings full of shops and stalls, including food, jewelry, electronics, clothes, household goods, and souvenirs.
After that, make your way to Wat Phnom. Built on the only hilltop in the city, the legend goes that this hill was created after a wealthy widow named Penh found a large koki tree in the river with four bronze statues of the Buddha inside. The people of the village came together to build an artificial hill and she built a small shrine atop to protect the sacred statues, and people would come from all over to make blessings and pray. The name of the hill is Phnom Penh - Penh's hill. A century later, the capital was moved here, and the king built a bigger and grander hill and temple as a tribute to Penh. The ashes of the king and his family are also enshrined in the nearby stupa.
Although the temple has been rebuilt several times since then, it is still one of the most important sites in Cambodia and is the center for many celebrations including Khmer New Year and Ancestor's Day, or the Cambodian Day of the Dead. Take a stroll through the pagoda and visit the gardens.
In the afternoon, enjoy a relaxing Mekong River cruise past floating villages. Kick back and watch life pass you by as you slowly make your way down the river, before returning to the Tonle Sap to watch the sunset over the Phnom Penh skyline. This evening you're free to relax. If you feel up to it, head out for dinner or drinks on the riverside and watch the city illuminated by night.
Day 2: Phnom Penh City Tour
Our city tour of Phnom Penh starts on a harrowing note, although it is important that visitors to Cambodia understand the tragic history of this country in order to appreciate and better enjoy the inspirational and vibrant place that it is today.
First, visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the ‘Killing Fields’ of Choeung Ek. During the Pol Pot regime in the1970s where over a quarter of the population was murdered in one of the worst genocides in recent times, a former high school named Tuol Sleng was converted to a detention center known as S21. Prisoners here were interrogated and tortured, before being taken to the 'Killing Fields' where they were often tortured again and brutally killed.
A former Chinese Cemetery, Choeung Ek is the Khmer Rouge’s best known Killing Field, with the remains of almost 9,000 bodies excavated from mass graves in this area. Today Choeung Ek is a Memorial site for Cambodians and visitors from all over the world to pay their respects for those lost.
Around midday, head back to your hotel to take a break and have some lunch, before continuing the tour in the afternoon with a visit to the National Museum and the Royal Palace, where you can learn more about the Angkor and Khmer Empires. Home to a fascinating collection of Khmer sculptures including many of the original pieces from the Angkorian temples, the National Museum is located in four pavilions surrounding a beautiful garden.
The Royal Palace was built in 1866 to provide an oasis of calm in the heart of a busy city, the royal palace is home to King Norodom Sihamoni who has ruled Cambodia since October 2004. Wander through the complex, with its beautiful gardens and ornate buildings, including the Silver Pagoda which houses Cambodia's most impressive collection of Buddha statues, one of which is decorated with 9,584 diamonds. Don't forget to look down at the floor of the aptly named pagoda, which is covered with over 5,000 silver tiles.
Spend the evening at leisure. Head out for sundowners at one of the city's rooftop bars or the iconic Foreign Correspondent's Club, go out for dinner, explore the neighborhood or take a stroll down the riverside. For a truly local experience, take a tuk-tuk to Independence Monument, where you can grab some street food from the carts and watch as the area comes to life with people coming to do their evening exercise, eat, and socialize.
Day 3: Phnom Penh to Battambang via Ondong Rossey & Floating Villages
Wake up early today to leave the hubbub of the city behind as you make your way through the countryside to the sleepy provincial capital of Battambang, around a six-hour drive from Phnom Penh. On the way, you'll stop to visit the scenic pottery village of Ondong Rossey, where you'll see families outside their traditional wooden stilted houses making the red pottery that is then transported across the country via ox cart.
Located in the countryside, Ondong Rossey is surrounded by rice paddies dotted with sugar palm trees and fields full of grazing and wallowing water buffalo. If you're lucky, you might be able to catch a glimpse of villagers climbing up a rickety bamboo ladder to take palm toddy from the trees.
Take a break for lunch at a local restaurant, before boarding a simple local wooden longboat to visit the floating villages at Kompong Luong. Absolutely everything here floats, including pig and fish farms, shops, a church and plenty of colorful homes. The community is a mixture of Cham Muslim and Vietnamese. The exact location varies according to the water level of Tonle Sap Lake and at times drifts a few kilometers to a new location.
After exploring the villages, jump back in the car and continue your journey on to Battambang, where you are due to arrive in time to see the golden hour sun illuminate the old French-style colonial-era buildings of this laid back city. Upon arrival, check into your hotel and relax.
Travel Time: 6-7 hours
Travel Distance: 185 miles (300 km)
Day 4: Battambang Cycle Tour & Phnom Sampeau
Battambang is a charmingly slow-paced city famous for its early 20th-century French colonial architecture and developing arts and culture scene, with plenty of galleries showcasing local artists' work.
Start off the day with a bicycle tour through the town, including some of the oldest streets and the Psar Nat market in central Battambang. Once bombed by the Khmer Rouge, the Psar Nat market is now the thriving center of the town, and a local pizzeria stands at the site of the explosion.
The narrow streets of the town have a lot of character and the buildings are better preserved than in most Cambodian cities. Historically a part of Siam, see if you can spot the Thai influence on the temples and architecture. Your morning cycling tour will include a local coffee tasting, snacks, and meeting monks from one of the temples.
Then, visit a local NGO-supported restaurant for a Cambodian fusion lunch in a historic building in the heart of the city center. Working to break the cycle of poverty in Cambodia, several restaurants have set up training and development schemes to empower underprivileged children and youths.
After a siesta, make the 7.5-mile (12km) journey through the countryside to Phnom Sampeau. This limestone outcrop is home to several temples and has amazing vistas over the countryside with its farmland, rice paddies, palm trees, and stilted villages. However, it also has a more sinister side as it is home to the Killing Caves, where the Khmer Rouge executed prisoners by throwing them to their deaths through a skylight in the roof of the cave. The temples here tell the story of the tragic history and provide a cathartic side in a much less structured setting than the Killing Fields and S21.
Stay until dusk to catch a glimpse of one of nature's most fascinating sights, with thousands of bats streaming out of the cave and into the twilight air. They fly out one by one, creating patterns in the sky. Enjoy a relaxing drive back through the countryside as night sets in.
Day 5: Battambang to Siem Reap, Angkor Temples & Aspara Show
Say goodbye to Battambang with an early morning transfer to Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor. The drive through the countryside should take around three hours including a short stop.
Upon arrival, check into your hotel and relax before going out on an afternoon tuk-tuk tour of the temples. A short drive from the city, you'll begin your Angkor explorations with a visit to the ancient city of Angkor Thom. The last capital of the Khmer Empire before its collapse in 1431, Angkor Thom is surrounded by huge walls with five massive gates. Inside, you'll find many important monuments including the famous Bayon Temple with its 54 towers and giant stone faces looking down at you from every angle.
You will also visit the Baphoun, the Terrace of the Elephants, and the Terrace of the Leper King. The bas-reliefs and stone carvings here are not as well-known as those at Angkor Wat but are actually much more extensive, with over a kilometer of detailed carvings featuring thousands of figures.
After, return to your hotel before spending an evening enjoying a performance of traditional Apsara dancing. First performed in the court of kings at Angkor, this mesmerizing performance tells tales of Cambodian myths and legends. A set menu of Khmer cuisine will be served as you enjoy the show.
Travel Time: 3.5 hours
Travel Distance: 100 miles (160 km)
Day 6: Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, & Angkor Thom Sunset Boat Trip
Wake up before dawn today and make your way to Angkor Wat to watch the sun rise over the largest religious building in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed temple is a magical place all the time, but watching the rising sun illuminate the bas reliefs of this ancient monument is on another level. Built by Suryavrman II in the early 12th century as a state temple, Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu complex in honor of Vishnu, the Hindu God.
After watching the sunrise over the temple's iconic five towers, take your time exploring the complex and admiring the bas reliefs and carvings, including over 3,000 Apsara, or 'heavenly maidens', all of which are different. Then return to your hotel for a siesta and lunch, before heading back out to the temples again this afternoon.
The next stop is Ta Prohm, the Tombraider Temple. Built in the 12th century, this is one of the few temples in Angkor that has been allowed to stay left to nature, with huge banyan trees growing through the ruins. Take your time wandering the sandy paths and exploring this iconic temple - one of the most photogenic in all of Angkor.
Then, head to the South Gate of Angkor Thom where you will board a handcrafted wooden boat for a romantic cruise on the moat surrounding the walled city. Relax as your boatman rows you to a secluded corner of this ancient city, where you will pull ascend some steps and walk to a small but pretty temple. From there you can enjoy the sunset over the Siem Reap countryside and avoid the sunset crowds seen at the other temples.
At dusk, return to your hotel. The evening is yours to spend how you wish. If you feel up to it, perhaps head out to the bars around Pub Street, enjoy some of the city's fine dining options, or go for a wander along the river.
Day 7: Siem Reap Countryside Tour, Artisan Crafts & Market Visit, and Phare Circus Performance
Start off the morning with a visit through the Cambodian countryside to the Angkorian temple of Banteay Srei, dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. One of the most picturesque temples in the Angkor complex, a morning visit offers the perfect light to appreciate one of the most stunning achievements of Angkorian artisanship. Meaning 'the Citadel of the Women', and constructed out of pink sandstone, Banteay Srei is one of the best-preserved temples in Cambodia.
Following your visit to the temple, swing by the Landmine Museum. Founded by Mr. Aki Ra, who was a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge before changing allegiance to work as a de-miner for the Cambodian Army and the United Nations. Aki Ra won an award from CNN as one of their Top 10 Heroes in 2010, and his Cambodian Self Help Demining group has helped to clear about 50,000 mines and weapons, many of which can be seen at the museum today.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, Cambodia was actually culturally and artistically ahead of its neighboring countries, however, as the Khmer Rouge took power much precious work and knowledge was lost. There are many projects today that are aimed at helping to revive the Cambodian art, music, and culture scene that was lost to time. One such example is Artisan d’Angkor, a project established to support Cambodian arts and crafts. After lunch, visit the workshop to see stone carvings, wooden sculptures, lacquer work, and painting., and enjoy watching the artisans in action. A visit is a heartwarming reminder that progress in Cambodia can go hand in hand with traditional crafts.
On the way back to your hotel, take a quick stop to visit Psar Chas - the ‘Old Market’ in the center of Siem Reap. There is a fruit, vegetable, and food section, as well as handcrafted goods, souvenirs, clothes, scarves, trinkets, and household items.
This evening, enjoy a breathtaking performance of Phare, the Cambodian Circus by professional artists from Phare Ponleu Selpak. Originally a project set up in refugee camps as a way to encourage young people to express themselves using art, the Phare Circus is slowly becoming a worldwide name and a good example of responsible tourism that has been a success story. The performers have toured France, Germany, UK & the USA, and several have even gone on to join the Cirque du Soleil.
Spend your last night in the country enjoying this high-energy show that is a great, positive example of modern Cambodia, mixing theatre, dance, juggling, and contortion to traditional Cambodian and fusion music.
Day 8: Departure from Siem Reap
It's time to say goodbye to the Kingdom of Wonder. Spend the day at leisure before taking a transfer out to the airport to begin your onward journey.