- Hike to Laos' Anlong Svay waterfall for a picnic lunch
- Cycle the Cambodian countryside to experience rural living & local industries
- Explore Angkor's temples by "remork"
- Meet the elephants at Kulen Elephant Forest
|Day 1||Arrive in Phnom Penh, Royal Palace, Riverside & Dinner at Romdeng||Phnom Penh|
|Day 2||Heritage Tour, Champey Academy, Wat Phnom Cyclo Tour & Sunset Cruise||Phnom Penh|
|Day 3||Farmhouse Resort & Spa via Udong Hill Temples||Kampong Chhnang|
|Day 4||Anlong Svay Waterfalls & Picnic Lunch, Free Afternoon||Kampong Chhnang|
|Day 5||Battambang via Andong Russey, Phnom Sampeau Sunset & Jaan Bai||Battambang|
|Day 6||Countryside Cycling Tour with Soksabike, Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus||Battambang|
|Day 7||Walking Tour in Battambang, Bamboo Train Ride||Battambang|
|Day 8||Explore Siem Reap: Ta Phrom Temple & Dinner at Spoons||Siem Reap|
|Day 9||Explore Angkor Thom & Grand Circuit by Remork (Full Day)||Siem Reap|
|Day 10||Floating Village Boat Tour, Bird Sanctuary, Angkor Wat Sunset & HAVEN||Siem Reap|
|Day 11||Kulen Elephant Forest, Artisans Angkor & Made in Cambodia Market||Siem Reap|
|Day 12||Experience Rural Life, Free Afternoon & Dinner at Chanrey Tree||Siem Reap|
|Day 13||Free Day||Siem Reap|
|Day 14||Depart Siem Reap|
Day 1: Arrive in Phnom Penh, Royal Palace, Riverside & Dinner at Romdeng
Upon arrival at Phnom Penh airport, you'll be met by your English-speaking guide and transferred to your hotel. After time to freshen up and relax, set out to explore the "Pearl of Asia." Visit the ornate, pagoda-style Royal Palace (home to King Norodom Sihamoni), with its Silver Pagoda named for its floor of silver tiles and a gold life-size Buddha studded with diamonds.
Then head to the nearby pedestrianized Riverside Park—popular with locals for Tai Chi and other activities and offering a slice of daily Cambodian life as you stroll beside the Mekong River. Tonight, enjoy your first Cambodian dinner at Romdeng, a restaurant that employs former street children and provides training for careers in hospitality.
Day 2: Heritage Tour, Champey Academy of Arts, Wat Phnom Cyclo Tour & Sunset Cruise
This morning you'll take a self-guided Phnom Penh Heritage Tour by remork (a Cambodian tuk-tuk). Equipped with a digital tablet listing 22 narrated stops, including the National Museum, you'll see an astounding collection of Angkorian and pre-Angkorian sculptures and artifacts. For lunch, try some classic Khmer dishes at the Phsar Thmei (Central Market), a 1937 art deco masterpiece with a soaring ceiling. Then visit the Champey Academy of Arts to witness and support young disadvantaged students learning drawing, music, and traditional Apsara dance.
Next, hop aboard a cyclo (three-wheeled motorcycle rickshaw) and experience the city like a local from a fun, unique angle. Your journey includes the hilltop Wat Phnom pagoda and gardens, the founding place of the city, and a popular spot for Cambodians to come and pray for good luck. Next, swap your cyclo for a modern cruise boat and relax on a romantic journey up the Mekong River, witnessing life in Cambodia's famous floating villages close-up and marveling at the spectacular vista as the sun sets over the Phnom Penh skyline. The rest of the evening is at leisure.
Day 3: Farmhouse Resort via Udong Hill Temples
After breakfast, depart Phnom Penh and drive into the countryside for a sense of rural life, stopping first at Oudong, the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 17th century until 1866 and renowned for its many hilltop stupas. To reach them, you'll climb 509 steps guarded by stone nagas (mythical half-human, half-cobra beings) before visiting the ornate Vipassana Dhura Buddhist Meditation Centre at the mountain's base. A highlight of this active monastery is its elaborate murals and a chance to commune with the Buddhist monks.
Then continue to Farmhouse Resort & Spa in Kampong Chhnang province. This luxury holistic retreat incorporates agricultural projects plus a carpentry workshop and village school, part of the Swiss-founded Smiling Gecko aid project designed to provide development aid to disadvantaged Cambodians. You may choose a farm tour this afternoon before heading to an impressive 500-year-old Buddhist temple and monastery, where you'll enjoy a sensational sunset vista. Finally, enjoy dinner at the Farmhouse using the farm's sustainably raised poultry and pigs and fresh-picked organic produce.
Day 4: Anlong Svay Waterfalls & Picnic Lunch, Free Afternoon
Today you'll make an all-day excursion to Anlong Svay waterfalls in the lushly beautiful Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary. The nine waterfalls cascade down from Phnom Aural (5,948 foot/1,813 m), the country's highest peak. You can hike via footpaths to the top of the falls to swim in the natural pools and to enjoy a homemade picnic prepared by the Farmhouse Resort & Spa's chef.
Returning to the Farmhouse Resort & Spa, you'll have the rest of the afternoon free to relax by the pool, enjoy a massage or yoga, or perhaps explore the campus and local area—with its many rice paddies—by bicycle.
Day 5: Battambang via Andong Russey, Phnom Sampeau Sunset & Jaan Bai
Following breakfast, depart Farmhouse Resort & Spa for Battambang, stopping en route in the village of Andong Rossey, whose inhabitants specialize in making pottery that is renowned nationwide. Arrive in Battambang in time for lunch, plus time to explore this charming town (known for its time-worn early 20th-century French colonial architecture) before heading to Phnom Sampeau—a limestone outcrop reached by a 30-minute uphill walk and hosting numerous temples. You'll also visit caverns known as the "Killing Caves," where the Khmer Rouge threw prisoners to their deaths.
After lingering through dusk to watch the spectacle of thousands of bats exiting the caves for their night foraging, you'll return to your hotel in Battambang. Enjoy dinner tonight at Jaan Bai, a training restaurant run by the Cambodian Children's Trust, which empowers underprivileged children for careers in hospitality. Your meal will be a fusion of Southeast Asian and Western tastes and influences using health-conscious seasonal organic produce.
Day 6: Countryside Cycling Tour with Soksabike, Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus
Spend today cycling through the local countryside to learn about traditional Cambodian life and artisanal industries. You are guided by a student from Soksabike, a social enterprise initiative providing local youth vocational training and job opportunities. This interactive experience lets you try your hand at making rice paper and Battambang's famous bamboo rice cakes. Plus, you'll enjoy a delicious Cambodian lunch at a family home before continuing to a Buddhist Temple to learn about the principles and practices of Buddhism, which lies at the core of Cambodian life.
You'll then return to Battambang with a brief tour of French colonial architectural sites while learning about this period in Cambodian history. You're then free to explore the town at leisure. Battambang has for centuries been a creative center for culture and art, with many studios and galleries to discover. End the day with a performance at the Phare Ponleu Selpak circus, which originated as a community support group and regales Cambodian tales through music, dance, aerial acts, and acrobatics in the style of Cirque du Soleil.
Day 7: Walking Tour in Battambang, Bamboo Train Ride
Begin today with a walking tour of photogenic old-town Battambang, with its wealth of yesteryear buildings, including its multi-tiered art deco Phsar Nath (Central Market), teeming with fishmongers, butchers, and fresh-produce and haberdashery stalls. The market's scents will surely make you hungry: then, you'll head to a humble yet well-regarded restaurant for a meal of hand-pulled Cambodian noodles, fried dumplings, and more.
After lunch, you'll head a short distance from town to enjoy a unique (and fun) train ride. When regular train service to Battambang ceased in 2009, locals invented the nori—a bamboo platform placed on train wheels and powered by a motorcycle engine—to travel and transport goods between local villages. You'll hop aboard a "Bamboo Train" for a short yet exhilarating journey. The evening is free to enjoy Battambang's nightlife as you like.
Day 8: Explore Siem Reap: Ta Phrom Temple & Dinner at Spoons
Today depart Battambang (skirting the wildlife-rich Tonlé Sap Biosphere Reserve en route) for Siem Reap—the gateway to the incredible UNESCO World Heritage complex of Angkor. Arriving in Siem Reap in time for lunch, you'll then spend the afternoon exploring Ta Prohm—the "Tomb Raider" temple, so-named for having featured in the eponymous 2001 Angelina Jolie movie. This 12th-century temple, with its maze of courtyards and corridors enclosing temple towers, is iconic for being entangled by the roots of enormous banyan trees.
Back in Siem Reap, you'll head for dinner at Spoons, a restaurant that trains unskilled, underprivileged young adults for self-sustaining careers in hospitality. In addition to contributing to improving the lives of underserved Cambodian young adults, you'll savor authentic Cambodian cuisine with a focus on chic versions of Khmer street food.
Day 9: Explore Angkor Thom & Grand Circuit by Remork (Full Day)
Today hop aboard a remork and spend the day exploring the top sites of Angkor Thom, the last Khmer empire capital. Entering through a towering ancient gate, you'll roam the massive Bayon Temple, decorated with substantial smiling carved stone faces. Then head to the pyramidal Baphoun Temple, where the western wall forms a gigantic representation of a reclining Buddha. Then follow forest trails to the Phimeanakas Hindu temple, the chimney-like Preah Palilay, plus the Terrace of the Leper Kings and the Terrace of Elephants before enjoying lunch beside the former Royal Bathing Pool of Sra Srang.
In the afternoon, explore the "Grand Circuit" complex, east of Angkor Thom, starting with Preah Khan, adorned with bas-relief carvings of apsaras (seductive heavenly maidens). Next comes Neak Poan, a small temple lining an isle in a huge oblong lake; Ta Som, with a memorably root-entangled entrance gate; Eastern Mebon, dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva, with life-sized elephants at each corner; and pyramid-shaped Pre Rup, guarded by ancient stone lions. You'll admire the sunset behind the towers of distant Angkor Wat from your vantage atop the temple, then return to your hotel for an evening at leisure.
Day 10: Floating Village Boat Tour, Bird Sanctuary, Angkor Wat Sunset & HAVEN
This morning head to Tonlé Sap Lake, Southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake, and board a traditional wooden boat to visit Mechrey—one of the "floating villages" for which the lake is famous. You'll gain insights into the fascinating life of these villages before continuing upriver to nearby Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary, within the Tonlé Sap Biosphere Reserve, to spot crocodiles and long-tailed macaques, and such birds as ibis, storks, pelicans, and fish eagles. Plus, you'll visit Saray to support a community-based ecotourism project making baskets, mats, and hammocks from water hyacinth.
After lunch at a floating restaurant, you'll return to Siem Reap for an afternoon exploring the magnificent temple site of Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious building. You'll get to marvel at the more than 3,000 apsara carvings, each of which is distinct; plus, you'll linger through the late afternoon—the best time of day to admire and photograph the bas-relief carvings—and watch the sunset over the magnificent temple complex. This evening, dine at HAVEN, another training restaurant for underprivileged young adults from poor rural areas, plus others from orphanages and safe shelters.
Day 11: Kulen Elephant Forest, Artisans Angkor & Made in Cambodia Market
You'll depart Siem Reap this morning for the Kulen Elephant Forest (KEF), a 1,100-acre (445 ha) lush haven where elephants that once gave rides to visitors at the Angkor temples now enjoy retirement by freely socializing and roaming the forest while receiving care and attention from dedicated staff. Here you may be able to assist the staff and learn about their work and elephant ecology. Plus, you'll also enjoy a guided walk with the elephants and their former mahouts as they head into the forest together. You'll lunch at KEF base camp before heading back to Siem Reap.
The afternoon is free to relax by the hotel pool or explore Siem Reap at your leisure, or your guide can arrange a visit to Artisans d'Angkor, a socially conscious business created to revive Khmer arts and crafts and create work for young rural artisans. You'll visit a workshop to see jewelry, paintings, stone carvings, wooden sculptures, and more being produced. Then head to King's Road and the Made in Cambodia Market, selling some of the finest locally-made crafts in Cambodia today. King's Road teems with restaurants, coffee shops, and bars and is a great place to close your evening.
Day 12: Experience Rural Life, Free Afternoon & Dinner at Chanrey Tree
Head into the countryside around Siem Reap today to a rural community, where you'll explore on foot, interacting with local artisans, farmers, and families and learning about village customs, culture, and daily life. Each visit here is different, based on seasonal activities, community and family needs, and any goings-on specific to the village. You might even share in transplanting rice, planting vegetables, or other day-to-day activities. You'll also visit a community center and learn about the work of a local NGO active in the village. A donation will be put toward the NGO and the local families on your behalf.
You'll return to Siem Reap around midday and enjoy the afternoon at leisure before dinner at Chanrey Tree, a riverside restaurant serving delicious traditional Khmer food in a sumptuous contemporary courtyard.
Day 13: Free Day
Today is yours to explore on your own. You might like to relax at the hotel pool, enjoy a spa treatment or even a fish pedicure, or explore the charming city further, including the colorful nightlife of Pub Street.
Day 14: Depart Siem Reap
Transfer to the airport today for your departure flight. "Chum reap lear!" Goodbye to the Kingdom of Wonder.
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