Perfect for active travelers, this 8-day itinerary combines Cambodia's most iconic highlights with memorable off the beaten path excursions. Start in Siem Reap, where you'll trek through the little-seen trails and temples of Angkor and hike to the sacred peak of Phnom Kulen. After a visit to the floating villages of Tonle Sap, it's on to the capital of Phnom Penh to discover the sobering history and bright future of the "Pearl of Asia."

Highlights

  • Go trekking on Phnom Kulen, the most sacred mountain in Cambodia
  • Walk between dense forests & the ancient walls of Angkor Thom
  • Enjoy a boat ride & local lunch at the fishing village of Kompong Khleang
  • Learn about Cambodia's tragic past at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum 
  • Explore Phnom Penh's Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda.

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Siem Reap Siem Reap
Day 2 Trek the Temples of the Angkor Zone Siem Reap
Day 3  Off-the-Beaten-Path Temples & Cambodian Circus Show Siem Reap
Day 4 Trekking & Waterfalls at Phnom Kulen Siem Reap
Day 5 Transfer to Phnom Penh via Kompong Khleang Phnom Penh
Day 6 Phnom Penh Walking Tour & Royal Palace Phnom Penh
Day 7 Phnom Penh, Past & Present Phnom Penh
Day 8 Depart Phnom Penh  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Siem Reap

Motorcycle taxi drivers outside a market
Motorcycle taxi drivers outside a market in Siem Reap

Welcome to Cambodia! Upon arrival at Siem Reap Airport, you will be met by your local guide and transferred the short distance to your hotel for check-in. The gateway to the Angkor Temples, Siem Reap has plenty to offer. Depending on your arrival time you may like to do some self-exploration of the town:

  • Take a walk along the river, enjoy a coffee at Brown Café, or pop in for a happy hour at FCC Angkor.

  • Visit the Made in Cambodia Market for some of the country's most exciting examples of craftsmanship.

  • Explore the quiet side alleys next to Pub Street, filled with boutique shops, plentiful restaurants, and bars.

  • Cool down with Siem Reap’s best ice cream at Gelato Lab.

  • Discover Siem Reap's rising arts and culture precinct of Kandal Village, home to a vibrant and eclectic new mix of cafes, galleries, arty homewares shops, and cool fashion stores. If you're looking for unique gifts, memories, and experiences of your time in the Kingdom, you'll find them at Kandal in one delightfully walkable block.

Day 2: Trek the Temples of the Angkor Zone

Trekking along Angkor Thom's walls
Trekking along Angkor Thom's walls

This morning you'll leave the hotel by tuk-tuk for a memorable day of trekking within the Angkor Zone

Your first stop is to the Great City itself, Angkor Thom. This nearly four-square-mile area was once a fortified metropolis presided over by Cambodia's most celebrated, Jayavarman VII, who reigned from the late 12th to the early 13th centuries. A formidable defensive structure, it remains encircled by a wide moat and 26-foot (8 m) walls.

The walls of Angkor Thom stretch for over 7 miles (12 km), and you can follow a series of peaceful forest trails along the perimeter, accompanied by a soundtrack of singing birds, chattering monkeys, and droning cicadas. Stop to explore the small temples and gateways at each corner, where you'll also have the option of descending and continuing via tuk-tuk if you get tired. Depending on your energy level, the trek can take from 1 to 4 hours. 

After a break for lunch at a local restaurant, continue to the Bayon Temple, located in the exact center of Angkor Thom. Easily one of the most fascinating and memorable temples, it's known for the 216 serene stone faces and 56 towers that stare out over the jungle. Built by Jayavarman VII almost 100 years after Angkor Wat, the Bayon has an incredible collection of bas-relief scenes that tell of the daily life, legends, and battles under the Angkor Empire. (The uppermost level of the temple is currently closed for restoration work and is scheduled to re-open later in 2022.) 

Your exploration of the Temples of Angkor continues by visiting Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world. Built by Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as a state temple and later mausoleum, Angkor Wat was originally a Hindu complex to honor the god Vishnu. A magnificent moat surrounds the temple, with a long causeway providing access. Take your time and admire some of the more than 3,000 apsara (heavenly maiden) carvings, which come alive in the late afternoon light.

As the day draws to a close, enjoy an unforgettable sunset over Angkor Wat accompanied by a cold coconut juice. Afterward, your driver will be waiting to return you to the hotel for the evening. 

Day 3: Off-the-Beaten-Path Temples & Cambodian Circus Show

Banyan trees wind through the temple of Ta Phrom

Today you'll delve deeper and explore many of the other, lesser-known temples in the central Angkor Zone. The itinerary is flexible and you can choose to visit multiple temples or opt for some downtime back at the hotel in the afternoon. 

Start with an early morning drive to nearby Ta Phrom. After a short walk along a forest trail, you'll reach the northern entrance gate where few tourists enter (a great way to beat the crowds). Entering Ta Phrom through the forest, you'll be met with remarkable views of a temple reclaimed by nature, with trees and vines growing amongst the structures. This is one of the most photogenic temples in the Angkor area and gained fame as the "Tomb Raider temple" after featuring in the Angelina Jolie movie. Enjoy walking along the sandy paths and under huge banyan trees as you explore this 12th-century wonder. 

Continue to Sra Srang, the former royal bathing pool, and on to Pre Rup, where you'll ascend the lion-guarded staircases for an excellent view over the forest canopy. At Eastern Mebon, a temple built for the King’s parents and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, you'll be greeted with spectacular life-sized elephants at each corner of the two levels.   

Other highlights include the temple of Ta Som, which features a memorable sacred fig tree strangling one of the entrance gates, and Neak Poan, accessed by a long wooden walkway over the baray (artificial lake) of Jayatataka.

Head back to Siem Reap for a late lunch and some rest. As night falls, you'll experience the magic of modern Khmer theater at a performance of Phare, a circus of 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 steadily becoming a worldwide name and a good example of the success of responsible tourism. Enjoy an hour-long show that mixes theatre, dance, music, juggling, and contortion.                  

Day 4: Trekking & Waterfalls at Phnom Kulen

Take a dip in the Phnom Kulen Waterfall after your mountain trek

This morning your driver will pick you up for the drive to Phnom Kulen, located 30 miles (48 km) north of Siem Reap. "Phnom" means mountain or hill in Khmer, and this peak is considered the most sacred in all of Cambodia. It's here that Jayavarman II was said to have proclaimed himself king, marking the start of the Khmer empire.  

Upon arrival, you'll start with some gentle trekking up the mountain, visiting a local pagoda with a natural spring on the way up to the top. Splendid views greet you on all sides along this quiet and little-used route. 

At the top of Kulen, continue trekking to visit a fascinating bat cave and Srah Damrei or Elephant Pond, a spectacular site of giant, carved animals including a life-size elephant, three lions, a frog, and a cow. Just below Srah Damrei, you'll find evidence of an ancient reservoir with splendid views across the plateau. Stop here to enjoy your packed lunches brought from the town. 

Returning from the mountain, you'll pass the Phnom Kulen Waterfall, where you can stop for a refreshing swim to cool off before returning to the vehicle and transferring back to Siem Reap for the afternoon. 

Day 5: Transfer to Phnom Penh via Kompong Khleang

Explore the floating villages of Tonle Sap on today's drive south

Meet your driver and guide this morning for a full day's drive south to Phnom Penh. Along the way, you'll take a detour to the famous floating village of Kompong Khleang on Tonle Sap. Fed by the Mekong, this lake rises and falls dramatically with the river's ebb and flow, and its residents have adapted with houses built on floating platforms of bamboo and towed near the edge of the lake as the waters recede. Board a traditional wooden boat to explore the village further, then stop for a freshly cooked lunch at one of the local houses.

Back on the road, continue towards Phnom Penh with a short stop at the Spean Praptos Bridge, which dates back to the Khmer Empire, and at the town of Skuon, where you can take a quick stroll around the market and see (or sample) the local specialty of deep-fried tarantula. 

You'll reach the capital of Phnom Penh in the late afternoon, and check into your hotel.

Day 6: Phnom Penh Walking Tour & Royal Palace

Cambodia's vibrant capital of Phnom Penh

Known as the "Pearl of Asia," Phnom Penh was a thriving culturally developed city until the 1960s when it suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and became a ghost town. Today, Cambodia's capital is a city on the move, with the quickest growing economy in South East Asia and rapid development. 

Starting early this morning, take a walking tour that will lead you down small back roads, past some colonial and Chinese temples, and through a bustling local market before emerging near the Royal Palace. Built in 1866 to provide an oasis of calm in the heart of a busy city, the 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.

Then it's on to the 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 boasts a soaring domed roof and four wings full of shops and stalls, including food, jewelry, electronics, clothes, household goods, and souvenirs. It's also the perfect spot to grab lunch, with recommendations from your guide.

After the tour, the remainder of the afternoon is free for you to relax back at the hotel or continue exploring the city at your own pace. 

Day 7: Phnom Penh, Past & Present

Champey Academy
Children learning dance at the Champey Academy

Start today with a trip back in time to the harrowing Khmer Rouge era, as you visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. Also known as S21, during the Pol Pot regime, Tuol Sleng was converted into a detention center, where prisoners were interrogated before being sent to the Killing Fields to be brutally tortured and murdered. 

Before it became the Khmer Rouge's best-known Killing Field, Choeung Ek was a Chinese cemetery, and the remains of almost 9,000 bodies have been excavated from mass graves in this area. It is now a memorial site for Cambodians and visitors from all over the world to pay their respects to those lost. A memorial stupa (shrine) has been erected and displays over 5,000 human skulls, bones, and clothes of the victims. 

Although visiting these sites is a harrowing and depressing experience, it offers an important step toward understanding Khmer culture today. One of the survivors of Tuol Sleng is often at the site, where he signs copies of his book and talks about his experience.

Stop for lunch in a non-profit restaurant that has worked to improve and build the futures of former street children and marginalized young people in Phnom Penh since 1994. The set menu ranges from almost forgotten recipes from the provinces to contemporary creative Cambodian cuisine.

Afterward, you'll continue to Champey Academy of Arts, where traditional drawing, music, and dance are taught, and you can enjoy watching the young students practice classical apsara dancing. The Academy is a local NGO that seeks to preserve traditional arts on a free basis for poor students, and a visit is sure to put a smile on your face as see the children channel their artistic creativity into traditional dance.

Last but not least for the day, you'll head to the Riverside in the late afternoon. A great place for people-watching, you can take a leisurely stroll along one of the few pedestrianized walkways in Phnom Penh and see locals exercising, practicing dance, and just sitting and watching the action on the river.

Day 8: Depart Phnom Penh

Sunset over Phom Penh's Yeay Penh Statue

It's time to say chum reap lear (goodbye) to the "Kingdom of Wonder" as you transfer to the airport to catch your departing flight. Safe travels!

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