Day 1 - Phnom Penh - Arrival (D)
Arrive in Phnom Penh this morning/midday. You will be welcomed by your local English speaking guide who will assist you with the transfer and check in at the hotel.
This city was once considered one of the most beautiful in the Orient, and despite its recent turbulent history it still retains a colonial charm.
In the afternoon visit the Apsara Arts Association (AAA), a local non-governmental organization created to promote classical and folkloric dance and music. Most of the young students are orphans or from poor families though with the support of AAA are given the opportunity to make a living in promoting Cambodian performing art. Watching the young performers is sure to put a smile on your face as you see the arts being rejuvenated in modern Cambodia!
In the late afternoon enjoy an atmospheric sunset river cruise and watch how Phnom Penh’s popular riverfront comes to life in the early evening. Your guide will take the opportunity to introduce Cambodia to you. A favourite local refreshment, a young coconut, will be served for degustation.
Tonight, you will be treated to a delicious Khmer welcome dinner at Romdeng, a lovely charity restaurant where former street children are taught the principles of hospitality. The restaurant is located in a restored colonial building with an atmospheric garden right in the city center. (Note: Romdeng closes on Sundays and public holidays).
Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Day 2 - Phnom Penh (B)
Start your day today at Preah Ang Dong Ker, a shrine on the riverfront. This is an interesting spiritual place that is frequented by worshippers at all times. You will see Khmer people arriving with alms, lotus flowers, jasmine bracelets and incense sticks that they are using for their prayers. Take in this bustling and mystical scenery while Phnom Penh awakens to life.
This shrine is located right in front of the Royal Palace which you will visit afterwards. This palace dates back to 1866 and houses the Silver Pagoda, named for the over 5000 heavy silver tiles that cover its floors. Its original name is Wat Prakeo, meaning Temple of the Emerald Buddha. In this temple you will view a collection of Buddhas in gold, silver, crystal, and bronze.
You will now be met by a Cyclo driver who will take you on a tour to the most remarkable sights of Phnom Penh in a Cyclo, an original Phnom Penh means of transportation and a fun way to explore this lively city. First, head along the lively riverfront up to Wat Phnom, a hilltop pagoda and the founding place of the city. From here, explore the old French Quarter with some interesting architectural examples of the colonial period.
Return to the hotel for a break during the midday heat.
This afternoon, head to Wat Langka (meditation on Monday, Thursday and Saturday in the evening from 5:00pm – 7:00pm and Sunday morning from 7:00am – 9:00am), located just south of the Independence Monument. Wat Langka is one of oldest pagodas in Phnom Penh founded in 1442 and one of the five original wats in town. It was established as a sanctuary for the Holy Writings and a meeting place for Cambodian and Sri Lankan monks. The Pagoda was named in honor of these meetings. Langka Pagoda was used as a storehouse during the Khmer Rouge era and therefore managed to avoid total destruction. The temple still plays an important role in Cambodian Buddhism and many of the monks here are highly regarded teachers.
After such deep relaxation, return to your hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.
Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Day 3 - Phnom Penh - Battambang (B,L)
Travel by private vehicle over scenic backroads to Cambodia’s former capital, Oudong (transfer time 1h), about 39km from Phnom Penh. You will pass rural villages, local pagodas, and scenic rice paddies before reaching the main hill of Oudong. Visit a family that is producing palm sugar at their house. After stop to take a look at the spectacular Vipassana Dhura Buddhist Meditation Center, also located in Oudong. Your guide can explain more about the school of Vipassana (Insight Meditation) as you tour the center. Don’t forget to see the impressive jade Buddha, the mummified monk and the brightly painted walls telling the story of the Ramayana, the epic Sanskrit poem that decorates many pagodas seen around the country. Later on, climb to the top of the stupa-filled hill of Oudong for great views over the rural plains. Enjoy lunch local style in the picnic huts at the foot of the mountain. Near Oudong, a local pagoda has come to some fame because of its fortune teller. You will have a chance to visit him and have your palms read – interesting to know what the future holds for you!
Continue to Battambang (transfer time 4hr). You will be taken directly to your hotel for check in. Battambang is a charming and relaxed river town full of fine examples of French-colonial architecture. Even though Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city, you will find that the atmosphere is very laid-back. The surrounding countryside makes this pleasant town a real treat. It is situated along the Sangker River, a quiet body of water that winds its way through Battambang Province and connects the Cardamom Mountains with Tonle Sap Lake and feeds the paddy fields with water on the way, which results in Cambodia’s best rice that can be found here, in Battambang Province.
You will head towards Phnom Sampeau, meaning “Ship Hill” in Khmer, due to its distinctive shape, and one of only few hills standing out in this otherwise pancake-flat plain. From the small temple on the top, you will have a fantastic view over the typical landscape of paddy fields, pagodas and sugar palm trees. There is also an opportunity to see fortune-teller. Phnom Sampeau is home to the so-called ‘killing caves’, which are cruel reminders of Cambodia’s troubled past. Serenity and inhumanity represented in one place make this an interesting visit.
A special visit awaits you at Phare Ponleu Selpak. School of Music, Visual & Performing Arts - Phare Ponleu Selpak combines the Arts to provide education, support and entertainment to the poor communities. This project is a success story of how humanitarian aid work can turn into a display of zest for life, genuine warmth and creativity, against all odds. A visit to one of their circus shows will leave you with a lasting memory of the wonderful Cambodian people and should not be missed when in Battambang. (Note: The circus performance is only performed regularly on each Monday & Thursday. On other days private performances are available on request and for a supplement).
Overnight in Battambang.
Day 4 - Battambang (B)
Spend the morning on a tour that combines walking, a boat ride and then cycling along and across the Sangke River to experience Battambang daily life. The tour includes prayers with monks as well as rich explanations of the city’s design and artistic heritage.
Begin the tour at 7.30 a.m. at the offices of Battambang Bike and get fitted for your bicycle (either a mountain bike or sturdy basket bike).
Watch a few minutes of film footage which will help you imagine how developed the town was in its heyday. Battambang has passed from Cambodia to Thailand and back again several times in its history and has an excellent collection of early 20th century French colonial architecture that is better preserved and respected than in many other parts of the country.
A tour of the main market, Psar Nath includes trying a local coffee. Then walk the few metres to the river and cross a couple of minutes on a local boat to the other side of the Sangke River. Visit Wat Povil temple and take the opportunity to pray with the monks (Note: the monks may observe different rituals according to their calendar though can be seen on a daily basis). It is usually possible to accompany the boats back across the river as they begin their morning alms collection.
Once back on the other side it is time to begin the bike tour. The historic 2.5 Street is visited along with a Thai temple before you arrive at a smaller market. Again time for a coffee or a sugar cane juice. Continue a short distance to Wat Kor Village, known for its many old Khmer heritage houses built around a century ago. Visit one of the best preserved homes.
Cycle along the river and cross a suspension bridge where only motorbikes and bicycles can pass. On the way back into town there is another short drinks stop before arriving back in the town at approximately 12:45 p.m.
If you wish the bicycles are free to use for the rest of the day.
The Battambang Bike
Set up by a Canadian national who is a lover of architecture and cycling know as Jam. The above tour was designed exclusively for Asia Paradise though alternatives can be provided such as dedicated architecture or amateur photography rides. All their tours are pay-as-much-as-you-can for Cambodians in order to provoke interest about their history and the city. The long term goal of Battambang Bike is to pass ownership to a Cambodian to provide a substainable and well structured business.
The rest of the day is at leisure and additional touring can be discussed with your guide as required.
Overnight in Battambang.
Day 5 - Battambang - Siem Reap (B,L)
After an early breakfast, embark on a private boat that will take you on a fascinating journey across Tonlé Sap Lake to Siem Reap. You will pass floating villages and flooded forests, portraying life on this body of water that forms Cambodia’s heart. A packed lunch is taken and eaten on board (Duration 6-7 hours. (Note: This boat trip is only possible in the high water period from July to December as water levels are too low during the dry season and transfer times can be extremely long. From January to June alternative transfer by road.)
Arrive in Siem Reap, where you will have some time at leisure at your hotel.
This afternoon, depart on a special tour of the famous Angkor Wat by local ‘remork’(similar to the Thai tuk tuk). Built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, Angkor Wat is constructed following the model of the temple mountain symbolizing Mount Meru, the home of the gods. Inside the temple, the walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology and the wars Suryavarman II fought during his reign. Angkor Wat is well known for the more than 2,000 Apsara dancers decorating the temple. Construction is thought to have taken around thirty years of intensive labor. Today, Angkor Wat is figured on Cambodia"s national flag as the temple symbolizes the soul of the Khmer people.
During sunset time, Angkor Wat is less visited, and it is a magical time to see the Apsaras shine in the most beautiful light.
Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 6 - Siem Reap (B,D)
Get another glimpse of Angkor at the early temples of the Roluos Group. Roluos is the site of an ancient center of Khmer civilization known as Hariharalaya. It was the first town built by the Angkorian kings in the 8th and 9th century and consists of three main temples: Bakong, Lolei and Preah Ko. The surrounding countryside with its paddy fields and sugar palm trees is very typical for Cambodia – enjoy the natural beauty on an ox cart ride, a fun way to get in touch with rural Cambodia and its friendly people. Your destination is Roluos Pagoda, where Buddhist monks will celebrate a private blessing ceremony for you, wishing you health and a safe journey – a memorable experience!
Return to Siem Reap for a break during the midday heat.
This afternoon, visit Ta Prohm temple, unique in that it has been left largely as it was found: overgrown by jungle trees and vines, with many parts of the temple crumbling to the ground. This makes the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ one of the most picturesque and memorable of the Angkor temples.
From here it is not far to the ancient city of Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire under the reign of Jayavarman VII. This city is surrounded by an 8 m high wall, drawing a perfect square. Enter the city through the ancient Eastern Gate, an impressive stone gate carved with Elephants and four giant faces.
From here, continue to Bayon Temple in the exact center of the city. This 12th century masterpiece is a study in grandeur and is well-known for its 54 towers with enigmatic faces representing the 54 provinces of the Great Khmer Empire. The Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King are also must-visits as they are both known for their intricate bas-reliefs.
This evening enjoy dinner at HAVEN, a training restaurant for young adults (orphans, half-orphans and abandoned children), who have to leave orphanages when they come of age. By giving them vocational training in hospitality or as a cook and teaching them life skills they gain experience to support the transition from institution to real world. HAVEN serves flavourful Asian and Western food – including some Swiss specialities and many fresh vegetarian tidbits – at the same time you are supporting a training programme and are thereby helping a young adult orphan to achieve a secure and independent future. (Note: open Mon-Sat 11am-10pm – closed Wed 11am-5.30pm for student training, Sunday all day).
Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 7 - Siem Reap - departure (B)
Enjoy the morning at leisure to explore Siem Reap and perhaps do some shopping before your departure flight (based on midday/afternoon departures).