Day 1 - Siem Reap Arrival (D)
Upon your arrival in Siem Reap, you will be welcomed by your local English speaking guide and transferred to your hotel for check in. Siem Reap is the base for exploring the fabled temples of Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer empire.
In the afternoon head for an interesting boat trip on the Tonlé Sap Lake, where you will have the opportunity to learn about life on the lake. The Tonlé Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and officially designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, covering an area of around 250,000 hectares in the dry season. Due to a unique phenomenon, when the monsoon begins, the swollen waters of the Mekong River force the Tonlé Sap River to reverse its flow northwards, feeding the Great Lake and spreading over the surrounding flood plain.
Board a local boat and visit Kompong Phluck, a village where you will see houses on stilts that are submerged when Tonlé Sap Lake extends. On the way, you will pass floating houses and impressive flooded forests, portraying life on the water. (Note: Due to low water levels during the dry season, the boat trip is only possible from June to March. However an alternative floating village at Chong Kneas can be arranged instead).
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 2 - Siem Reap (B,L)
Experience the temples of Angkor in a different way today by a free and easy guided bike tour with customized ‘remork’ (similar to the Thai tuk tuk) back up and assistance. A guide will accompany you on bicycle as well.
The ‘remork’ will collect you at the hotel in the morning for a short ride to the outskirts of town. You will then be debriefed by an operational staff member who will check your bicycle and fitting. Set off on the first stretch to Angkor Wat where your bike will stay with the remork driver. You will enter and exit Angkor Wat from different entrances and the bikes will be transferred in between so there is no need for you to backtrack.
First enjoy the magnificent Angkor Wat. 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.
After leaving Angkor Wat continue cycling to continue 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 South Gate, an impressive stone gate carved with Elephants and four giant faces. On each side of the entrance path a row of 54 gods or demons is holding the sacred Naga snake. Enter the city and cycle to the exact center where the Bayon Temple is located. 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.
Leaving Bayon cycle on past The Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King before arriving at Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is 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. Again at Ta Prohm the remork will pick you up at a different point to where you enter. From there it’s a short cycle or remork ride to Sra Srang, once the royal bathing pool. Take a break for lunch at this stage at a local restaurant.
The next stage is the most scenic as you leave the temples behind and cycle along quieter routes with rice paddies and beautiful Cambodian countryside all around. Pass through Pradak village which is renowned for all types of traditional Khmer Noodles or Ka Tien. The most traditional being Nom Banchok made of rice paddy flour and server with a yellow curry soup or Praher Khmer.
The road follows north before arriving at the “gem” of the Angkor area, the pretty temple of Banteay Srei. The so-called “Citadel of the Women” remains the best preserved temple in Cambodia. It displays some of the finest examples of classical Khmer art as this small temple is noted for its truly remarkable fine bas-reliefs. Banteay Srei is unique in that it is constructed of pink sandstone, which is seen nowhere else in Angkor.
After Banteay Srei the remork will transfer you for a relaxing cruise in a gondola paddle boat at the moat of Angkor Thom compound. Enjoy gliding gently along, as the sun begins to set. The boat will arrive close to the historical ruins of Prasat Chrung with a viewpoint where the sun sets over the countryside.
Cruise back to the Angkor Thom gate and transfer back to your hotel by remork.
(Note – some deviation from the route is possible as the temples being passed are all included in the Apsara tour pass which is included in the cost already. Cycling distance is 40km though this can be shortened by using the remork to travel if required).
Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 3 - Siem Reap (B,L)
Depart your hotel this morning and drive to Kompheim or ‘Lady Bug Village’ which is located around 16km outside of Siem Reap. Be prepared for a fun day in a real Cambodian village and not created especially for tourists. As such there may be a need to be flexible as things can change, ceremonies may be running or events may be taking place in the village. As we in no way wish to negatively impact on the traditional culture or practices in the village the visits will be adapted if required.
On arrival take an ox cart through the village and you can try your hand at steering if you like. After meet your host family for a day of assisting their seasonal activities. These may include planting rice, harvesting or transplanting rice depending on the time of year. Other activities include weaving thatch for roof repairs, weaving wall panels, planting vegetable crops, tree planting, making prahoc (fish paste) or rice wine. Every tour is different and activities will depend on the time of year, family needs and goings on in the village. This is an opportunity to capture some amazing photographs and see what life is like in Cambodian village.
After the morning work take the time to take lunch in the village – western food is provided but you are welcome to try the local food if you wish. After lunch take a short walk to see the rest of the village before transferring back to town by mid-afternoon. There is the chance to freshen up and relax a little.
This evening attend a performance of ‘Phare, the Cambodian Circus’. Starting at 7pm, professional artists of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) will perform an inspiring show suitable for people of all ages. Set up in Battambang in 1994 by young returnee Cambodians from the refugee camps who learned about using art as a means of coping with trauma, PPS has played an influential role in promoting and developing Khmer culture over the years after the Khmer Rouge genocide. The hour long show mixes traditional and modern theater, music, dance, acrobatics, juggling and contortion performed in a story about Cambodian lives and society. Student performances can still be seen twice weekly in Battambang but now the circus has arrived in Siem Reap!
Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 4 - Siem Reap - Phnom Penh (B,D)
There is some free time this morning after breakfast. Later transfer to the airport for your midday flight to Phnom Penh (60 mins). On arrival in the Cambodian capital you will be welcomed by a local English speaking guide and transferred to your hotel for check in.
Phnom Penh was once considered as one of the most beautiful cities in the Orient, and despite its recent turbulent history, it still retains a colonial charm. Cambodia’s capital is a bustling city, majestically located at the confluence of the mighty rivers of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap. Wide tree-lined boulevards and many colonial-era buildings reflect the glorious days and add to the allure of the city, where Asian and Western traditions meet in a fascinating way.
After a relaxing break, you will be greeted by a driver who will take you on a tour of the historical French Quarter in a Cyclo, an original Phnom Penh means of transportation and a fun way to explore this lively city. Continue to visit the Royal Palace built during the French colonial period. The same complex houses the Silver Pagoda, named for the over 5,000 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. Also stop to visit the National Museum, which was built in traditional Khmer style. It houses the world"s foremost collection of ancient Khmer artistic, archaeological, and religious artifacts from the 4th to the 13th centuries.
In the evening board the Kanika cruise boat for shared dinner cruise that will take you along the Tonlé Sap and Mekong rivers. You will have a wonderful view of the riverfront and the Phnom Penh skyline over dinner.
Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Day 5 - Phnom Penh (B)
This morning you will have a choice of two activities: either a half day cooking class or a chance to learn about Khmer dance and martial arts.
Gain insight into the art of Khmer cuisine with a hands-on cooking course. Start the day with a guided tour through the local food market where your chef will explain the Cambodian fruits, vegetables and spices. Be amazed at the vast array of colors, smells, and tastes for sale - from the ubiquitous, smelly fish sauce to the sweet, fragrant mangoes. Back at the cooking school; explore the secrets of traditional food preparation. With the guidance of your chef, you will observe and then practice Khmer cuisine techniques creating your own dishes for lunch!
Selapak is a center dedicated to the centuries-old Khmer Culture located in the centre of Phnom Penh. You will receive an introduction to Apsara and Classic traditional dance and Yutakun Khom, a form of martial art similar to Thai boxing (Monday - Saturday). Initiations do not require any specific physical ability as they can be adapted to your own fitness level. Costumes/uniforms are also provided. The lessons are private and will help you gain a deeper appreciation of Khmer dance and culture.
In the afternoon browse through the Russian Market, the best place in the city for wood and stone carvings, jewellery, clothes and Cambodian silk souvenirs.
Also visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, housed in the former school that was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and used as its main detention and torture center named ‘S-21’.
Late afternoon head to the riverside area of Phnom Penh, a pleasant French style promenade that is great for people viewing. In the early evening (and morning) various activities take place include exercise classes, Khmer dancing and plenty of snacking on local food. You can participate in a Khmer dance class which is a lot of fun for all!
Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Day 6 - Phnom Penh - Kep (B,L)
This morning, gain insight into Cambodia’s recent dark history on a visit to the remarkable Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. A moving, but important visit that will allow you to dig below the surface and understand Cambodia better. Then, you will leave Phnom Penh in a southern direction for Takeo Province.
On the way, you will visit Phnom Chisor, where you can climb up to the top of the mountain to explore the well-preserved ruins of a 10th century Angkorian temple. Enjoy an amazing view over the typical Cambodian countryside.
Enjoy a simple but tasty lunch at a local restaurant in Takeo town. Board a fiberglass motorboat in Takeo that will zip you along an ancient canal to the archaeological museum of Angkor Borei and the temple ruins of Phnom Da. On the way, you will have the chance to see rural life in Cambodia.
Continue to Kep. Cambodia’s prestigious seaside resort of the 1960s is now awakening to its former glory. The small town offers reminders of the past and a growing choice of activities including island trips, a national park and the famous crab market.
Overnight in Kep.
Day 7 - Kep (B)
Enjoy your day at leisure or enjoy an optional tour. As you wander around Kep keep an eye out for the decaying 1960s villas and the royal residence which are reminders of Kep’s heyday as a high society seaside retreat that was abandoned during the Khmer Rouge time. Some have been restored whilst others are in a state of disarray – perhaps destined to become a boutique hotel.
Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsai)
This morning, embark on a short boat trip (25 mins) to the pretty island Koh Tonsai, also called Rabbit Island. Spend the morning at leisure exploring the island and relaxing on the island’s beautiful tropical beach. A seafood barbecue lunch will be prepared for you on the island. Mid-afternoon, return to Kep and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.
Overnight in Kep.
Day 8 - Kep - Kampot - Sihanoukville (B,L)
This morning pay a visit to the popular Kep crab market and see them being stored in baskets in shallow water and being cooked in the market itself. Learn from your guide which are the best and tastiest crabs to select. The market is busiest at weekends and holidays but is fun at any time. The dozen-plus rickety old wooden shacks that hug the water’s edge next to the market serve fresh seafood at its best.
Leave Kep in the direction of Kampot. Driving past the pretty Secret Lake you will arrive at Starling Farm, a family owned pepper plantation. Kampot pepper was first documented by Chinese explorers in the 1200’s but first came to prominence in the 1800’s as the high quality product reached Paris. Take a tour of the pepper plantation and learn about the difference between green, black, white and red peppers. After enjoy a lunch (and the chance to taste some fresh green peppercorns) at the Starling Restaurant.
Continue on your way to reach Kampot town. Take a break to stretch your legs in this charming riverside town with magnificent surroundings still dominated by French colonial architecture.
The final transfer is on to the beach town of Sihanoukville which you will arrive at in the late afternoon.
Overnight in Sihanoukville
Day 9 - Sihanoukville (B)
Enjoy your day at leisure or enjoy an optional tour.
Ream National Park (Sihanoukville)
The park was established in 1993 on a 210 km² area on the Gulf of Thailand that includes thick pristine jungle, mangrove forests and off-shore coral reefs. It"s a nature lovers paradise with nearly 200 bird species, many kinds of monkeys and it is also the habitat of the pangolin. You will be transferred to one of Ream’s most scenic isolated beaches, called Koh Sampouch. A BBQ seafood lunch is included in this shared excursion.
Three Islands tour (Sihanoukville)
Take a boat trip departing 9am to explore three islands giving you the chance to snorkel, fish or just rest and relax. At the first stop you will see colorful corals and fishes at the island of Koh Chaluh. At Bamboo Island enjoy swimming with in the clear waters or relax on a long yellow sandy beach with a coral reef. Have a seafood BBQ lunch with cool drinks and fruit on the beach. After an easy walk of 10 minutes to the other side of Bamboo Island before departing to either Koh Tres for some snorkeling or Koh Takiev for some more beach (please advise at the start of the tour which option you prefer). In the afternoon return to Sihanoukville to arrive 4-5pm.
Overnight in Sihanoukville.
Day 10 - Sihanoukville - Koh Kong (B,D)
This morning after breakfast at the hotel, transfer directly from Sihanoukville to Koh Kong (3½hrs).
After arriving at Tatai Bridge you will be transferred by shared boat (approximately 20 mins) to tonight’s accommodation, a peaceful retreat with overwater tented villas, set on a quiet bend in the river with the lush Cardamom Mountains as the idyllic backdrop.
Spend this afternoon at your leisure exploring the river on by kayak, swimming in its clear waters or fishing from your private terrace. Wildlife is abundant here and you might spot colorful butterflies and bizarre-looking insects as well as some of the 550+ bird species found in this area such as brahminy kites or great hornbills if you are lucky. In the evening take a short boat trip to see a spectacle of nature: fireflies lighting up a tree as if were a Christmas tree!
Dinner will be served at the lodge.
Overnight in Koh Kong Province
Day 11 - Koh Kong (B,L,D)
Today spend a relaxing day on a private excursion. Away from the tranquility of 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, the thunder of the majestic Tatai Falls reveals the river’s true power as it drops 6 meters to the rocks below. Your day, depending on the tide, starts at around 10am for the 45-minute boat ride past Tatai village to the falls. A local English speaking guide will lead the tour.
Turning on to a tributary you head into the heart of the Cardamom jungle to the far-off sounds of exotic birds and its secretive wildlife. Within minutes you are at journey’s end, gazing down into the turbulent waters of the falls. Soon it’s time for your picnic lunch, maybe a few moments hydro-massage and a refreshing drink as you find some shade for a picnic and relax amongst the sights and sounds of the jungle. Kayaks are available for the last stretch to add some fun and adventure or you can stay on board the boat.
On your return to the lodge the late afternoon is free at leisure for you to relax or do some more kayaking or fishing from the tent platform.
Dinner at the lodge.
Overnight in Koh Kong Province.
Day 12 - Koh Kong - Phnom Penh - Departure (B)
Enjoy some time at leisure until your transfer out by boat direct transfer to Phnom Penh airport for your departure flight (5h) or continue over land to Thailand.