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Day 1 – Arrive in Siem Reap – Welcome to Siem Reap in morning arrival, the charming gateway to the famed Temples of Angkor. You will be greeted by your local English-speaking guide, who will accompany you to your hotel for check-in. Settle in and enjoy some time at leisure to refresh. This afternoon get a first glimpse of Angkor today at the early temples of the Roluos Group. Roluos is the site of an ancient centre 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 a cow cart ride, a fun way to get in touch with rural Cambodia and its friendly people. In the contemporary Roluos Pagoda in the vicinity of the monuments, Buddhist monks will celebrate a private blessing ceremony for you, wishing you health and a safe journey – a very special experience!
In the evening enjoy a welcome dinner at Viroth’s Restaurant. One of the long-time residents of Siem Reap, Viroth’s is famously known as one of the best upscale restaurants in town. Boasting an extensive menu of Khmer and other Asian favourites, and set in a chic, contemporary, intimate and mostly outdoor setting, this restaurant is certainly one to try whilst visiting the temples.
Day 2 – Siem Reap – After breakfast, discover some of the other main Angkor sites on a leisurely bicycle ride about 2-3 hours. First, head to the ancient city of Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was 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. You will enter the city from 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.
From here, continue to Bayon Temple in the exact centre of the city. This 12th-century masterpiece is a study in grandeur and is well-known for its dozens of towers with enigmatic faces looking out over the provinces 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. Stroll through the grounds of the former Royal Palace to discover some small hidden temples that are rarely visited. Return to the hotel for a relaxing break during the midday heat. Spend the early afternoon exploring Siem Reap’s colourful markets. Visit Artisans d’Angkor, established in 1992 to support Cambodian arts and crafts, and to help young people find work in their local villages by continuing the practice of traditional arts. Discover how wood and stone carvings, lacquering, gilding, and silk paintings are created. End your day with a tour by ramork (tuk-tuk) to the temples of Angkor. The most illustrious of these is Ta Prohm, built in the mid 12th to early 13th centuries. Ta Prohm is unique in that it is 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. Your visit can also include Banteay Kdei, a Buddhist monastery from the late 12th Century, and Srah Srang, also known as the “pool of ablutions”. If you wish, head over to Pre Rup to watch the sunset from atop the temple before returning to the hotel. (B)
Day 3 – Siem Reap – Start early at 4:30 am to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat – it surely is a memorable experience to see the first sun rays slowly appear over the five iconic towers. After breakfast at Angkor Café right in front of the monument, explore the famous temple in depth. 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 more than thirty years of intensive labour. Today, Angkor Wat is figured on Cambodia’s national flag as the temple symbolizes the soul of the Khmer people. Next, head north through pastoral countryside to visit Kbal Spean, one of the earliest Hindu pilgrimage sites in Cambodia. A short 3 km trek up the hill through dense jungle will reward you with excellent views over the plains and the Kulen hills. At the top, be surprised about the “River of 1000 Lingas” with some remarkable stone carvings of Hindu gods, animals and other symbols in the riverbed. During the raining season, you can enjoy a refreshing bath in the waterfall, which is extremely popular with the local families. Enjoy a picnic lunch at the waterfall. Please note the trek is fairly easy going but as the walk is uphill and on uneven ground, it is only suitable for clients with a good level of fitness and not suitable for clients with mobility problems. Then, visit the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB), the first nature conservation project established in Cambodia. A knowledgeable staff member will explain the threats to Cambodia’s wildlife and the efforts of ACCB to protect the environment and promote wildlife conservation through education. As you stroll around the compound’s forested grounds, you will see various endangered species, including a squeaky otter, various primates including hooting gibbons, various reptiles such as miniature tortoises, and a beekeeping project, all of which are on site. This afternoon experience the “gem” of the Angkor area, the pretty temple of Banteay Srey. 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 Srey is unique in that it is constructed of pink sandstone, which is seen nowhere else in Angkor. On the way back to town, stop at the Cambodian Land Mine Museum, a project established by a former child soldier during the Cambodian civil war who later taught himself how to deactivate mines, before establishing the museum as an educational centre and social enterprise to sponsor children whose lives have been impacted by these destructive weapons of war. Transfer back to Siem Reap in the afternoon for some time at leisure. (B & L)
Day 4 – Siem Reap to Preah Vihear – After breakfast, head north towards the Thai border, stopping along the way at the remote Koh Ker temple complex. The capital city of a breakaway kingdom during a period of upheaval in the Angkor Empire, Koh Ker is best known for its grandiose sculptures and structures which were the result of a large sandstone quarry located nearby. Here you will see various temples from the 10th century, including the massive Prasat Thom, the tallest pyramid built in the Angkor era, Prasat Damrei, the elephant temple, and several smaller temples housing enormous lingas (stone religious phallic symbols). Upon arrival in Preah Vihear province, enjoy lunch in a local restaurant and check into your hotel. Later this afternoon, you will visit the incredible Preah Vihear temple. As you arrive at the foot of Preah Vihear it is necessary to transfer into the back of a pick-up truck (operated by the local community) for the climb up the spectacularly steep mountain road. On arrival at Preah Vihear Temple, you will be rewarded with fabulous views over Cambodia’s and Thailand’s fertile plains from the impressive ruins which stretch for 500 meters up. The sanctuary is perched on the edge of the cliffs with amazing views over the seemingly endless Cambodian jungle to the south. The temple is not yet restored but has spectacular carvings and lintels which are almost as splendid as those at Banteay Srei. The temple is known to have been dedicated to the god Shiva and thought to have been constructed in the reign of Suryavarman I (1002-50), with further significant additions by Suryavarman II (1113-50). The spectacular location paired with a unique temple design is the reason UNESCO enlisted Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site. (B, L & D)
Day 5 – Preah Vihear to Banteay Chhmar – Check-out early today for a transfer to Banteay Chhmar. Accommodation tonight will be at a traditional, local homestay. A memorable and intimate encounter, this will be the perfect means of experiencing daily life and learning the local customs of a typical Khmer village. After reaching the local homestay, enjoy lunch at the community centre where you can learn about one of the most successful Community-Based Tourism initiatives in Cambodia.
In the early afternoon, explore the UNESCO World Heritage Banteay Chhmar, an exceptional temple which gets very few visitors. The bas reliefs on the outside of the inner sanctuary walls are simply stunning, and every step through the complex provides a fascinating image of stone consumed by nature. A spectacular visit with Bayon-style towers, walls, and enclosures cloaked in vegetation. The main temple at Banteay Chhmar is surrounded by 9 satellite temples, most of which have received very little study and documentation. The day will wrap up towards the Ta Prohm temple, where a memorable night-time picnic will ensue. Enjoy a torch-lit dinner under the stars, accompanied by the gaze of Bayon-style towers. A traditional Khmer music performance played by local villagers will conclude the amazing first night in the serene setting of rural Cambodia. (B)
Day 6 – Banteay Chhmar to Battambang – Heading out from Banteay Chhmar, make two brief stops: the first at a local silk weaving initiative and the second a satellite temple of Banteay Chhmar known as Banteay Torp. Upon arrival in Battambang, check into your hotel and enjoy some rest at the hotel. The afternoon is at leisure to explore a little of the old town in Battambang independently. There are several interesting art galleries and shops around town, many of which are housed in old French Colonial Buildings. (B & L)
Day 7 – Battambang – After breakfast, head out for a ride on the Bamboo Train. The Bamboo Train has been set up by the villagers to facilitate the transportation of goods and persons as no regular trains are running any more. The “train” itself is very basic: one bamboo platform on 4-wheels is activated by a small motor. Sitting on the platform (we will provide some cushions for your comfort), you will travel the 8 km to the next station through beautiful landscape and rice paddies (depending on the season of visit). A true rollercoaster ride without loops! Next, make a stop at the nearby Ancient House located in Wat Kor Village, the oldest standing Khmer timber house in Wat Kor Village, where the lady of the house will give you a guided tour, showing you everything from how they mill their rice to demonstrating the after-dinner betel leaf ritual. Continue south through local villages and farms on the way to Wat Banan, an 11-century temple on a mountain top situated between lush paddy fields and beautiful lotus ponds. The climb is a short but tough one, over steps that seem to have all sizes. On top of the mountain, enjoy the views over the beautiful countryside and wander around the ancient temple, which is also home to finely scented flowering trees.
Tonight, 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. Alternatively, they perform daily in Siem Reap). Dinner this evening is at the stylish Jaan Bai (meaning ‘rice bowl’ in Khmer), a social enterprise restaurant established by the Cambodian Children’s Trust to provide training and employment for disadvantaged youths, with all profits going to support the activities of the Trust. The restaurant was set up with the expertise and ongoing support of Asia’s best chef, David Thompson, of Nahm Restaurant in Bangkok, and restaurateur John Fink, owner of Australia’s best restaurant Quay in Sydney. (B, L & D)
Day 8 – Battambang – 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 daily). 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 drink stop before arriving back in the town at approximately 12:45 p.m. The Battambang Bike Set up by a Canadian national who is a lover of architecture and cycling know as Jam. The long-term goal of Battambang Bike is to pass ownership to a Cambodian to provide a sustainable and well-structured business. Take a break back at your hotel. In the afternoon head to Phnom Sampeau, meaning “Ship Hill” in Khmer, due to its distinctive shape, and one of the few hills standing out in this otherwise pancake-flat plain. From the small temple on the top, you will have a fantastic view of the typical landscape of paddy fields and sugar palm trees. Phnom Sampeau is home to the notorious killing caves, which are cruel reminders of Cambodia’s troubled past. Serenity and inhumanity represented in one place make this an interesting visit…Your visit will last until dusk – a time when millions of bats emerge from a cave and create patterns as they fly in tandem across the sky – a nightly spectacular show of nature! (B)
Day 9 – Battambang to Phnom Penh – Depart early for the transfer from Battambang to Phnom Penh. Your first stop is Kampong Chhnang, known for its traditional pottery, with many kilns at work in this province. Stop in a village near Kampong Chhnang to see the different aspects of pottery making and also experience the production of traditional rice wine. Continue to Oudong, the former royal capital of Cambodia after the fall of Angkor. The drive passes through many rural villages and pagodas, and you will the temple mountain with its dozens of stupas from afar. Upon arrival at Oudong enjoy a traditional Khmer lunch at a picnic hut at the foot of the hill. Then, climb the stairs to the top of Oudong Mountain and enjoy magnificent views over the plains below. Your guide will explain the history of the area and its buildings as well as the religious culture of the Cambodian people. Take your time to soak in the magnificent views over the plains below. Before heading to Phnom Penh stop to take a look at the spectacular Vipassana Dhura Buddhist Meditation Centre, also located in Oudong. Your guide can explain more about the school of Vipassana (Insight Meditation) as you tour the canter. 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. From here, it is not far to Phnom Penh where you will reach in the late afternoon. Check into your hotel. (B)
Day 10 – Phnom Penh – This morning you will be greeted by a 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, visit Wat Phnom, which is situated near the northern boundary of the city. The site contains some good examples of Khmer architecture and statues. Continue along the lively riverfront to the Royal Palace. 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. Your next stop is the National Museum, 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. Over 5,000 pieces are on display, constituting the repository of the Kingdom’s cultural wealth. Besides the roof space is home to a large bat colony! For lunch, you will be treated to a delicious Khmer meal at Romdeng, run by former street youth in training. Set in a beautiful colonial building, Romdeng serves a great variety of Cambodian food ranging from almost forgotten recipes from the provinces to contemporary creative Cambodian cuisine. Even the deep-fried tarantula is on the menu if you are tempted. (Note: Romdeng closes on Sundays and Public holidays) This afternoon, gain insight into Champey Academy of Arts (CAA) is a non-profit school offering the youth of Phnom Penh free training in Cambodian traditional arts including dance, music, drawing and painting. Champey’s mission is to inspire young people to preserve, protect and promote their nation’s culture. Continue to see Cambodia’s recent dark history on a visit to the remarkable 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 centre named ‘S-21’. A grim, but important visit that will allow you to dig below the surface and understand Cambodia better. (B)
Day 11 – Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville – After breakfast transfer to the airport for your flight to Sihanoukville. Upon arrival, transfer to the pier for your ferry boat to Koh Rong. Early afternoon check into your hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure. (B)
Day 12 – Sihanoukville – Enjoy your day at leisure or enjoy with the optional tour. (B)
Day 13 – Sihanoukville – Enjoy your day at leisure or enjoy with the optional tour. (B)
Day 14 – Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh – This afternoon, after the boat ride back to the mainland, you will transfer back with driver only to Phnom Penh (Note: For an early departure time, a supplementary charge for a flight from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh will apply). (B)
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