6 Days / 5 Nights
Day 1: Arrive Phnom Penh. Royal Palace and National Museum.
On arrival check in to your hotel.
In the afternoon, we explore the stunning Royal Palace complex, home to the Cambodian royal family. We begin at the Throne Hall and Napoleon III Pavilion, a gift from the French emperor in the 19th century. We continue to the Silver Pagoda, named after the 5000 silver tiles covering the floor, each weighing 1kg. Inside is a delicate emerald Buddha made of baccarat crystal, which gives the temple its Khmer name of Wat Preah Keo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha).
We leave the Royal Palace and continue to the nearby National Museum, home to the world's finest collection of sculpture from the Angkor period. The exquisite building was completed in 1920 and features collections from the pre-Angkor, Angkor and post-Angkor periods. We concentrate on the incredible sandstone sculpture from Angkor, as well as the intricate bronzes.
Day 2: Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields. Travel to Kompong Thom.
We come face to face with the horrific crimes of the Khmer Rouge. Tuol Sleng was a former high school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a centre for interrogation, torture and death. Today it is a museum of torture and serves to remind visitors of the terrible atrocities that came to pass in Cambodia. 17,000 people passed through the gates of this prison and only seven lived to tell the tale. The Khmer Rouge were meticulous in their record keeping, photographing all the prisoners and many of these haunting black and white images are on display in the cells. Tuol Sleng is a profoundly moving experience and not everyone will want to visit. However, it is key to understanding the hell into which Cambodia descended and how far it has come in the years since.
We then travel out of town to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Prisoners from Tuol Sleng followed this same route to their fate. An old Chinese cemetery, Choeung Ek was turned into an extermination camp for political prisoners. The remains of 8985 people were exhumed from mass graves and are kept in a memorial stupa here. Despite the horrors of the past, it is a peaceful place to go and a tranquil spot to reflect on the tragic events that engulfed Cambodia and its people.
In the afternoon, we leave Phnom Penh and travel northeast to Kompong Thom. En route, there is the chance to pause at Skuon, affectionately known as 'Spiderville', where it is possible to sample the local delicacy of deep fried tarantula. We continue the journey west to the provincial capital of Kompong Thom.
Day 3: Sambor Prei Kuk. Travel to Siem Reap. Floating Village of Chong Kneas.
After breakfast in Kompong Thom, we explore the impressive pre-Angkorian capital of Isanapura, known today as Sambor Prei Kuk. The first major temple city in South-East Asia, the brick temples of Sambor Prei Kuk are a peaceful contrast to their more illustrious relatives at Angkor. We explore the main temples here, including Prasat Tao with its elaborately coiffured lions and Prasat Sambor, with its crumbling sanctuaries.
After lunch, we continue northwest on National Highway 6. This was an old Angkor road and we stop in Kompong Kdei to see one of the ancient Angkor bridges that were built to span the rivers. Spean Praptos has more than 20 arches and is a spectacular sight, reinforcing the impression that the Khmers were like the Romans of Southeast Asia.
After arrival at Siem Reap, we travel out to the mighty Tonle Sap Lake to visit the floating village of Chong Kneas. Nestled under the hill of Phnom Krom, this floating community moves location with the waters of the lake. Everything floats on water in this living fishing community and if interested, we can also make a stop at the Gecko Environment Centre to learn more about the lake.
Day 4: Roluos group. Preah Khan and Remote Temples.
We travel back in time to one of the earliest capitals in the Angkor area, Hariharilaya, now known as Roluos. We begin with a visit to the brick temple of Lolei, originally set on an island in the centre of the Indratataka baray (reservoir). We continue to Preah Ko (sacred cow), named in honour of Shiva’s mount, Nandin. Originally coated in stucco and painted, there is still some of the ancient plaster visible on the rear towers. Finally, we encounter Bakong, the earliest of the temple mountains, which later became the signature of Khmer kings. It is a giant pyramid, its cardinal points marked by giant elephants. For those that are interested, we can offer a short diversion to the small country town of Roluos, a world away from Siem Reap.
In the afternoon, we travel to the mighty temple of Preah Khan or 'Sacred Sword', built by King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century. Sister temple to Ta Prohm, the cruciform corridors here are impressive and there are some wonderful carvings adorning the walls, including the spectacular hall of dancers. We then continue on to the elegant curves of Neak Poan. This petite temple is the ultimate ornamental fountain, its series of elaborate spouts including the heads of lions and elephants. We finish by experiencing sunset over the rice fields from the royal crematorium of Pre Rup, a classic view of the Cambodian countryside.
Day 5: Ta Prohm at Dawn. Banteay Srei and Banteay Samre.
We rise early to travel to Ta Prohm in the dawn light. Ta Prohm has been abandoned to the elements, left as it was ‘discovered’ by French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860, the tentacle-like tree roots here are slowly strangling the surviving stones.
After soaking up the unique atmosphere of Ta Prohm, we continue to the giant pyramid of Takeo, one of the highest temples in the Angkor area. Built at the end of the 10th century, it was never completed. This morning we also visit the remains of an old Angkorian bridge which once spanned the Siem Reap river.
After lunch we head to Banteay Srei, Angkor’s ultimate art gallery. This petite pink temple is the jewel in the crown of Angkor-era sculpture. The elaborate carvings here are the finest found in Cambodia and the name translates as ‘Fortress of the Women’, thanks to the intricate detail here, considered too fine for the hands of a man. Later we visit the 12th century temple of Banteay Samre. Built by King Suryavarman II, the genius behind Angkor Wat, this temple has been extensively restored.
Day 6: Angkor Wat Sunrise. Angkor Thom and the Bayon.
Rising at the crack of dawn, we journey out to the Mother of all temples, Angkor Wat. Believed to be the world's largest religious building, this temple was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. We stay at Angkor Wat to enjoy a picnic breakfast before venturing into the temple to enjoy its magnificence in peace and quiet. We begin by unraveling the mysteries of the bas-reliefs that tell of tales from Hindu mythology and of the glories of the Khmer Empire.
In the afternoon, we visit the immense walled city Angkor Thom that was the masterpiece of King Jayavarman VII from 1181 beginning at the staggering South Gate. We continue our visit at the Terrace of the Leper King, followed by the Terrace of Elephants and the extensive renovations at the Baphuon. Our climax is the enigmatic and enchanting temple of the Bayon. At the exact centre of Angkor Thom, this is an eccentric expression of the creative genius and inflated ego of Cambodia’s most celebrated king. Its 54 towers are each topped off with the four faces of Avalokiteshvara which bear more than a passing resemblance to the king himself. We also unravel the mysteries of the extensive bas-reliefs with their intricate scenes of ancient battles against the Chams and their snapshot of daily life during the Angkor period. We then transfer to the airport for departure flight.