7 Days / 6 Nights
Day 1: Arrive Phnom Penh. Royal Palace and National Museum.
Upon arrival check in to hotel.
In the afternoon, we explore the stunning Royal Palace complex, home to the Cambodian royal family and a symbol of the nation. We enter the Throne Hall where the royal receptions are held, see the Napoleon III Pavilion made from iron, a gift from the French emperor in the 19th century and continue to the Silver Pagoda, named after the 5000 silver tiles covering the floor, each weighing 1kg. Inside are some of the country's most cherished treasures, including a life-size gold Buddha studded with 9584 diamonds, the largest weighing 25 carats. There is also 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. Lunch at PSE. Sunset Boat Trip.
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.
We have lunch in the capital at PSE (a French NGO supporting children from the garbage dump) where their Lotus Blanc restaurant serves excellent international and Asian cuisine. The clients can then take a tour of the PSE facilities where both schooling and work/life skills are available to the children and youths as a way of escaping the poverty of their lives spent on the city’s main garbage dump.
In the late afternoon, we board a local boat for a sunset cruise on the river. We set off on the Tonle Sap River, which famously reverses direction each year, acting as the world's largest natural flood barrier for the Mekong River. We cruise past the Royal Palace compound and around the Chrouy Changvar Peninsular on to the mighty Mekong River. We cruise past small villages and see fishing boats preparing their catch. We return to Phnom Penh after dark.
Day 3: Travel to Kratie.
We leave Phnom Penh and travel northeast to the bustling provincial city of Kompong Cham. 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 arrive in Kompong Cham mid-morning and visit the 'fusion' temple of Wat Nokor, an 11th century sandstone temple with a colourful modern wat set in its central courtyard. We then enjoy a local lunch in Kompong Cham.
Our road journey continues on the east bank, passing through the old river port of Chhlong, home to some of the best examples of French colonial architecture in the country. We then reach Kratie, a sleepy Mekong port and gateway to an encounter with the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin that inhabit the upper reaches of the Mekong in Cambodia.
Day 4: Morning Dolphin Watching. Travel to Mondulkiri.
After breakfast in Kratie, we travel to Kampi, one of the many deep pools where the rare freshwater Irrawaddy river dolphins gather to feed. We board a local boat and cruise out into the mighty Mekong for a chance encounter with these gentle creatures. Viewing is commonplace, although it is easier to see the dolphins in the shallower waters of the dry season, than in the swollen river of the wet season. After enjoying an hour or more of dolphin viewing, we then travel south towards the small junction town of Snuol, our gateway to the wilds of Mondulkiri.
After a (very) local lunch in the small town of Snuol, we head towards the heart of the hill country. The first half of the journey from Snuol is flat, passing through patches of lush forest and areas of cultivation and plantations. After Khau Si Ma district, the road snakes up through the mountains that give Mondulkiri its name of 'where the mountains meet'. There is lush jungle hugging the road and locals claim to see tigers on this stretch at night. Nearing Sen Monorom, the provincial capital, the scenery changes again, jungle giving way to clusters of pine trees and rolling grasslands. The scenery is unique for Cambodia and dotted with traditional Pnong villages, the main minority group in Mondulkiri. On arrival in Sen Monorom, we check into a comfortable local hotel for the night.
Day 5: Bou Sraa Waterfall and Minority Villages.
We leave Sen Monorom after breakfast and head east towards the double drop waterfall of Bou Sraa, one of the most famous in Cambodia. Along the way, we stop at a Pnong minority village to learn a little about their way of life. We may be invited to drink some rice wine, as Pnong villagers are extremely hospitable and welcoming of outsiders.
We continue to Bou Sraa and explore the falls. It is possible to access both drops and there are swimming opportunities for those who want to take the plunge. We enjoy a picnic at the falls and then continue east to the village of Pichenda on the other side of the river. We return to Sen Monorom later in the day, perhaps stopping to visit another minority village along the way.
Day 6: Visit the Elephant Valley Project.
We leave Sen Monorom after breakfast and travel to the nearby Elephant Valley Project which, with the support of the Bunong villagers, rescues and treats domestic elephants who have suffered injury and abuse. Enjoy a unique ‘Walking with the Herd for a day’ experience. You will be introduced to the herd of elephants and get to know more about their history, character, behaviour and body language while walking alongside them in their natural environment. You will be able to feed the elephants buckets of bananas and bathe the elephants before watching themselves cover themselves in mud again. After lunch, you will undertake a walking trek with the elephants through the stunning Mondulkiri countryside to a waterfall for a refreshing swim and elephant bath. Later we return to Sen Monorom.
Day 7: Travel from Mondulkiri to Phnom Penh.
We leave behind the wilds of Mondulkiri, we travel provincial city of Kompong Cham, nestled on the banks for the Mekong. We pass through Cambodia's rubber country on the way, vast plantations that were originally established by the French and are once again being redeveloped. There may be the opportunity to stop along the way and learn about how the rubber is tapped. After lunch at in town, we continue towards the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. We arrive in the city and check into our hotel.