10 Days / 9 Nights
Day 1: Arrive Siem Reap. Visit Roluos Group.
On arrival we check into our hotel.
In the afternoon, 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.
Day 2: Ta Prohm for Dawn. Visit Banteay Srei and Preah Khan.
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 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.
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 3: Birding Tour to Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary.
Today we start early to travel to the pristine biosphere of Prek Toal, home to some of the most endangered birdlife on the planet. The immense Tonle Sap Lake is one of the most productive bodies of water in the world and millions of fish spawn here in the flooded forest.
Prek Toal is a vast area of natural flooded forest that draws thousands of birds annually to breed during the dry season. This is one of the premier places in Southeast Asia to see rare birds such as storks, adjutants, pelicans and ibis. The morning is spent birdwatching on a traditional wooden boat as we glide through the flooded forest with local specialists. After a local lunch, we experience local life in the floating village, learning about different fishing techniques and traditional water hyacinth weaving. Your overnight accommodation will be in a local homestay and we’ll end the day watching sunset on the lake and enjoy a local dinner.
Day 4: Return from Prek Toal. Afternoon Visit to Angkor Thom.
After breakfast, we’ll watch the sunrise and board the boat to glide through the waterways into the bird sanctuary. The rest of the morning is dedicated to bird watching along the waterways, the lakeshore and from the top of the watching towers where the rangers are guarding the colonies. We then leave the bird sanctuary and head back to Siem Reap.
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.
Day 5: Visit Ang Trapeang Thmor Crane Reserve.
We leave Siem Reap after breakfast and travel west passing through Kralanh district before veering north towards Phnom Srok. We will arrive at Ang Trapeang Thmor Sarus Crane Reserve, a giant reservoir constructed during Khmer Rouge rule which now provides a habitat for more than 200 species of bird. During the dry season, this reserve provides a habitat for more than 300 rare Sarus Crane, one of the tallest birds in the world with a distinctive crimson head. We enjoy a picnic lunch at the site before enjoying some more birdwatching in the early afternoon. We return to Siem Reap by road.
Day 6: Angkor Wat Sunrise. Free Afternoon.
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 catered 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.
Afternoon is free at leisure.
Day 7: Beng Mealea. Afternoon Visit Tmatboey Ibis Project.
We travel to the lost temple of Beng Mealea, the titanic of temples, a slumbering giant lost for centuries in the forests of Cambodia. It is the most accessible of Angkor’s lost temples, a mirror image of Angkor Wat, but utterly consumed by the voracious appetite of nature. Constructed by Suryavarman II in the 12th century, the builder of Angkor Wat, the forest has run riot here and it is hard to get a sense of the monument’s shape amid the daunting ruins.
We then head to the Tmatboey Ibis Project which links together bird-watching tourism, bird conservation and community development. The site supports globally important breeding populations of two critically endangered Ibis species: the Giant Ibis – a near-mythical species for all bird-watchers – and the White-shouldered Ibis, in the only known nesting site for this species. We stay overnight at the project’s community homestay.
Day 8: Depart Tmatboey. Koh Ker Temple Safari.
We leave Tmatboey and head into the bush to the remote Angkor capital of Koh Ker. In the 10th century Jayavarman IV (928-942) fell out with his family, stormed off to the northwest and established the rival capital of Koh Ker. Although the capital for just 15 years, Jayavarman IV left a legacy of 30 major temples and some gargantuan sculpture that is on display in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. We visit Prasat Thom, a seven-storey step pyramid, more Mayan than Khmer, with commanding views over the surrounding forest, nearby Prasat Krahom or Red Temple and other temples, including the five towers of Prasat Ling, each enclosing a giant linga or fertility symbol, the biggest and best found in situ anywhere in Cambodia.
We then return to our camp for the night, spending the night in a luxury safari tent.
Day 9: Sunrise at Koh Ker. Afternoon visit to Kompong Khleang Floating Village.
We rise early to enjoy a sunrise across the temple complex of Koh Ker and explore some of its lesser sites. We then travel southeast to one of the largest and least-visited villages on the Tonle Sap Lake, Kompong Khleang, about 55km from Siem Reap. It has a population of about 10,000 people, all of whom make a living from the fishing industry. We explore the canals (wet season) or streets (dry season) of this incredible town. We cruise into the open water of the great lake to see a small floating village and learn some more about this incredible natural flood barrier. Later we return to Siem Reap by road.
Day 10: Departure.
Free at leisure until transfer to the airport for departure flight