7 Days / 6 Nights
Day 1: Arrive Phnom Penh. Visit Royal Palace and National Museum.
On arrival check into your 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.
Dinner at Romdeng restaurant.
Day 2: Morning Cooking Class with Master Chef Luu Meng. Free Afternoon. Dinner at Van's.
This morning we enjoy a cooking class at one of the very best restaurants in the city, at Malis. Luu Meng is Cambodia's most renowned chef and if he is available, he will guide you through a morning to remember that includes shopping for ingredients at the local market and then preparing and cooking some choice courses which you can then enjoy for lunch. If Luu Meng is unavailable, his leading chef will take over the class.
The afternoon is free at your own leisure. A sumptuous evening dinner is taken at Van’s restaurant.
Day 3: Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields. Lunch at PSE. Transfer to Siem Reap.
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.
We leave Phnom Penh and travel northeast pausing at Skuon, affectionately known as 'Spiderville', where it is possible to sample the local delicacy of deep fried tarantula. We journey west to the provincial capital of Kompong Thom and continue on National Highway 6 to Siem Reap and check into our hotel.
Dinner at Meric restaurant.
Day 4: Banteay Srei. Cooking Class at Sugar Palm Kitchen.
In the morning 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.
Whilst we are in Banteay Srei, we head for a private cooking class at the Sugar Palm restaurant kitchen, the first choice of restaurants in town for many food officiandos. Home-cooked Cambodian food including an introduction to prahoc will be on the menu as you work with the head chef to produce dishes that will make your mouth water in anticipation. 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 5: Ta Prohm at Dawn. Angkor Thom in the Afternoon.
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. Then we return to the hotel to enjoy some free time.
In the afternoon, we visit the immense walled city of Angkor Thom that was the masterpiece of King Jayavarman VII. The scale is simply staggering and we are immediately overwhelmed by the audacity of Jayavarman on arrival at the city’s gates. We begin our visit at the Terrace of the Leper King, continue along the Terrace of Elephants, and visit the Baphuon, once of the most beautiful temples at Angkor, dating from the 11th century. It has undergone a massive renovation by the French and is now once again open for viewing. Our climax is the enigmatic and enchanting temple of the Bayon. Its 54 towers are each topped off with the four faces of Avalokiteshvara (Buddha of Compassion), which bear more than a passing resemblance to the king himself. We unravel the mysteries of the temple’s bas-reliefs, with their intricate scenes of ancient battles against the Chams and their snapshot of daily life during the Angkor period.
For dinner we head to one of Siem Reap’s abundant Cambodian BBQ restaurants to enjoy a ‘do it yourself’ grill, choosing anything from chicken to crocodile, depending on your own palate.
Day 6: Roluos Lifestyle. Family Lunch. Floating villages.
We travel back in time to one of the earliest capitals in the Angkor area, Hariharilaya, now known as Roluos. 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. We then head for the market in the small country town of Roluos before heading out into the countryside to visit a working farm to find out more about farming techniques that bring the produce of the land to the dinner table.
Then, we travel to Kompong Pluk and board small wooden boats for the trip to visit Kompong Pluk. Cruising down a narrow waterway, we enter this medieval floating village, where the houses stand atop stilts as much as seven metres above the water. Everything lives on the water, pigs, dogs, crocodiles and people, all jockeying for space in this incredible floating town. After a home-cooked meal with a local family, we explore the local wat here, before boarding a bigger boat to take us through the flooded forest and across the Great Lake to Chong Kneas and the holy mountain of Phnom Krom. We climb Phnom Krom for a glorious sunset over the Tonle Sap before heading back to Siem Reap by road.
Dinner at Abacus restaurant.
Day 7: Angkor Wat Sunrise. Departure.
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 is the perfect fusion of symbolism and symmetry and a source of pride and strength to all Khmers. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, this is most famous temple at Angkor. We stay at Angkor Wat to enjoy a picnic breakfast. As the crowds return to their hotels, we venture into Angkor Wat to enjoy its magnificence in peace and quiet, beginning at the bas-reliefs that tell of tales from Hindu mythology and of the glories of the Khmer empire.
Afternoon is free at leisure until transfer to airport for departure flight.