Myanmar Cambodia Explorer
16 days / 15 Nights
Day 1: Arrive Yangon. City tour.
After arrival In Yangon, our first stop will be at the Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda to see a 70 meter long reclining Buddha statue before we head into the city center and visit the Sule Pagoda and Bogyoke Market. Then it’s onto the legendary Shwedagon Pagoda. Witness the colors transform on the 100-meter chedi which is literally enclosed in over 40 tons of gold leaf. Shwedagon is largely considered to be the most important religious site for the Burmese.
Day 2: Fly to Bagan. Ananda Temple and sunset.
After breakfast we take a domestic flight to Bagan, the center of Myanmar from the 11th to 13th centuries and home to 4,000 evocative stupas and pagodas on the shores of the Irrawaddy River. We start at the golden stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda for a closer look at Bagan’s affluent past. Continue to Wetkyi-In, Gubyaukgyi, a cave temple with beautiful wall paintings and the stylish Htilominlo Temple.
This afternoon will begin with a visit to a traditional lacquer workshop followed by Ananda Temple, certainly one of Bagan’s most beautiful temples, housing two distinctive Buddha images. Their expressions transform, according to your viewing point. By horse cart we visit Thatbyinnyu, the tallest temple in Bagan, Dhammayangyi Temple noted for its remarkable brickwork, and Sulamani Temple. We watch the extraordinary sunset over the plains from the higher verandas of one of these 3 temples.
Day 3: Markets, school visit, village life and crafts.
We start the day at the Nyaung U market, followed by a drive to Ngat Pyit Taung Monastery and the chance to explore the temple’s caves, with a visit to the Monastic Primary School where you can observe the children in their classrooms. NOTE ( School visits are not possible on Saturdays and Sundays). *An optional tour could be a memorable hot air balloon ride over Bagan (only available Oct-March).
This afternoon we begin with a walk through Myinkaba village where you’ll have the chance to see local craftsmen at their lacquer workshop. We carry on to Manuha Temple (constructed in 1059) and investigate the Nanbaya Temple, a distinctive sandstone shrine, which according to myth, was the bastion of King Manuha. Then it’s off to Bupaya Pagoda or Mingala Zedi Stupa to catch the sunset over the celebrated Ayeyarwaddy River.
Day 4: Fly to Mandalay. City tour.
We take a domestic flight to Mandalay, the second largest city of Myanmar, and begin with a visit to Mahamuni Pagoda. This pagoda houses one of the country’s most honored Buddha images, completely covered in gold leaves. We carry onto Kuthodaw Pagoda (where the 729 marble stone slabs of Buddhist scriptures are called the ‘World’s Biggest Book’). Then it’s off to Shwenandaw Monastery, before we reach summit of Mandalay Hill to catch the stunning sunset views.
Day 5: Ancient capitals of Amarapura, Ava and Sagaing.
We begin with an expedition to investigate the previous capitals of Amarapura, Ava and Sagaing, starting at Amarapura’s Mahagandayon, home to more than a thousand monks, and a busy alms collection. Then it’s on to Ava which was the standing capital from the 14th through the 18th centuries. By horse and carriage, we visit Bagaya Monastery renowned for its extraordinarily elaborate woodcarvings and the Nanmyint Watch Tower - also called “the leaning tower of Ava“ – the remnants of the ancient palace, and Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery.
After lunch we cross the Irrawaddy River to Sagaing, with Sagaing Hill known as the spiritual hub of Myanmar and which claims residence to around 3,000 monks and nearly 100 meditation shrines. We stroll along the legendary U Bein Bridge which at 1.2 kms is said to be the longest teakwood bridge worldwide, before we return to Mandalay.
Day 6: Fly to Heho and onto Inle Lake. Phaung Daw U Pagoda.
After breakfast we take a domestic flight to Heho. After an hour’s drive we reach Nyaung Shwe, gateway village to Inle Lake. En route, we’ll stop at the teak monastery of Shweyanpyay to witness the intricate wood carving artwork. We take a boat out onto Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s most spectacular sights. We’ll pass several stilted Intha villages built over the lake, and observe the local leg-rowing fishermen and see their ‘floating gardens’.
We’ll check into the hotel and then visit Nga Hpe Chaung Monastery, which houses many early Shan Buddha Images. It’s also famous for its unique ‘jumping cats.’ We continue onto Phaung Daw U Pagoda, the lake’s main haven, which contains five sacred images of Buddha decorated in gold leaf. A stop at the weaving village of Inpawkhone and a cheroot factory, where traditional Burmese cigars are handmade, will close the day.
Day 7: Inle Lake and Indein Pagoda. Fly to Yangon.
After breakfast we visit the lake’s morning market, the location of which changes every day.A 1-hour boat ride will take you to the Pa-Oh village of Indein, on the western shore of Inle Lake. We ascend the moss-covered stairway to the top of a hill, and the Indein Pagoda complex with its iconic Buddha image which sits enshrined among hundreds of stupa ruins and overgrown shrubbery. We return to Heho Airport for a short flight back to Yangon, with the rest of the day at leisure.
Day 8: Fly to Siem Reap. Roluos group.
Today we depart for Siem Reap, the gateway to the fabulous temples of Angkor in Cambodia. On arrival in Siem Reap 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.
Day 9: Koh Ker Temple Safari.
Today we head to the remote temple complex 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. Here we spend the night in a comfortable safari tent.
Day 10: Koh Ker. Return to Siem Reap via Beng Mealea.
We rise early to enjoy a sunrise across the temple complex of Koh Ker. We then 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 return to Siem Reap to relax.
Day 11: Preah Khan and floating village of Kompong Pluk.
We head out after breakfast 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.
Next we travel to the Tonle Sap Lake 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. We also explore the local wat and the nearby flooded forest before heading back to Siem Reap.
Day 12: Ta Prohm Dawn. Banteay Srei.
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.
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. On the way back to Siem Reap, we visit the Cambodia Landmine Museum to learn more about the scourge of landmines and the shadow they cast over rural communities in Cambodia with a visit to this flagship museum promoting mine awareness and education. We also call in at Banteay Samre before heading back to our hotel.
Day 13: 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.
Day 14: Drive to Phnom Penh via Sambor Prei Kuk.
After breakfast we head to Kompong Thom, where 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. We continue southwards to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.
Day 15: Royal Palace and National Museum. Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields.
In the morning, 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.
This afternoon, 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.
Day 16: Markets. Departure.
This morning you can relax before your departure. Or take the option to visit the best of the local markets. The Russian Market is a great place to grab some bargains for example or try the renovated art deco Central Market. Or take the chance to visit Wat Phnom, the spiritual centre of the city.