Highlights of Cambodia – the Kingdom of the Khmer
Unlock the mysteries of Angkor, the ancient city at the heart of the Khmer Empire, before exploring the buzzing present day capital, Phnom Penh. Treat yourself to a stay at an exclusive private island resort in the delightful Koh Rong archipelago to round off your trip.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- Uncover centuries of history at Angkor's sprawling temple complex
- Enjoy a private boat trip to the floating villages of the Tonle Sap
- Experience the thrill of a Cambodian circus performance
- Explore Phnom Penh, Cambodia's fascinating capital city
- Visit the harrowing but essential Killing Fields
- Retreat to a private island resort in the Koh Rong archipelago
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When To Travel
All of the holidays we create are completely tailor-made to you
Day 1: Destination Cambodia
Today (most likely in the afternoon, depending on your routing) you will board an overnight flight from London to Siem Reap, connecting through your chosen hub city in Southeast Asia. Options include routing through Singapore and Bangkok, and the combined flight times should be in the region of 14 or 15 hours with a roughly two-hour connection.
- If you fly via Singapore you can visit the butterfly garden at Changi Airport while you wait for your connecting flight.
Day 2: Arrival in Siem Reap
After changing planes (your bags will be checked all the way through), you will disembark from your connecting flight in Siem Reap where a personal immigration officer will be waiting to greet you.
Making short work of the visa application process and immigration formalities, you'll skip the queues and complete customs checks with a minimum of fuss. You then have a private transfer to the hotel of your choice, where you'll have ample time to relax and settle in.
Day 3: Angkor’s Hidden and not so Hidden Gems
Up and out at first light, your driver will take you to the Archaeological Park where your first stop is photogenic Ta Prohm, one of Angkor's busiest sites, but your early start will help you miss the worst of the crowds.
Explore tranquil Ta Nei and the vertiginous temple mound of Ta Keo, which are considerably further from the beaten track.
After lunch in Siem Reap, return to Angkor Thom, the largest city in the world in the 12th century. Enter from the little-used East Gate and make your way to the iconic Terrace of the Elephants and the adjacent Terrace of the Leper King, named after a weathered statue that had the gnarled appearance of someone afflicted by leprosy. A detour will take you to Preah Palilay, a small Buddhist sanctuary tucked away in the woods, and then onto scalable Phimeanakas and its beautiful ponds.
Pause to see how the jungle has reclaimed Baphuon before finally
reaching King Jayavarman's masterpiece, the Bayon, with its
instantly recognisable oversized faces.
End the day, G&T in hand, on a leisurely boat ride on Angkor Thom's moat as the sun slips gently below the horizon.
Day 4: From Stilt Homes to Stilt Walkers
Board Ella, our custom wooden boat, for a tour of the great Tonle Sap lake, Southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake.
From your comfortable vantage point, take in the classic rural views against a soundtrack of bird calls and gently lapping water. The lake is one of the region's great geographical anomalies - as the mighty Mekong River switches direction during the monsoon, the swollen waters back up and have no choice but to flow into the lake.
This morning you'll gain an understanding of how the local people have adapted to the enormous variation in water level caused by this seasonal phenomenon. You'll see close up the stilt homes of those who live at the margins of the Tonle Sap. Visit the floating village of Meachrey for an opportunity to board one of the bobbing homes to see what life is like for the families who survive through subsistence fishing.
Back on board, enjoy a brunch of croissants, tropical fruit and freshly brewed coffee as you cruise back in the direction of Siem Reap. This afternoon is free to do as you please. Later, pay a visit to the circus, an enthralling blend of visual arts, dance, traditional music and of course, the classic acts you'd expect from a circus.
- Private Helicopter Tour over the Temples of Angkor
Day 5: Cambodia’s Captivating Countryside
This morning's drive out to Banteay Srei Temple takes you through picture postcard villages perched amid verdant rice paddies.
This temple, constructed from pink sandstone, is highly prized for both its detailed carvings and its setting.
Return via the Golden Silk Farm where you'll be treated to a tour of the mulberry farm and a demonstration of the techniques involved in weaving this highly desirable fabric. Resistance is futile when it comes to bagging a souvenir - or several.
This afternoon, continue your foray into a rural landscape little changed for centuries. Ride in an ox cart and explore on foot or by boat off the beaten track villages and homes which provide an intriguing insight into the legacy of the Khmer Kingdom. Learn about the ingenious engineering that created the Western Baray manmade reservoir, have a blessing from Buddhist monks and sip a sundowner in the still of the sunset hour. This evening you'll be serenaded by traditional Khmer musicians while you enjoy a delicious dinner in this magical setting.
- Tethered balloon or hot air balloon over the verdant countryside surrounding Angkor Archaeological Park
Day 6: Behind the Scenes at Angkor
Angkor Wat is at its best at sunrise, when the first rays of light inch up behind the temple's distinctive lotus-shaped towers, flooding the sky with an ethereal rose glow.
Take the time to appreciate the beauty of the UNESCO listed temple reflected in its extensive moat before setting off to explore at close quarters. Around every corner is a delightful bas relief, statue or hidden courtyard.
Later this morning, we can arrange for you to go behind the
scenes. You'll have a rare opportunity to learn about the valuable
conservation work of the German Apsara Conservation Project, and
visit temple sites usually inaccessible to regular visitors.
Exact programmes depend on current work schedules, but previous guests have had the privilege of scaling the scaffolding at Angkor Wat and discussing conservation methods with the team at Prasat Kravan.
Later, you'll transfer to the airport for the short hop to Phnom Penh, where you'll enjoy a city tour. Highlights include the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and National Museum.
Day 7: Historical tour of the capital
Gentle Cambodia hides a dark past. In the late 1970s, the reign of terror of the infamous Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, tore the country apart.
The resultant genocide left the survivors with both visible and intangible scars. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum documents this brutal episode in the country's history. The former high school which the Khmer Rouge converted into an interrogation centre and prison is now a museum and memorial to those that were tortured there. It's a difficult but compelling visit, essential to anyone who wishes to understand today's Cambodia.
After Tuol Sleng, you'll be taken to the Killing Fields Memorial at Choueng Ek. The term refers to the mass graves dug for the victims of the genocide. This is another harrowing yet poignant site.
The afternoon has been left free, giving you time to process what you've seen. This evening, you'll have the chance to experience Phnom Penh after dark. A tuk-tuk will take you to a hard to find restaurant where you'll be treated to a Cambodian barbecue. Be sure to head down to the riverfront to end your evening in style.
- Visit the bar at the Foreign Correspondents Club, the former hangout of journalists and now the meeting place for expats and adventurers. Whether you choose a sunset cocktail or a post-dinner brandy, the stools overlooking the waterfront are the best seats in town.
Day 8: Transfer to Paradise
The buzz of the city is all well and good, but paradise is calling.
Tourists are only just discovering the idyllic islands of the Koh Rong archipelago as the luxury market unveils its newest jewel.
For the ultimate in bragging rights, choose one of the private island resorts where understated elegance and discreet service are the underpinning principles. It will take around four to five hours by car to transfer from Phnom Penh to the jetty where a speedboat waits to whisk you over to the resort.
The rest of the day is yours to relax and unwind while enjoying your exquisite surroundings. Indulge in a leisurely lunch, take a nap, have a swim - spoil yourself.
- The warm shallow waters of Cambodia are rewarding for divers, who'll have the chance to glimpse sharks, barracudas and turtles amid the colourful coral.
Day 9: Channelling your Inner Robinson Crusoe
Start the day by boosting your energy at a morning yoga session, filling you with positivity and firing up your metabolism.
After breakfast, set out to explore the neighbouring Koh Rong Island. The silhouette of this lushly vegetated tropical island comes into view as you disembark, ready to explore its native flora and fauna with your conservationist guide. You'll learn about the island from a cultural and historical perspective also, as you venture into what was once, almost unbelievably, a training ground for Khmer fighters. Your private tour will conclude with a picnic on Koh Rong. In your secluded spot, your guide will lay out blankets, cushions and umbrellas. Recline in style as you enjoy a selection of delicious food and toast each other's health and happiness.
Day 10: Learn to Cook like a Local
You'll have enjoyed some of the finest Khmer cuisine during your time in Cambodia, so why not attempt to recreate one of its most famous dishes for yourself?
The country's signature dish is amok trey - a freshwater fish fillet covered with kreung, a paste made from lemongrass, garlic, galangal, turmeric and kaffir lime. Wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, it is fragrant and has a silky texture. Whatever you cook, you'll do so under the supervision of a talented local chef and sample your creation for lunch.
Afterwards, you'll have time to swim and snorkel. Later still, enjoy a relaxing spa treatment from your vantage point overlooking the ocean. Film fans might be keen to round off the day with an early dinner and a private movie screening within the confines of the villa.
Day 11: Cocoon Yourself from the Pressures of the Outdoor World
Switch your phone to silent and concentrate only on the waterscape that surrounds you as you spend your last lazy day on the island.
Perhaps you'll pamper yourself as you book a spa treatment or two. Maybe you'll ask the hotel's therapists to arrange a meditation session. Later, savour a private dinner set up for your final evening, as the hotel staff prepare a candlelit dinner in a secluded spot on the island.
Day 12: Last Chance to Relax
It's worth waking early to make the most of your final hours in the beautiful setting of the Koh Rong archipelago.
Don your snorkel mask or slip through the calm waters in a kayak. Through the clear waters, it is easy to spot a plethora of marine life, from turtles to tropical fish.
You'll make the return journey to Phnom Penh by boat and road, in time for your international departure flight. As before, you'll connect through a hub city in Southeast Asia en route back to the UK, once again flying overnight.
Day 13: Arrive Home
Having flown overnight you will arrive back in to the UK today.
Frances, Holly and Rosie are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.