Sousadei! Welcome to Cambodia. Dependent on arrival time there will be the opportunity to explore the capital or simply relax by the hotel pool. There will be a short meeting scheduled to introduce you to Cambodia followed by an optional welcome dinner.
Leaving Phnom Penh we travel into rural Cambodia to Kampot which sits on a picturesque river. On the way we stop at Phnom Chisor mountain temple set on a hill with a magnificent view. The temple was built in the 11th century by King Suryavarman I. It is made of laterite, bricks and carved sandstone. Upon arrival we check into our centrally located hotel, our base for the next two nights, before boarding a local boat for sunset trip on the Kampot River. The river runs through the centre of the town and can flow in both directions as it is closely connected to the sea.
Today we venture out into the countryside to discover the highlights of the Kampot Province including local salt fields, rice fields, fruit and pepper plantations, and the Phnom Chhnork caves. Kampot is also famed for being one of the largest producers of the durian fruit; the durian, once opened, has a smell so pungent it is illegal to take indoors in some South East Asian countries! After exploring the countryside we visit Kep 'ghost town' - previously a popular seaside resort Kep now houses old resort buildings which have bullet holes in from the Khmer Rouge period, a reminder of the not so distant past. Kep is once again regaining popularity with local tourists again and you might like to join them in having lunch in the simple crab shacks that line the beach. Serving up the freshest seafood around the crab in Kampot pepper sauce is not to be missed!
Leaving Kampot in the morning we travel to Koh Kong which is in the Cardamom protected area, one of the world's biodiversity hotspots, and the second largest area of rainforest in mainland Southeast Asia. Getting closer to Koh Kong the route winds its way through roads with jungle on either side and past elephant crossing signs - the Cardamoms are part of the elephant migration path. Koh Kong town is based on the Koh Poi river around a 10 minute drive from casuarina and palm-lined white sandy beaches.
Today is free for optional trips and activities. Koh Kong province is fast establishing itself as Cambodia's eco-tourism destination so there are a wealth of activities to choose from; take a trip to to Tatei waterfall, visit the Peam Krasaop Wildlife Santuary or take a rustic local boat trip to Koh Kong island, the perfect opportunity to relax on a coconut-palmed lined beach and to swim in the crystal clear waters.
After breakfast we begin our journey to Phnom Penh. Located on the banks of the Tonle Sap and the Mekong River Phnom Penh is home to 2.2 million of Cambodia's residents. Despite being the capital it still retains a laid-back typically Cambodian feel where the pace is slower than some might expect. There will however be a fair amount of motorbike dodging as the pedestrian is not favoured on the winding side streets! We continue our exploring with a sunset cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) lap of the town giving us a unique view of this bustling city and providing us with an easy orientation. Stopping to see some of the local street food being served on the waterfront we have the chance to try some local specialities. We continue on to finish at a restaurant serving tasty Khmer cuisine. There are also many waterfront bars worth a visit; the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) overlooking the Tonle Sap River and only a short walk from the hotel is recommended.
The town still retains a frontier atmosphere and today we have a full day of sightseeing in the capital city. The day will include the beautiful Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, so named for the solid silver tiles that make up the floor. Thankfully the complex escaped the worst excess of the Khmer Rouge rule. Similar in style and scale to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, the Royal Palace has significantly fewer visitors and there is plenty of time to wander among the traditional buildings. There is also time today to shop at either the impressive Central Market or the sprawling Russian Market, a souvenir hunter's paradise! We visit Tuol Sleng museum or S21 (Museum of Genocide), which graphically displays the horrors of the 4 years when Pol Pot systematically ordered the murder of between 2 and 3 million Cambodians. Tuol Sleng was originally a school but was used as a torture and interrogation centre between 1976 and 1979. It is a sobering and disturbing place to visit. Please be aware that the images at the museum are very graphic. We complete our day with a moving late afternoon visit to the 'killing fields' of Choeung Ek. A football-field-sized area surrounded by farmland, the killing fields contain mass graves for perhaps 20,000 Cambodians, many of whom were tortured before being killed.
Our destination today is Battambang (pronounced Battambong). Cambodia's second-largest city, Battambang, is centred around an attractive riverside hub with traces of French elegance, friendly Khmer people and well-preserved colonial architecture. There are also some striking examples of Art Deco architecture; Central market, the Victory swimming pool and the train station to name a few. En route to Battambang we have the chance to stop at a pottery village, a silversmith village and a marble handicraft workshop for an insight into local handcrafts and industry. In the evening we'll enjoy an orientation walk along the Sangke River bank and observe daily life of the local people.
Today we cycle through countryside to explore Cambodia's rural way of life. Stopping at villages to see local cottage industries, traditional scarf weaving and traditional farming there will be countless opportunities to interact with the villagers who may be surprised to see us travelling as they do, on a bicycle! We'll reward our morning's efforts with a traditional Cambodian lunch where we'll get to taste a variety of Battambang's famous fish soup, vegetables, fruit and a refreshing coconut. The cycle is easy riding on flat terrain with lots of stops along the way.
After breakfast we head to the town of Siem Reap with stops at the local market at Pouk. Cambodian markets tend to be fragrant affairs - on offer here is Cambodian 'cheese'; one of the strongest smelling cheeses around - perhaps because it is made entirely of fish! The local market is nonetheless a great insight into the daily life of Cambodian's. We will also make a brief stop at the Angkor Silk Farm for a introduction into the life of a silkworm and the production process of this fine textile. This afternoon we walk past the Royal Gardens and along the Siem Reap River front to the Old Market helping us get our bearings in this charming small town. You may like to finish with a visit to the Artisans DAngkor workshop - a not-for-profit organisation which provides vocational training for young people in traditional Cambodian arts.
Our first full day of temple touring is by private bus so we can visit some of the outlying temples such as Banteay Srei. Known as the Women's Citadel this small temple complex with intricate carvings is devoted to Brahma. Particularly impressive are Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm, still covered in jungle, similar to how it was when it first came to light. Discovered for the world in the 1870s, (although always known by the local people), and famously described as being 'grander than anything of Greece or Rome' by the French explorer Henri Mouchot, this world heritage site stands alongside the Pyramids and Machu Picchu as one of the world's most spectacular archaeological sites. Tonight is free to enjoy one of the many restarants on the famous 'Bar Street' boulevard in central Siem Reap. You may also wish to marvel at the skills of the Phare Cambodian Circus troop for an entirely different option or chose to watch some traditional Apsara dancing.
This morning we get set up on mountain bikes for an easy but active ride around the Angkorian ruins that are closer to town. On the bicycle we can avoid some of the crowds and get a unique perspective on this amazing site. If you want to rise early you can arrange with your leader to take in Angkor at sunrise prior to the day's cycling. We will visit the incredible Angkor Wat, the many temples inside the Royal City of Angkor Thom, including the magnificent Bayon, which is comprised of 54 intricately carved towers in one single temple. The Bayon certainly left an impression on an early traveller in 1925 who stated 'we stand before it stunned. It is like nothing else in the land.' Angkor is a truly magical experience and a photographer's paradise, one of the real highlights of our trip. The ride will be approx. 25km with plenty of opportunities for refreshment stops and to for photo opportunities.
This morning is at your leisure in Siem Reap, those on the group flights will make the short journey to the airport late morning.