Sua s'dei! Welcome to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. You'll be met on arrival at Phnom Penh airport and transferred to your hotel. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm tonight - check with hotel reception for more information and have your insurance details and next of kin information ready for collection. If you have free time in the afternoon, perhaps stroll the streets of Phnom Penh and explore the city, taking in the interesting French colonial architecture. The National Museum, with its collection of classic Khmer craftsmanship, is well worth a visit. Dinner tonight will be at the restaurant run by the Friends organisation, a group which offers food, shelter, medical care, training and educational facilities for homeless, vulnerable or abandoned children. It's a great restaurant to support and the food is delicious – the Western and Asian fusion tapas dishes has put this restaurant on the must visit list.
Notes: Please provide us with your flight arrival details at least 14 days prior to departure in order to arrange the transfer. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you plan to arrive earlier, the arrival transfer can only be offered in conjunction with pre-tour accommodation booked through Intrepid.
Today a full city tour introduces you to the sights of Phnom Penh, a city that lies near the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. The private quarters of the Royal Palace are home to King Sihamoni and are closed to the public. You will, however, be able to visit the Silver Pagoda that lies in the palace complex, which is the most sacred temple in the country. Phnom Penh remains a living relic of the country’s past struggles and successes. Your included visits to the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek tell the story of the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Tuol Sleng is a former school that served as a Khmer Rouge torture centre, and it’s estimated that more than 20,000 people were held and tortured here. The Choeung Ek Memorial is home to stupa made up of some 8,000 human skulls, marking the site of the infamous Killing Fields. This was the execution ground for the torture victims of Tuol Sleng, and standing in this peaceful setting it's almost unthinkable to imagine that to date nearly 9,000 corpses have been exhumed from the area. There is an optional visit to Wat Phnom, the temple that gave rise to the foundation of the city in the 15th century. An ideal way to spend your second evening here is to relax in a cafe by the riverfront.
Notes: The Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are major parts of the experience here, but if you don't wish to visit them, please inform your tour leader.
Take a short flight to Siem Reap (approximately 1 hour). The small but expanding town of Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor. This is the most popular destination for travellers in all of Cambodia, perhaps even in South East Asia. You'll probably notice a change of pace here, so take a walk and enjoy the atmosphere. A visit to the old market is a must, even if you're not looking for souvenirs; wandering through the stalls and surrounding shops the silks, cottons, sarongs, silver and statues are a riot of colour and a feast for the eyes; and there will be one for stomach too if you try some of the cheap, delicious street food. There's also a long tradition of shadow puppetry in the region, and if you're lucky you might catch a show at one of the local restaurants in the evening, perhaps while you're eating the specialty cuisine of Cambodia – amok, the name given to curry steam-cooked in banana leaves.
Spend a full day visiting the amazing temples of Angkor on a guided exploration. Angkor Wat is the largest and most complete structure, and the only one of Angkor's temples that has its entrance facing west – the others face east. Then there is Angkor Thom, the 'Great Royal City', a temple that is famous for its series of colossal human faces carved in stone. Of all the temples visited today, Bayon temple is the centrepiece, with over 200 smiling carved faces and more than 50 gothic towers. For lunch you'll visit the Sala Bai Hotel School where underprivileged local youths learn skills that enable them to find gainful employment in the hospitality industry. After lunch you will head to the Ta Prohm temple, where nature has taken over again, with large trees embedded in the stone foundations of the structure. End the day with a sunset view of the temples: an extraordinary way to see the sun go down.
Notes: The Sala Bai Hotel School is closed on public and school holidays, so on these days an alternative restaurant will be used.
Embrace a very early start today if you wish to experience a sunrise visit to the Angkor complex (this is optional). Later in the morning, venture to the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB), a organisation that rehabilitates animals that have fallen victim to wildlife trafficking and provides a breeding facility for highly endangered animal species. From here, continue onto Banteay Srei. You'll see it's not a huge temple, but thanks to its intricate stone carvings it is sometimes referred to as ‘the jewel in the crown of Angkorian art’. At this point you can either head back to your hotel or carry on exploring more temples, such as Preah Khan. This temple contains a maze of vaulted corridors and is another complex that has been largely reclaimed by the jungle. Your ticket for the Angkor ruins also lets you spend more time exploring this site. Otherwise you might like to take a free afternoon to explore the town or visit Tonle Sap Lake and its floating villages. If you have time, perhaps indulge in a traditional Khmer massage or a Khmer cooking class.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.