Sua s'dei! Welcome to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 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. Consider a visit to Wat Phnom, a peaceful temple situated on a hill for which the city is named. According to legend, a 14th-century woman named Penh found sacred Buddhist objects in the nearby river and placed them here on the small hill. A great way to spend your first evening after the meeting is to stroll along the famous Sisowath Quay and enjoy a coffee or cocktail at one of the many cafes while observing the busy river traffic.
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. In the afternoon consider a visit to the Royal palace. The private quarters of the Royal Palace are home to King Sihamoni and are closed to the public, but you can visit the Silver Pagoda that lies in the palace complex, which is the most sacred temple in the country. An ideal way to spend your second evening here is to relax in a cafe by the riverfront.
Travel by public bus to Battambang (approximately 5-6 hours). Cambodia's second-largest city, Battambang (pronounced Battambong), is a pretty riverside town of French elegance, friendly Khmer people and beautifully preserved colonial architecture. The city is famous for its many statues of animals and divinities that decorate the streets and buildings. The city lacks the traffic of Phnom Penh and the visitor numbers of Siem Reap, so it’s a great place to get a real slice of Cambodia. In the evening, perhaps walk along the riverfront where locals indulge in hobbies such as yoga and folk dancing.
This morning you’ll enjoy a half-day bike trip through the beautiful surrounding countryside of Battambang. Stop along the way to discover the local rural way of life, discovering small cottage industries producing sticky rice, noodles, and fish paste. There are a number of activities for your free afternoon today. You can also see students rehearsing in their circus and music school, and young painters at work in visual arts (open on Mondays and Thursdays only). There’s also an optional cooking class to learn the secrets of local dishes such as amok, Khmer curry, and fried spicy chicken.
The Bamboo Train rail is currently under construction until further notice, and no longer a possible optional activity. The project to repair and relocate the rail is forecast for completion by 2020.
Make a classic journey by private boat across the Tonle Sap Lake (approximately 7 hours), taking in the magnificent views, scattering of fishermen and local people living atop their floating villages. 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. 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 speciality cuisine of Cambodia – amok, the name given to curry steam-cooked in banana leaves.
Notes: Between April and August, when water levels are typically at their lowest, we are unable to travel by boat and instead make this journey by mini bus. So that our Intrepid travellers at this time don't miss out on the Tonle Sap experience, we instead include a boat tour of Tonle Sap from Siem Reap.
Spend a full day temple-hopping with your local guide to make the most of your visit to the world-famous Angkor complex, built between the 9th and 13th centuries when the Khmer empire was the pre-eminent influence in South-East Asia. The ruins are scattered over an area of some 160 square kilometres, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap so you'll have plenty of time to fully appreciate the great archaeological sites. These include Angkor Wat, the Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm. The temples were believed to represent the cosmic world and were set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. The intricately carved bas-reliefs and architectural designs are mind-blowing and there are spectacular photographic opportunities at any time of day - watching a sunrise or sunset is a must.
Continue your exploration of the Angkor Complex this morning on a half-day tour. The constructions you’ll see yesterday and today include the eponymous Angkor Wat, 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, Bayon temple is the centrepiece, with over 200 smiling carved faces and more than 50 gothic towers. You’ll also visit Ta Prohm temple, where nature has taken over again and large trees are embedded in the stone foundations of the structure. Your afternoon will then be free and there are some optional activities to keep you busy. If you feel like some adventure, maybe do the Angkor zip-line course, which gives you a birds-eye view of the beautiful rainforest – and an adrenaline rush, of course. You could get to the heart of Cambodia through its food with a cooking class, where you’ll whip up a 3-course gourmet meal, get to experience local village life, and, best of all, eat your culinary creations. Another option is to visit the sobering Landmine Museum. It's located a little further field, but is well worth the journey.
Travel by private bus to Sambor Prei Kuk and your homestay (approximately 3.5 hours). You will embark on a tour of the village with your local guide. The guide will introduce you to the way of life of the local people, your homestay facilities and your hosts for tonight. Facilities are simple at your homestay, but this is a fantastic opportunity to experience everyday life in rural Cambodia. The temple ruins at Sambor Prei Kuk just nearby are some of the oldest in the country (dating back to the 6th century) and are well worth a visit (this is optional). In the evening, relax and unwind as you enjoy a traditional Khmer dinner with your host family.
Notes: We stay in the one room in multishare accommodation. Depending on the group size, we may use two homestays that are located close to each other. There will be a thin mattress on the floor, with pillow provided and mosquito net. The bathroom facilities will be shared and will often consist of a squat style toilet and a washing area. The washing area may be a shower or it could be Asia-style with a bucket shower. This is when there will be a large bucket of water with a small scoop that you use to poor water over yourself. Towels will be provided for you to use for washing. For passengers wanting a little more comfort we recommend bringing your own towel and extra pillow.
Take a private bus to Kampot (approximately 7 hours), one of Cambodia's most attractive old towns. Famous for its pepper, Kampot supplied most French restaurants with this vital spice for many years during colonial rule. Today, the region is more renowned for its plantations of durian, a spiky, pungent fruit that either incites adoration or sheer loathing. Try it if you dare! In some free time you might choose to stroll along the riverside and observe the French colonial architecture, or have a cup of coffee on the veranda of one of the riverside restaurants and admire the view of Bokor Mountain Range. A traditional massage is also highly recommended. Certainly one of the most enjoyable ways of supporting a local charity, you change into loose cotton pajamas before putting yourself in the capable hands of one of the blind masseurs or masseuses. In a country with no social security, the training and support provided by the centres allows blind Cambodians to support themselves with dignity.
Enjoy a day out in the countryside, giving you the opportunity to discover the jewels of the Kampot Province. Visit the Kampot Pepper Project and learn why Kampot pepper has been acknowledged by international chefs as the world’s best. Also visit the Kampot salt field: the only salt field in Cambodia. A short walk through the rice fields and a climb provides a lovely outlook over the surrounding countryside. A few steps later and you enter the mouth of Phnom Chhnork limestone cave that has a small 7th century brick temple inside it. You will also visit different villages along the way, where you'll have the opportunity to talk to villagers and witness their daily lives. Explore the old buildings near Kep’s oceanfront. The town used to be Cambodia's most popular and prestigious beach town from the early 1900's until the 1960's. During the Khmer Rouge years, many of Kep's mansions and villas were destroyed, but the ghostly remains of many still stand as a silent reminder.
Travel from Kampot to Sihanoukville (approximately 2 hours). Named after the Cambodian royal family, this town has miles of lovely beaches and warm, welcoming people. It's also a jumping-off point to many beautiful islands. For a tasty lunch today you’ll visit one of our Intrepid Foundation projects. The Starfish Project supports local people with disabilities, along with disadvantaged families, so that they can ensure to send their children to school. It also provides a relaxing, attractive environment where travellers can enjoy fresh, delicious food, home-baked bread, coffee, fabulous brownies and cookies. Afterwards, settle in to the beach-life vibe and perhaps take a refreshing swim.
You’ll seek out paradise today when you take a boat out to one of the nearby islands, where you're free to enjoy a barbecue lunch and relax among swaying palms, white sands and blue waters. Enjoy your final day in this paradise by soaking up the beach life and just generally taking it easy. There will also be plenty of time though to explore the town, the market at Otres, the pagodas, and to take in the view from Sihanoukville's surrounding hills. Tonight for dinner, you can try out some of the wide range of tasty food options that line the beaches.
This morning you’ll leave the coast and take a local bus back to Phnom Penh (approximately 4 hours/250 kilometres). The rest of the afternoon and evening is free for further exploration, or maybe some last-minute shopping. Maybe take a walk on the riverfront at the Chatomok, where the Tonle Bassac, Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers meet. Perhaps end your Cambodian journey by joining your fellow travellers for an adventurous dinner – in the early evening market stalls set up selling fried cockroaches, spiders, crickets, grasshoppers and other culinary delights.
This adventure comes to an end today. There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.