Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place, and have your insurance details and next of kin information ready for collection. If you arrive early, why not take a riverboat to Chinatown, uncover the magnificent Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, pay a visit to Wat Pho (home to the country's largest reclining Buddha), or indulge in some Thai massage. After the meeting, perhaps gather your fellow travellers to go and taste the city's world-class street food.
Rise early for today's long journey. Jump on a private bus and head for the border. Exit Thailand at Aranyaprathet and enter Cambodia at Poipet. Your leader will help you with border procedures. If you are getting your visa at the border, be sure to have US dollars at the ready. It's a further three hours to Banteay Chhmar (Citadel of the Cat) and there will be a stop along the way so you can purchase lunch or snacks. Some of the road is in bad repair, which slows the journey down, but it's worth it for the destination – a charming small village community, far away from the tourist trail. The 9th-century temple here is a top candidate for World Heritage Status, with the ruins surrounded by wall that stretches some nine kilometres across. Tonight you'll experience true Cambodian hospitality by staying with a local family in an traditional wooden-stilt Khmer house. As the day draws to a close, sit down to a delicious Khmer dinner by torch-light in the grounds of the temple.
Note that facilities are basic; a mattress, linen and mosquito net are provided. There is shared bathroom facilities with squat toilets
After breakfast, pack your bags and head to Siem Reap by private mini van (approximately 4 hours). You'll be taken on short introductory walk around the centre of town when you arrive. The small but expanding town of Siem Reap is well-known as the gateway to Angkor, but there's a few things to do in the town itself too. Start by hitting the markets – a great place to sample cheap and tasty street eats. Ask your leader for further recommendations.
Spend a full day temple-hopping with your local guide. This amazing complex was built between the 9th and 13th centuries when the Khmer empire was the pre-eminent influence in South-East Asia. It's quite spread out, with the ruins scattered across some 160 square kilometres, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap, and you'll have plenty of time to explore them. Be dazzled by the Bayon, the jungle-covered Ta Prohm and of course the crown-jewel temple, Angkor. The ornate carvings and architectural designs can be appreciated at any time of day, but at sunrise or sunset they make for a magical spectacle.
Pay a visit to the Green Gecko Project, a local initiative supported by The Intrepid Foundation. It provides security, education, love and opportunities to children, families and the broader community, helping them to break the begging cycle and reintegrate into society. Afterwards, enjoy some free time in Siem Reap. If you feel like some adventure, you can take the optional Flight of the Gibbon zip-line and canopy walk, which gives you a bird's eye view of the rainforest – not to mention an adrenaline rush. Epicureans can get out and taste the treats of the countryside on a 'Cambodia Cook-out' Urban Adventure. Or, to learn more about Cambodia's sobering but important history, visit the Landmine Museum, located a little further afield. There's also the option tonight of visiting the impressive Phare, the Cambodian Circus.
Travel to Phnom Penh by comfortable public bus (approximately 6 hours). Cambodia's capital is set on a major junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers. In central Phnom Penh, you can't miss the beautiful Silver Pagoda. Part of the Royal Palace complex, this stunning temple gains its name from the 5,000 silver tiles covering the floor. A visit to the National Museum is also well worth your time. Housed in a beautiful traditional building, it contains many outstanding examples of Khmer craftsmanship. You might also like to visit Wat Phnom which, set atop the only hill in the city, is a nice retreat from the hustle and bustle of town. If you're in the mood for shopping, explore the art deco-designed Psar Thmei (Central Market) or the Psar Tuol Tom Pong (the Russian Market).
Enjoy a mountain bike adventure this morning. First you will cross the river on a local boat, then pedal through the villages on an island situated along the Mekong River. The island is famous for silk weaving, agriculture and aquaculture. Stop to see locals at work in the village and enjoy cycling on quiet roads through orchards and along rice paddies. The ride covers about 25 kilometres. In the afternoon, enjoy free time for sightseeing around Phnom Penh. Your leader can help your organise many optional activities – ask for a recommendation. The Choeung Ek Memorial and Killing Fields are confronting, but recommended for those looking to deepen their knowledge of the nation's history.
Transfer to Andong Teuk Village in a private mini van (approximately 3.5 hours), and from there take a local boat upstream on the Piphot River to the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains (approximately 2.5 hours). These beautiful hills are a biodiversity hotspot and one of the last remaining wild elephant corridors, extending all the way down from China. Your remote destination, Chi Phat village, has been gaining additional income from visitors since a community project was started in 2008 to stop forestry. The project is an initiative of Wildlife Alliance, and it is possible to do some tree planting while you are here. After a local lunch, check into your homestay. Then embark on a trek to the Chhay Chrey rapids with a local guide (approximately 2 km). Here you can relax and take a refreshing swim. Stay with a local family tonight for an authentic experience of everyday Cambodian life.
Note that facilities are basic; a mattress, linen and mosquito net are provided, and local food is simple but tasty. There is shared bathroom facilities with squat toilets.
Depart Chi Phat for the journey to Ko Kong, which is located near the Cambodia–Thailand border. Aprroximate travel time today is 2.5 hours by boat and 2 hours by private mini van. On the way there you will make a short trek (approximately 40 minutes) to the awesome Tatei waterfall. Here you can take a swim below the 4-metre falls which, in the wet season, make quite a racket. Continue to Ko Kong and settle in and relax. Situated on the Ko Poi river, the town close to beautiful white sandy beaches with palm trees. It's also close to the Thai border, so it's a lively trading port.
Today is yours to spend as you please. Ko Kong province is fast establishing itself as Cambodia's number one eco-tourism destination, so there are a wealth of activities to choose from. You might like to visit the Peam Krasaop Wildlife Santuary, or take a rustic local boat trip to Ko Kong island – the perfect opportunity to relax on a coconut palm-lined beach and to swim in the clear waters of the sea.
Leave Ko Kong for the short journey to the scenic seaside international border crossing at Cham Yaem / Had Lek. After completing the immigration process, it's a journey by minivan and boat to Ko Chang (approximately 2 hours). Surrounded by beaches and fishing villages, with central areas covered by jungle, Ko Chang is a relaxing finale to your Asian adventure.
Enjoy free time today to enjoy the sun and sand. Your leader can help you arrange optional snorkelling or cycling trips to explore the island and its surrounds. If you'd rather keep it simple, find yourself a nice quiet spot on the beach and soak up the laidback beach vibes.
Say goodbye to the coast as you head back to the big city. You'll be transferred by minivan for your public bus connection to Bangkok. On arrival, perhaps go out for a final dinner with your fellow travellers to celebrate.
Your trip comes to an end today, with no activities planned.