Sua s'dei! Welcome to Cambodia. The sensational Angkor ruins may be the main attraction, but Cambodia’s exquisite temples, remote villages and magical markets deserve lots of attention too. With genuine locals always ready to share a sincere smile, Cambodia will steal your heart and enrich your spirit. 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. Phnom Penh is set at the meeting point of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, and life centres around the lively river-front area. This evening perhaps join the locals as they come to take in the air, snack on the street hawker food and enjoy impromptu waterside entertainment.
Start your adventure on mountain bike, crossing the river by local boat, and then riding through the villages on an island in 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. Then return to Phnom Penh for a free afternoon to sightsee. Your leader can help you organise many optional activities. Phnom Penh remains a living relic of the country’s past struggles. The Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek tell the story of the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge. The former school of Tuol Sleng 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. Perhaps visit Wat Phnom, the temple that gave rise to the foundation of the city in the 15th century, or the Royal Palace complex’s Silver Pagoda, 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.
Notes: Total cycling distance today is 25 kilometres./ 15 miles
This morning leave early by private bus for Kratie (approximately 6 hours). En route, pass through Skuon, a small town famous for its tasty spiders where it's possible to sample an eight-legged snack. Eat these furry arachnids like a crab, cracking the body open and pulling the legs off one by one – a delicious snack for the adventurous! Kratie is a picturesque town on the banks of the Mekong, and was until recently a strategic trading port between Phnom Penh and Stung Treng. Both the French and Khmer Rouge found the town useful and there are a number of French colonial buildings that remain. Board a local boat from Kratie waterfront to Koh Trong for your homestay – approximately 280 families call this 6-kilometre island home. Depending on the season and the river height, you may need to walk up a stretch of beach and then take a local bike to your destination. The island is famous for growing the citrus fruit pomelo (supposedly some of the best in Cambodia), rice and other agricultural products. Your homestay is a wonderful opportunity to witness everyday Cambodian life, and this evening you'll taste a traditional-style dinner. Facilities are basic and multi share with mattresses, bedding and mosquito nets provided. With hammocks strung up beneath the house, this a very scenic place to unwind. A 9-kilometre loop around the island’s perimeter is perfect for a leisurely cycle through traditional Khmer villages, fruits orchards and rice fields, observing daily rituals and routines of traditional village life. (1 hour cycling)
After breakfast, take a guided walk around the local villages (1 hour walking). It's a great way to see how the locals live and to learn more about the culture of this particular part of Cambodia. During the Khmer Rouge a lot of the forests in the centre of the island were cut down, and so the villagers have started a tree-planting project at Wat Ty Pram Kbal Koh Trong. You’ll have the opportunity to contribute to the project by helping to plant a tree in the pagoda grounds. Then say goodbye to your island home and head back to the mainland. In Kratie you’ll wander down the river boulevard and explore the town & local market. Afterwards, head towards Kampi stopping to visit Phnom Sambok Temple complex. Here you will gain an insight into Buddhism while enjoying an invigorating hike up 360 steps to the top of the hill for a magnificent view. Once in Kampi you will head out in small boats along the Mekong river to view the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. Later, continue on to Stung Treng (approximately 2.5 hours travel from Kratie) Once part of southern Laos, Stung Treng switched to Cambodian ownership during the French colonial era. However, many people here speak both Khmer and Laos. Head out to uncover some local snacks at the market in town. Your leader can help you discover the regional delights.
This morning start early for a full day of activities. Travel to the village of Voeun Kham and then catch a local boat towards the famous thundering Sopheak Mitt Waterfall in the Mekong River on the Cambodia-Laos border, which crashes over limestone crags and boulders in a wonderful example of nature’s raw force. Surrounded by beautiful scenery, park the boat and head off on a hike to the stunning waterfall through lush tropical jungle. Be rewarded with a picnic style lunch overlooking the waterfall. Afterwards, hike back to the boat and continue on to the village of Osvay passing by the the Anlung Cheuteal Dolphin Pool (although extremely rare to see them, the freshwater dolphins are known to frolic in these wetlands filled with fish). Then jump in kayaks and enjoy the memorable experience of paddling and floating in a kayak down the river through spectacular flooded forests to Veun Sien village, before travelling by boat back to Osvay village. After a wonderful day out in nature, return to Stung Teng for the night and give your muscles a rest after working them out all day.
Notes: Total trekking time today is 1.5-2 hours, and total kayaking time is 2.5-3 hours.
This morning, set out on your journey to Siem Reap, travelling through the wilds of Cambodia (approximately 4.5 hours). Before you hit civilisation, jump out of the bus and get ready for a scenic walk on sandy dirt trails through the villages into Siem Reap. This is the side of Siem Reap that many tourists just never see. Get your first preview of the Angkorian temple magnificence that you’ll experience tomorrow as you pass Wat Bakong (unfortunately you can’t go in). Walking under shady old trees, past small villages and rice plantations, you will get to see how the locals really live in this town. Finish at a modern pagoda before climbing back into the bus for the last few kilometres to Siem Reap. 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. With its cafes, bars, restaurants, food and drinks stands, Siem Reap caters for foodies of all persuasions. 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. Upon arrive into Siem Reap your leader will take you on an orientation walk to help you get acquainted with this bustling town.
Temple hop with your local guide today 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 photo opportunities at any time of day. Tonight with free time in the city a great optional activity is to visit to Phare, the Cambodian Circus. Coming from vulnerable households, the performers have gained international recognition through their art practice. Like a Cambodian Cirque Du Soleil, modern Khmer tales mix theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, juggling, aerial acts, and contortion. Your leader can help you purchase tickets to this show.
This morning, get set up on mountain bikes for a fun ride around the Angkorian ruins. By taking the bike you can avoid some of the crowds and get a unique perspective on this amazing site. Take the back roads along the river through local villages and into the Angkor Park. Your first stop is Phnom Bok – climb up 633 steps to the temple-ruin on top of the hill for an amazing view of the surrounding countryside. You can feel like Indiana Jones as you explore the small temple, together with the remains of a 5-metre long sandstone fertility symbol. On your return to Siem Reap, you’ll cycle along the wall of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. With the moat on one side and thick jungle on the other, you will rarely see another visitor. Tonight gather your fellow travellers and venture out to a local restaurant and celebrate the end of your adventure with an optional group dinner.
Notes: Total cycling distance today is approximately 60 kilometres.
The final day is departure day and no activities have been planned. If you have extra time you might like to schedule an Angkor zip-line and canopy walk adventure, a tasty Khmer Cooking Class, treat yourself with high tea at Raffles Hotel, or simply relax by the pool.