Angkor and Phnom Penh
The essential Cambodia in 2 stages. The capital, Phnom Penh with its monuments, its history and its new facets, modern and dynamic, but which remains one of the most exotic and spellbinding cities of Asia. Then there’s rural Cambodia with its landscapes, the Angkor temples and the floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake. A full and abundant program, condensed but not untidy, to savour the wonders of a country that never disappoints.
Day 1: PHNOM PENH
Half-day tour of the city starting with the Royal Palace wherein stands the Silver Pagoda. Norodom Sihamoni, the current King of Cambodia, resides in the building called the “Khemarin Palace”, to which access is prohibited to the public. The “Silver Pagoda” is the name that the Western countries have given to the Royal Temple for her splendid floor which is fully paved in silver tiles, a gift from Napoleon III. Then the National Museum for Fine Arts: an elegant building in red sandstone in Khmer style which houses a superb collection of sculptures, as well as objects of daily use, mostly from Angkor. Last stage a visit to Wat Phnom, Buddhist temple linked to the foundation of Phnom Penh. Legend relates that a “madam Penh ” found by chance several statuettes of Buddha on the shores of the Tonle Sap river and brought them back on to the site, where she founded a temple to keep them housed.
2nd Day: PHNOM PENH – SIEM REAP
Move to Siem Reap. The journey by road (320 km, 6hrs30 approximately) allows you to discover the magnificent landscapes of rural Cambodia, made up of cultivated ground and paddy fields, where sugar palm trees soar high. Wooden houses on stilts, markets and pagodas in bright colors complete the setting. Arrival, settle into the hotel and, depending on the time, start the visit. In the 1920’s, archaeologists began two routes, a “small circuit” of 5 km and the “grand circuit” of 23 km, which remain today the best options for discovery as they logically follow an evolution of styles going through successive periods of time. The first was of Hindu Inspiration: It is therefore logical to begin by one of the oldest, the Prasat Kravan. Built in 931, it is formed by 5 towers, connected between them by a terrace which has beautiful bas-reliefs sculpted into the brick, recently restored, representating Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty. Sunset at Pre Rup, one of the last brick built temples, consecrated 30 years later. It marks the end of an era and offers a superb view on the whole of the site and the towers of Angkor Wat.
3rd Day: SIEM REAP
The morning is spent at Angkor Wat, the most majestic and famous mountain style temple in Khmer civilization. This enormous building is entirely an allegorical representation of Hindu mythology, where the episodes are illustrated in the bas-reliefs which surround the central body like a gigantic comic strip. In the afternoon you move 40 km out of the city to visit Banteay Srei, also called the “Temple of Women”, because a legend relates that it was kept, for a time, by a garrison made up entirely of women. Banteay Srei is especially famous for the beauty of its stone roses and the quality of its bas-reliefs, considered by many specialists as superior to those of Angkor Wat. On the return journey a visit to Banteay Samré, a small and very attractive temple in the same style as Angkor Wat.
4th Day: SIEM REAP
Morning visit to Angkor Thom,”The Great City,” entering by the south gate, preceded by the aisle of giants and demons. Once inside, the first building you see is the Bayon, temple-mountain to the glory of Jayavarman VII, grand Buddhist King, builder of the new capital. Walk to the Baphuon, majestic temple of State recently restored by the EFEO and a base measuring 120 m by 100 m, and the Akas Phimean of Xth century. From there, we pass to the Elephant Terrace and the Leper King. It is most certainly here that took place all the official episodes of court life, with ambassador receptions, sacred dedications and state ceremonies. In the afternoon a visit to the Four temples of the Grand Circuit, such that it was designed by Henri Mouot during the re-discovery of Angkor in 1859. First of all Preah Khanh, one of the most vast and majestic with its aisles lined by trees probably unchanged for a millennia. Then Neak Pean, a Hindu inspired and unique sacred building surrounded by a moat, in which the plan is drawn from a mandala. Ta Som, Buddhist temple with towers covered by faces and today almost engulfed in vegetation similar to the next and final temple: Ta Prohm, certainly the most romantic, with roots of the huge kapok trees entangling the galleries and sculptures.
5th Day: SIEM REAP
Picnic lunch in the village or on the boat.
A boat trip on the Tonle Sap. The largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Heading to the north shore of the lake, stopping along the way to visit a morning market and the small stalls of traditional specialities installed all along the road. 15 km further on, we leave the road to browse a canal by boat to a village of local residents whose homes are still built in the former style, on bamboo stilts high above water level. This site has been placed under the protection of UNESCO because of its ethnological interest. Stroll among the houses to observe the life and day-to-day activities of the people, for the most part linked to fishing and shrimp farming. Then through a second canal that crosses an aquatic forest, preserved by the national authority for the protection of fauna and flora. When the level of the lake is at the highest, only the top of the trees can be seen: You can then browse the forest by canoe, passing under the cover of its foliage. At the exit of the canal one returns to the lake, where you can appreciate the scope and silence, quite unique. After about 1h30 of boating we come to a second village, inhabited for the most part by Khmer and Vietnamese fishermen, and completely afloat: here the houses rise and descend depending on the level of the lake and all life and activities take place on the water. Landing a little further on and then returning to town for any last shopping or direct transfer to the airport, depending on the time of departure.
End of the suggestions.
Picnic lunch in the village or on the boat.