Amaritas’ signature grand tour in Cambodia. A full 21 day schedule, that takes you across the country to discover everything that comprises Cambodian life – its nature, the people, the past and future development. From north to south and from east to west, Cambodia offers a variety of unsuspected landscapes from rice fields dotted by sugar palm trees to the red earth of Ratanakiri, from the Elephant Chain and the Cardamoms to the Mekong valley and the Tonle Sap Lake. So many unforgettable images. As with the Cambodians, looking to the future without being cut off from their roots, their culture nor their traditions. A fascinating discovery, with a complete change of scenery, and an extraordinarily rich and cultural human experience.
A half day city tour starting with the Royal Palace, inside of which stands the Silver Pagoda. Norodom Sihamoni, the current king of Cambodia lives in the building named “Khemarin Palace”, which is prohibited to the public. The “Silver Pagoda” is the name that Westerners have given to the Royal Temple for its splendid floor entirely paved with silver slabs, a donation from Napoleon III. Then to the National Museum of Fine Arts: an elegant red sandstone building in Khmer style which houses a superb collection of sculptures, as well as everyday objects, mostly from the Angkorian period. Last step to Wat Phnom, Buddhist temple linked to the founding of Phnom Penh. Legend relates that “Madame Penh” found by chance several Buddha statues on the banks of the Tonle Sap river and brought them to the site, where she founded a temple to keep them housed.
Optional : cruise at sunset on the Chaktomouk river.(The “River of Four Faces”).
Early morning start to Kratie ,(20 km road 6-7 hrs approximately) through Kampong Cham province. Stop at Skoun market, renowned throughout the country for its culinary specialty: giant land spiders that are only found here and which are eaten roasted or fried. Arriving early afternoon and booking into a resort on an island where no cars are allowed, in an absolutely beautiful setting. Rest of the day is free to explore the island and its villages, walking or by bike, or simply to relax and enjoying the beauty and tranquility of the site.
Dinner at the resort.
Cruise in search of the last freshwater dolphins: the colony that lives in this region is the largest on the river. Departure for Ratanakiri province.(205 km, 5-6 hrs approx). Heading north along the Mekong Valley, which we finally leave turning right into the hinterland to reach the provincial capital, Banlung. Checking in and, depending on the time, optional trip toYak Laom lake, a vast expanse of perfectly round water filling an ancient volcanic crater, surrounded by a beautiful forest, perfect for a refreshing swim in the afternoon.
Dinner at the resort.
Heading in a northwesterly direction, crossing bamboo forests before reaching the hamlet of Voeune Sai, on the left bank of the Sé San river; the view of the Chinese village on the other side of the river is particularly appealing. This place is also almost a Chinese enclave in Cambodian territory: most of the villagers, who have been there for generations, do not even speak Khmer. Upstream of the Se San are a number of minority villages that practice funeral statuary; visit to one of them, filled with superb totems. Depending on the season and river conditions, we will return either by motor boat (1h30) or by 4 × 4 via a jungle track.
Departure in a north-easterly direction, towards the Vietnamese border, and a visit to the Bokeo mines. The route goes along the only paved road in the surrounding area, built with help from the Vietnamese. The mine site is like a shanty town inhabited by a few hundred people, lost in the middle of nowhere. The rush for zircon has transformed the place into a huge Gruyere cheese pierced with hundreds of wells of 60 cm diameter and between twelve to twenty meters deep. The miners go down these wells without any protection, with walls that are not shored up, lighting their way only by candlelight and accidents are frequent. Returning to Banlung and continuing towards the district of Taveng. Stopping on the way to see a cashew nut plantation, as well as one of the many waterfalls in the region. Then crossing over a curious outcrop of volcanic rock at Veyrum Plâng: A perfectly circular clearing in the forest and made up of blocks of lava, a few steps away there’s also a small waterfall (only during the rainy season) surrounded by tiger caves. Then a visit to a large village called Kroeung where one can still look at batchelor homes, particularly interesting. Once they have completed their duties and the young men become heads of their own families, these homes are destroyed before being rebuilt by a younger generation in the following season. A further stop in a village where women grow their own cotton and weave very beautiful fabrics with traditional designs. Return to town during the course of the afternoon.
Morning tour of Banlung market before heading back towards the Mekong and Kampong Cham (370 km, about 8-9h). Shortly before the city, a visit to a rubber plantation, formerly owned by Michelin, where you can still see the different phases of rubber production. Arrive late afternoon. Though very damaged during the war with Vietnam, the center still retains some beautiful colonial houses and a beautiful temple of the eleventh century called Wat Nokor: the latter is linked to a beautiful legend, which is reminiscent of Oedipus. There are beautiful bas reliefs displaying Apsaras, dancing nymphs. Also take note of the particular and original aspect of the central tower, with its unusual architectural shape which is unusual for its time. Today, in the center of Wat Nokor is a modern ‘Vihara’ (place of prayer) that has been built, so one can compare side by side the old architectural elements with the modern.
Shortly after leaving Kampong Cham we pass by two ancient temples, Phnom Proh and Phnom Srey ( “the men’s hill” and the “women’s hill”); not far from there were found 5 graveyards, victims of the Khmer Rouge. Visit the Prasat Phum Prasat, a Hindu religious building of the VIII century, still part of the Chenla period, which preceded that of Angkor and then a climb to Phnom Santouk, a small hill that houses the most beautiful rock carvings in Cambodia, depicting episodes from Buddha’s life before his Enlightenment. About 35 km after Kampong Thom, a visit to the archaeological site of Sambor Prei Kuk, located atop a hill, accessible after half an hour on a bumpy track. Recognized as the second most important site in Cambodia, after Angkor, for the number and importance of its monuments. Sambor Prei Kuk was in the seventh century the last capital of the Chenla period, before moving on to Angkor. There are more than 200 buildings on site, scattered in the heart of a beautiful forest; in the most part they are square or octagonal brick towers, of Hindu inspiration, often decorated with reliefs depicting deities. Along the road to Siem Reap we pass over the many bridges built by the kings of Angkor, including the most famous Spean Kampong Kdei ( “the old bridge”).Arriving late in the day.
The morning excursion to the group of temples called Roluos. Located 13 km southeast of the city, this resort boasts the oldest buildings, which are the cradle of classical Angkorian art. We visit the three main temples: Lo Lei, Preah Ko and Bakong, before approaching the site of the Golden Age. In the 1920s, archaeologists drew up two routes, the “small circuit” of 5 km and the “grand tour” of 23 km, which are still the best logical options to discover the following of the changing of styles through successive periods. The first was of Hindu inspiration: it makes sense to stop to admire the beautiful reliefs carved in the brickwork of Prasat Kravan, built in 931 and it is formed by five towers linked by a terrace and depicts beautiful reliefs in brick, recently restored, representing Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty. In the afternoon a walk through a village to see traditional culture that is still alive, with stilt houses guarded by spirit altars, animist rituals, green vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Today Angkor is still inhabited and this is one of its charms. Then the Srah Srang, the “royal bath”, dug in the tenth century. In the center, there’s a small island bearing foundations of a temple now completely destroyed. The site is more rewarding in the morning and also in the late afternoon, especially after the rainy season when the pool is full, when children bring their water buffalo to cool off and to frolic in the water.
Sunset at Pre Rup, one of the last brick temples, built in 961. It marks the end of the period and offers superb views over the towers of Angkor Wat.
Amarita Note: our guides are committed to seek at all times the best conditions for you to make the most of your visit. In this context, they sometimes may suggest to you to change the order of things or the schedule, especially due to the density of people around, the weather, or the season.
The morning is devoted to Angkor Wat, the most famous of all the majestic temple-mountain sites. The entire building is based on an allegorical representation of Hindu mythology, where the episodes are depicted in the reliefs that surround the central body like a giant comic strip. In the afternoon, a tour of Banteay Srei, also called the “Temple of Women”, because legend relates that at one time it was kept by an all-female garrison. Banteay Srei is famous for its beautiful pink stone and the quality of its reliefs, considered by many senior specialists to be better than those of Angkor Wat. On the way back a stop at Banteay Samre, a small, attractive temple in the style of Angkor Wat.
Day is free for rest, relaxation, shopping, and any additional visits or optional activities.
Optional : several activities are possible during your stay in Siem Reap, such as visiting temples by tuk-tuk or bicycle (day or half day), walking among rice paddies and villages or by quad or ride by horse back or an elephant ride around a temple, a scenic helicopter flight around the temple complex, or watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Detailed information and prices on request.
Morning visit to Angkor Thom, “The Big City”, returning by the South Gate, via the driveway of Giants and Demons. Inside, the first building you see is the Bayon temple mountain in honor of Jayavarman VII, the great Buddhist king, builder of the new capital. Then Phimean Akas, from the tenth century and the Baphuon, majestic temple whose base measures 120 m by 100m, recently restored by the EFEO. From there we move on to the Elephant Terrace and the Leper King. This is most certainly the place where official court life took place, with ambassadorial receptions, sacred representations and State Ceremonies. In the afternoon, on to see the four temples of the Grand Circuit, as conceived by Henri Mouot during the re-discovery of Angkor in 1859. First Preah Khanh, one of the largest and majestic, with its tree-lined fairways which have probably been around for a millennia. Then Neak Pean, of Hindu inspiration, only sacred building surrounded by a moat, and the plan is taken from a mandala. Ta Som, Buddhist temple topped by towers covered in faces, now almost engulfed in vegetation as in the following case: Ta Prohm, certainly the most romantic, with the roots of gigantic kapok trees entangling the galleries and sculptures
Amarita Note: there are now a number of attractions available for the evening in Siem Reap, including some great quality shows, using elaborate choreography and dozens of artists, with or without a shared dinner. In addition there’s countless restaurants that offer dinner with “Apsara” dancing – but be careful, the quality of the show and the food is quite variable. Feel free to contact us or approach your guide for information or reservations.
Move to Battambang by road (175 km, 3h30). First stop after about fifteen km to see a center specialized in the breeding of silkworms, where one can follow all phases in the production of silk fabrics. Shortly before Battambang, a second stop to see the making of rice paper, that is used in many culinary preparations. Then onto Ek Phnom temple where the first construction dates back to 1027: a Hindu-inspired building, consisting of several towers linked to each other by one platform. Today there‘s a modern temple next to it, which is closed most of the time but highly revered by Cambodians, especially during festivals. Afternoon tour of the city with its market, the iron bridge and the Governor’s house, (not French, but Thai, 1830), and some beautiful colonial houses.
Amarita Note: when the water level permits, it is possible to go to Siem Reap from Battambang by boat, crossing part of the Tonle Sap lake and also to visit a riverside village.
The whole day is devoted to discovering Battambang and its surroundings, so far little seen but which has many possible discoveries and activities. The program can be put together beforehand or on site with the guide, based on your interests and the season. This is an opportunity, for example, to visit some modern pagodas, covered with frescoes of all colors, which are located in the city and in the immediate vicinity. Or climb to the small temples atop Phnom Banon and Phnom Sampeou, a hill whose shape resembles a boat ( Sampeou means boat in Khmer). With the first one you will climb 358 laterite steps, with the second almost double the number. But on arrival the views of the city and the plain is superb. Sports enthusiasts can take a kayak ride from the village down to the city center, and gourmets can follow a cooking class and walk to the market and have lunch with a local person. But you can also visit the fish market and the manufacturing of “prohoc “, an essential condiment in Khmer cuisine. Also there’s an incense factory, which produces 2,500 sticks per day, the studio of a sculptor, a rice cake maker … and then for everyone a ride on the “bamboo train” from O’Saloa to O’Tambang: a unique form of transport in the whole world that connects two villages, whilst at the same time providing a beautiful view of the Cambodian countryside.
Amarita Note: two or four times a week, depending on the season, the NGO Phare Ponleu will present an acrobatic circus show for about 1 hour. This association was created to teach a trade in the arts to children from refugee camps, and its circus school is now recognized worldwide. Not to miss.
Back to Phnom Penh by road N.5, along the southwest shore of the Tonle Sap lake. (290 km, about 8 hours). Two thirds down the way, we leave the main road for a very bumpy secondary road that leads to a floating village inhabited by a population of 7,000 people, grouped in about 1,300 families, being either of Vietnamese, Khmer or Cham origin. Unaffected by the tourist flow, the village remains quite authentic. Boat tour along the canals to Kampong Chhnang town itself, which is famous for its pottery. Arriving in Phnom Penh by late afternoon.
Departure for Takeo province, 80 km south-east of the capital, which in large part follows the Vietnamese border. On the way a stop at Tonle Bati to visit the beautiful laterite temple of Ta Prohm, built in the twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII, and Phnom Chisor, a Hindu shrine of the tenth century later converted into a Buddhist monastery. There are ruins spread all over the hillside; the panorama view from the summit is absolutely superb. Continuing on by boat along some canals to the site of Angkor Borei, which, it is believed to be around 1500 years old and was the last capital of the kingdom of Founan, the direct progenitor of the Khmer empire. From late November to mid-January most of the area is completely under water, forming a gigantic lake peppered by some islands and treetops. The landscape is of breathtaking beauty. 5 km south of Angkor Borei stands Phnom Da hill, surmounted by a square laterite tower whose foundations date back to the seventh or eighth century: the oldest known Khmer temple, the beginning of the journey that leads directly to the realization of the Angkor temples, traces of which can already be seen here. Nearby, a small village and a sandstone temple of the XII century, the Ashram Maha Rosey (“Hermitage of the Grand Ascetic”). After this visit we go on to Kep by road, (80 km, about 2 hours), still travelling through an exotic setting filled with rice fields and tall palm sugar trees. Depending on the time available, we can visit a pepper plantation; a specialty of the region.
Excursion to Rabbit Island, located approximately 4.5 kilometers southwest of Kep (by boat half an hour). Its biggest attraction is made up of two beautiful white sandy beaches. The sea here is shallow and the bottom slopes gently, making it excellent for swimming. In the ’60s, it was used as a place of rehabilitation for criminals, who were also used at a certain time to defend the place. On the sea bottom a wide variety of corals, marine life and plants.
Picnic lunch on the beach.
Morning departure to Kampot ,provincial capital that retains some fine colonial buildings, including the residence of the Governor and the Central Post Office. Tour of the town and a cruise on the river to the famous waterfalls of Kamchay, noted in the area for its cool waters, and therefore very popular with Cambodians for swimming. Stopover in a durian plantation: this very sweet fruit with a spiky skin has an excellent taste while giving off a foul smell. Landing and excursion to Phnom Bokor National Park, with a climb to the top, where there’s a pagoda, a Catholic church that served as a refuge for the Khmer Rouge, some old houses and the colonial era casino. Incomparable panoramic view of the coast and islands. Continue the trip by road to Sihanoukville, arrived during the afternoon.
Free days for your seaside holiday with possibility of optional excursions (see description below).
Last morning on the beach and returning to Phnom Penh in the afternoon.
Day is free till transfer to the airport in time for your departure flight.
End of services.
Optional : visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that became the center of detention and torture under the Khmer Rouge, or visit the extermination camp at Choeng Ek (Killing Fields), or the PES Association, “For a Child’s Smile”, which provides food and educates children found on the rubbish pits of Phnom Penh.
This biosphere conservation area was established in 1993 and is located on a peninsula on the coast of Sihanoukville. The landscapes are original as are the locals with some of their traditional activities. Also, there are beautiful deserted beaches lined with mangrove trees that are ideal for a nice swim. Travelling by road and then by boat through a mangrove forest. Disembark and walk about 20 minutes to a deserted beach. Rest, swimming and returning to Sihanoukville during the afternoon.
Move to Sihanoukville port and then departure by boat on to Koh Rong island, one of the largest amongst those found along the Cambodian coast with Thailand. Distant enough, it is difficult to reach by small boat, and so far remains unspoilt by mass tourism. Swimming, resting and sunbathing. Returning during the afternoon.