12 days / 11 nights
Enjoying a different type of journey through Cambodia is the focus of this 12-day combination that includes a wide range of activities from cycling to horse-riding to quad-biking and delving into caves on the hunt for ancient temples. We begin in Siem Reap with sunrise visits to Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm, cycling out to ancient temples and floating villages, quad-bike fun at sunset and a zipline adventure through the Angkor forest. We head south to lively Phnom Penh and take to the water for two boat trips, cycling on an island in the Mekong River and the rest of the highlights of this cool capital city. The South Coast beckons and re-vitalised Kep is our target for an island adventure and cave pagoda exploration before we head to Koh Kong, an emerging ecotourism centre that includes jungle waterfalls, protected mangroves and stilted coastal villages.
- Day 1: Arrive Siem Reap. Cycling Roluos and Kompong Pluk.
- Day 2: Kbal Spean, Banteay Srei, Landmine Museum. Sunset Quad-biking.
- Day 3: Ta Prohm at dawn. Zipline adventure at Angkor. Horse riding to Wat Athvea.
- Day 4: Angkor Wat sunrise and visit. Angkor Thom in the afternoon.
- Day 5: Fly Phnom Penh. Royal Palace, National Museum. Sunset boat cruise.
- Day 6: Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields. Koh Dach cycling trip.
- Day 7: Phnom Penh to Kep.
- Day 8: Rabbit Island.
- Day 9: Kep Cave pagodas.
- Day 10: Travel to Koh Kong. Stay at 4 Rivers Ecolodge.
- Day 11: Koh Kapi and Peam Krasaop.
- Day 12: Transfer to Thai border for beach extension or connections to Bangkok.
Day 1: Arrive Siem Reap. Cycling Roluos and Kompong Pluk.
On arrival check into your hotel.
After breakfast, we depart by tuk tuk to the drop off point near the bus station. From there, we ride past small rural villages towards Bakong temple. In the wet season, this ride provides magnificent views of endless paddy fields. Upon arrival at Bakong, the temple can be explored. The next temple, Prasat Preah Ko, is situated only a mere 300m away. After crossing Highway 6, Lolei can also be visited. These temples are called the Rolous Group and were built in the 9th century when the first capital, Hariharalaya, was located here. From the main entrance of Bakong the road continues to Psar Bakong, a very traditional country town market. A right turn onto a paved road will lead towards the most beautiful floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake, Kampong Pluk. At the harbour, a local boat is prepared and provides a wonderful tour through the floating village. Kampong Pluk is still quite unexplored and has an atmospheric submerged forest to explore. Lunch can be enjoyed in one of the floating houses in the form of a picnic.
After this visit, the tuk tuk transfers back towards Siem Reap where a rewarding shower and cool drink awaits.
Day 2: Kbal Spean, Banteay Srei, Landmine Museum. Sunset Quad-biking.
We journey north to Kbal Spean. The original ‘River of a Thousand Lingas’, Kbal Spean is an intricately carved riverbed deep in the foothills of the Cambodian jungle only discovered in 1969. The Khmers venerated its limestone bed with a riot of carvings, including thousands of lingams. A trip to Kbal Spean is one of the easiest ways to experience a short jungle trek in the Angkor area, as it is a steady but scenic climb to reach the river carvings.
We head to Banteay Srei, Angkor’s ultimate art gallery. This petite pink temple is the jewel in the crown of Angkor-era sculpture. The elaborate carvings here are the finest found in Cambodia and the name translates as ‘Fortress of the Women’, thanks to the intricate detail here, considered too fine for the hands of a man.
On the way back to Siem Reap, we visit the Cambodia Landmine Museum to learn more about the scourge of landmines and the shadow they cast over rural communities in Cambodia with a visit to this flagship museum promoting mine awareness and education. Then, we transfer to take a Quad-bike tour to see sunset. It is started in late afternoon, the Sunset tour takes you through 12 kilometres of the countryside immediatley surrounding Siem Reap and ends with a beautiful view of the setting sun as it dips below the rice fields.
Day 3: Ta Prohm at dawn. Zipline adventure at Angkor. Horse riding to Wat Athvea.
We rise early to travel to Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm has been abandoned to the elements, left as it was ‘discovered’ by French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860, the tentacle-like tree roots here are slowly strangling the surviving stones. After soaking up the unique atmosphere of Ta Prohm, we continue to the giant pyramid of Takeo, one of the highest temples in the Angkor area. Built at the end of the 10th century, it was never completed.
We walk to the first great Buddhist monastery in Cambodia, Banteay Kdei, built in 1186 by Jayavarman VII. We explore its extensive corridors and elegant sculptures. Although it is in a ruinous state, it often receives far fewer visitors than nearby Ta Prohm, giving it a serene atmosphere. We then visit the royal bathing pond of Sra Srang.
A unique way to enjoy Angkor is by the latest adrenaline adventure of ziplines, with safety at the forefront. It’s family‐friendly, flying through the air above the jungle canopy is an exhilarating experience and there’s also a 15m abseil to the ground to navigate. Back on firm ground, we can enjoy a horse-ride in the lovely countryside surrounding Siem Reap, pass through rural villages and visit an ancient Angkorian temple at Wat Athvea, in the grounds of a modern pagoda.
Day 4: Angkor Wat sunrise and visit. Angkor Thom in the afternoon.
Rising at the crack of dawn, we journey out to the Mother of all temples, Angkor Wat. Believed to be the world's largest religious building, this temple is the perfect fusion of symbolism and symmetry and a source of pride and strength to all Khmers. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, this is most famous temple at Angkor. We stay at Angkor Wat to enjoy a picnic breakfast. As the crowds return to their hotels, we venture into Angkor Wat to enjoy its magnificence in peace and quiet, beginning at the bas-reliefs that tell of tales from Hindu mythology and of the glories of the Khmer empire.
In the afternoon, we visit the immense walled city of Angkor Thom that was the masterpiece of King Jayavarman VII. The scale is simply staggering and we are immediately overwhelmed by the audacity of Jayavarman on arrival at the city’s gates. We begin our visit at the Terrace of the Leper King, continue along the Terrace of Elephants, and visit the Baphuon, once of the most beautiful temples at Angkor, dating from the 11th century. It has undergone a massive renovation by the French and is now once again open for viewing. Our climax is the enigmatic and enchanting temple of the Bayon. Its 54 towers are each topped off with the four faces of Avalokiteshvara (Buddha of Compassion), which bear more than a passing resemblance to the king himself. We unravel the mysteries of the temple’s bas-reliefs, with their intricate scenes of ancient battles against the Chams and their snapshot of daily life during the Angkor period.
Day 5: Fly Phnom Penh. Royal Palace, National Museum. Sunset boat cruise.
Fly to Phnom Penh and on arrival head to your hotel for check-in.
In the afternoon, we explore the stunning Royal Palace complex, home to the Cambodian royal family and a symbol of the nation. We enter the Throne Hall where the royal receptions are held, see the Napoleon III Pavilion made from iron, a gift from the French emperor in the 19th century and continue to the Silver Pagoda, named after the 5000 silver tiles covering the floor, each weighing 1kg. Inside are some of the country's most cherished treasures, including a life-size gold Buddha studded with 9584 diamonds, the largest weighing 25 carats. There is also a delicate emerald Buddha made of baccarat crystal, which gives the temple its Khmer name of Wat Preah Keo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha).
We leave the Royal Palace and continue to the nearby National Museum, home to the world's finest collection of sculpture from the Angkor period. The exquisite building was completed in 1920 and features collections from the pre-Angkor, Angkor and post-Angkor periods. We concentrate on the incredible sandstone sculpture from Angkor, as well as the intricate bronzes.
In the late afternoon, we board a local boat for a sunset cruise on the river. We set off on the Tonle Sap River, which famously reverses direction each year, acting as the world's largest natural flood barrier for the Mekong River. We cruise past the Royal Palace compound and around the Chrouy Changvar Peninsular on to the mighty Mekong River. We cruise past small villages and see fishing boats preparing their catch. We return to Phnom Penh after dark.
Day 6: Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields. Koh Dach cycling trip.
We come face to face with the horrific crimes of the Khmer Rouge. Tuol Sleng was a former high school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a centre for interrogation, torture and death. Today it is a museum of torture and serves to remind visitors of the terrible atrocities that came to pass in Cambodia. 17,000 people passed through the gates of this prison and only seven lived to tell the tale. The Khmer Rouge were meticulous in their record keeping, photographing all the prisoners and many of these haunting black and white images are on display in the cells. Tuol Sleng is a profoundly moving experience and not everyone will want to visit. However, it is key to understanding the hell into which Cambodia descended and how far it has come in the years since.
We then travel out of town to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Prisoners from Tuol Sleng followed this same route to their fate. An old Chinese cemetery, Choeung Ek was turned into an extermination camp for political prisoners. The remains of 8985 people were exhumed from mass graves and are kept in a memorial stupa here. Despite the horrors of the past, it is a peaceful place to go and a tranquil spot to reflect on the tragic events that engulfed Cambodia and its people.
After lunch we board a boat for a look at rural Cambodia on the nearby island in the Mekong River called Koh Dach, also known as ‘Silk Island’. The island has no cars to disturb the idyllic scene, where silk weaving is a key element of village life. Cycling across the island, we’ll stop at Wat Yeak and pass by fruit orchards and vegetable farms on our way to the sandy beach at the north of the island, which is favoured by locals from the city, for some snacks. We then return along the island’s eight kilometer length to reunite with our boat.
Day 7: Phnom Penh to Kep.
We leave Phnom Penh and travel south on National Highway 2 towards the south coast. We stop at Tonle Bati to visit the beautiful 12th century temple of Ta Prohm. Built by King Jayavarman VII, this temple is surrounded by flourishing flowers and is a tranquil sanctuary.
We continue to Takeo where we enjoy a local lunch overlooking the water. We then travel by speedboat along an ancient canal to Phnom Da, a beautiful 8th century temple atop a small mount. An island in the wet season, when this area is inundated with water, it is surrounded by a sea of green ricefields in the dry season. We explore the brick temple on top of the hill and take in the magnificent views. We then follow a forest path to Asram Moha Russei, a curious hermit's shelter carved from sandstone.
Later we return by speedboat to Takeo and transfer to our vehicle for our onward journey to the old French-era seaside resort of Kep. We check into a comfortable hotel for the night.
Day 8: Rabbit Island.
This morning, we travel to the boat pier to board a local boat for the journey to Koh Tonsay or Rabbit Island. We journey across calm waters to this beautiful palm-fringed island, home to a small community of fisherfolk and farmers. We leave some time free to enjoy the white-sand beaches that ring the island. After a lunch of fresh seafood, there is more time to enjoy the sun, sea and sand before we travel back to Kep by boat
Day 9: Kep Cave pagodas.
We leave Kep and travel to the little town of Kompong Trach. For a long time this place was forgotten, as the civil war kept it off the map, but the new border crossing with Vietnam has seen a bit of a boom. We stop to visit the interesting cave temple of Wat Kirisan, built into the base of Phnom Sor. We travel through a small cave to a hidden chamber open to the elements, the sheer walls dripping with foliage. There are several hidden shrines here, as well as the Cave of a Thousand Ricefields, where locals claim the limestone looks like terraces.
We then journey to Phnom Chhnork, a large cave that contains a 7th century brick temple in remarkable condition. This hidden temple is a very sacred place for local Khmers. After a visit to the old-French colonial riverside town of Kampot, we return to Kep, our base of the night.
Day 10: Travel to Koh Kong. Stay at 4 Rivers Ecolodge.
We leave behind the beaches of Kep and head west. We pass through the charming riverside town of Kampot and Veal Renh on National Highway 4. We swing north on new National Highway 48 towards Koh Kong, passing through some beautiful stretches of Cambodian countryside. We stop for a local lunch along the way before arriving at Tatai, where we board a boat to visit Tatai waterfall before continuing onto our overnight stop at 4 Rivers Eco Lodge in Koh Kong.
Day 11: Koh Kapi and Peam Krasaop.
We spend the day at the Peam Krasaop sanctuary which boats a large diversity of mangroves forest, we visit the old fishing village and then take a boat out to Koh Kapik island to see the life of the fishing community there before returning to 4 Rivers.
Day 12: Transfer to Thai border for beach extension or connections to Bangkok.
We leave 4 Rivers Lodge after breakfast and cross the bridge towards the Thai border. Onward connections are available from Trat Airport to Bangkok or it is possible to visit nearby Thai islands like Ko Chang or Ko Kut.