London - In flight
Fly from London Heathrow Airport on a scheduled Vietnam Airlines flight to Phnom Penh via Hanoi.
Upon arrival, we are welcomed by our guide and transfer to the Palace Gate Hotel (4T+). This restored French colonial villa was formerly the seat of power for the French colonial government and is situated in a fantastic location adjacent to the Royal Palace and within walking distance of many of Phnom Penh’s sights. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure before we transfer to the river bank for an atmospheric sunset river cruise. Phnom Penh’s popular riverfront comes to life in the early evening, as the sun sets behind skyscrapers and temple tops, and neon lights begin to glow. We disembark for dinner at a riverside restaurant, your first opportunity to try authentic Khmer cuisine.
This city was once considered one of the Orient’s most beautiful and, despite the effects of war and revolution, it has returned to a bustling destination where Asian and Western traditions reflect in extravagant pagodas, colonial charm and post-independence development. We take a walking tour through small streets to colourful Wat Lanka, one of the oldest pagodas in Phnom Penh, home of highly regarded Buddhist teachers; and then on to the Independence Monument, an Angkorian style tower that celebrates the end of 91 years of French rule in 1954 and commemorates those who died to achieve it. We also visit the Royal Palace, home of the extravagant Silver Pagoda, named for the thousands of heavy silver tiles that cover its floors. In this temple you will view an extraordinary collection of Buddhas in gold, silver, crystal, and bronze. We continue to Wat Phnom, the founding place of the city, before taking lunch in a local restaurant. The rest of the day is at leisure, with the option to take a tour of Tuol Sleng Prison, a sobering reminder of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Phnom Penh - Sihanoukville
This morning we drive by coach to Sihanoukville and check in to The Independence Hotel (4T), where lunch is included on arrival, before an afternoon to relax in this luxurious resort with tropical forest and miles of white-sand beaches. Alternatively, spend your day making the journey by train through picture-perfect countryside, with scenes of wooden stilt houses and paddy fields, to Sihanoukville (additional cost). The classic Cambodian train is a national heritage, refurbished from the 1960s. The French plaques and oscillating ceiling fans add to its retro appeal.
Enjoy a day at leisure in Sihanoukville; Cambodia’s youngest city is a cosmopolitan tropical retreat. Alternatively, choose to take an optional excursion into Ream National Park, a paradise of thick jungle and mangrove forests full of birds, monkeys and also the elusive pangolin, with lunch included at a restaurant on a secluded beach. Or take an optional boat trip to explore some of the beautiful islands along the coastline - while visiting paradisiacal Koh Chaloh, Koh Tres and Koh Takiev, you will see colourful corals and tropical fish, with opportunities to swim or snorkel in the warm, clear waters.
Sihanoukville - Siem Reap
Enjoy a morning at leisure before we travel to the airport for our short flight to Siem Reap, and transfer to our elegant hotel, the Lotus Blanc Resort (4T+). The rest of the day is at leisure to explore your surroundings, which includes millennium-old temples, world-class restaurants and a diverse cultural scene.
We spend today discovering the area’s wonderful history, starting with the vast ancient city of Angkor Thom. It was the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire, surrounded by an 8m-high wall with gates guarded by stone elephants, gods and the sacred Naga snake. Important temples within the wall include the Bayon Temple, the 12th century masterpiece of 54 towers representing the empire’s 54 provinces, plus the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King, both known for their intricate bas-reliefs. We then tour the temples of the Small Circuit, including Ta Prohm, a beautiful ruin crumbling under the encroaching jungle trees and vines. Later we have a sightseeing tour of the famous Angkor Wat. Inside the temple, the walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology, the wars Suryavarman II fought during his reign and over 2,000 Apsara dancers.
Today is free for you to explore Siem Reap, with a list of museums on recent and ancient history, conserving ancient statues and preserving traditional crafts including wood and stone-carving techniques, traditional silk painting and lacquerware. These skills came under threat during the rule of the Khmer Rouge and the years following, however these crafts are now taught at Les Artisans d’Angkor, with the school’s impressive creations available in the shop, well worth visiting. An optional excursion this evening takes in a performance by Phare Ponleu Selpak, a group set up by returning Cambodian refugees in 1994. A mix of traditional and modern theatre, dance, acrobatics, juggling and contortion are used to tell a story of Cambodian life.
Discover the secrets of authentic Khmer cuisine in a half-day cooking class in the Siem Reap countryside. Our morning starts with a trip to a local market with a professional chef, and continues to a local Khmer house for a hands-on culinary experience, creating your own lunch with Cambodian vegetables, herbs, and other ingredients. This afternoon we embark on a boat trip on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and officially designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. We learn about life on the lake and the seasonal effects - the monsoons swell the lake to four times its size in dry season, invading the surrounding flood plain and reversing the flow of Tonle Sap River. We enjoy a farewell dinner in a local restaurant this evening.
Siem Reap - In flight
Following time at leisure, we transfer to the airport for a scheduled Vietnam Airlines flight to London via Hanoi.
Day 11 London
Arrive at London Heathrow Airport.