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Phnom Penh – Siem Reap
Phnom Penh – Siem Reap
Phnom Penh has retained much of its old-world charm, but is rapidly moving forward, aspects explored in this fascinating morning tour. We visit the iconic National Sports Complex, designed by world-renowned architect, Vann Molyvann. Inaugurated in 1964, this ground-breaking stadium was viewed as a symbol of Cambodia transforming itself from an ancient kingdom into a modern nation. It was hurriedly constructed in anticipation of hosting the Southeast Asia Games, which never came to fruition. During the 1970s brutal Khmer Rouge regime, the National Sports Complex was used as an execution site, but today is used by locals for recreational pursuits. Continue to “Street 240,” the capital’s trendiest street, lined with French colonial-era villas and shophouses housing chic boutiques and stylish cafés. Stop for lunch at a local eatery that specialises in Lort Cha, a street food dish of short rice noodles.
Depart bustling Phnom Penh for a short boat ride across the Mekong River to Silk Island. This riverine island provides a peaceful, pastoral respite and taste of authentic rural Cambodia. Our guides for the day, an expat and a Silk Island native couple, personally guide us on a fascinating day exploring their rustic island home, with plenty of opportunity to interact with the locals. Tour a street market and an eerily abandoned hotel. Learn how to make noodles with a local food vendor and visit a school where we donate a gift of stationery to schoolchildren. Conclude this memorable day at a stunning pagoda, engaging with Buddhist monks.
Arrive in Siem Reap, gateway to the Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing the stupendous remains of an ancient Khmer civilisation, dating from the 9th to the 15th centuries. We travel to one of the oldest villages in the province and join a local family at their rustic home. Experience the simple Khmer village life, relaxing in a swaying hammock, or helping prepare dinner, picking fresh produce from their organic gardens. In this amiable and informal setting, feel free to ask the village elders about Khmer traditions and daily life in this community. Later, enjoy traditional music performed by this talented family.
Rise early and join your host family in the ancient Buddhist ritual of alms giving. After a noodle breakfast, explore Siem Reap. While best known for its magnificent Angkor temples, this charming provincial town has so much else to offer, increasingly known for its contemporary gourmet cuisine, stylish boutiques and thriving arts and crafts scene. We visit Artisans d’Angkor, a socially-committed enterprise renowned for successfully reviving traditional Khmer craftsmanship, such as silk production and silver plating. Later, visit Wat Damnak, formerly a royal palace during King Sisowath’s reign and one of Siem Reap’s most important pagodas. Here, receive a personal blessing from a Buddhist monk.
The Archaeological Park’s crown jewel, Angkor Wat ranks as one of the world’s greatest ancient wonders and largest religious monument. This 12th century architectural masterpiece can be overwhelming in its sheer awesomeness. On a bespoke tour, a renowned Khmer scholar shares his vast expertise, imparting a concise overview of the Khmer history, culture, archaeology and civilisation to understand more about this sprawling temple complex. Listen to the legends behind Angkor Wat’s stunning bas-reliefs and murals, while strolling through elaborately carved hallways. Later, explore some of the lesser-known but equally fascinating temples. A highlight is meeting a local family who survived the brutal Pol Pot Regime. Hear their personal stories to understand Cambodia’s recent tumultuous history.
This morning, we visit Banteay Srei, the only temple in Angkor not built by a monarch. Dedicated to the Hindu God, Shiva, 10th century Banteay Srei translates as “Citadel of the Women”. This lesser-known, peaceful temple ranks as one of Angkor’s most significant structures, housing a rare, ancient Buddha statue and elaborate yet well-reserved bas-relief carvings. Continue to Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre, the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia. It also operates as a sustainable butterfly farm, providing training for locals. Mornings are the best time of day to spot the greatest number of butterflies – thousands of free-flying Southeast Asian species, including Cambodian varieties, amid the lush gardens. Besides learning about butterflies, there is also an opportunity to feed them!
Transfer to Siem Reap International Airport for your onward flight.