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Grand Tour of Cambodia: Ancient Ruins, Forgotten Temples & Pristine Beaches
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Our Grand Tour of Cambodia will provide you with opportunities to explore Cambodian cultures in depth, gaining you a great insight into this stunning country. Starting in the bustling capital of Phnom Penh with its sparkling Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and relics of the Khmer Rouge era; we then venture along the Mekong to charming riverside towns of Kampong Cham and Kratie to observe the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins that inhabit the shallow pools of the Mekong river. Once in Siem Reap, pay a visit to the magnificent Angkor Temple Complex then journey on boat across Tonle Sap Lake to the provincial town of Battambang. Towards the end of tour, enjoy 2 days of beach relaxation in Kep or Sihanoukville which are amongst the best beaches in Cambodia.
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DAY 01: PHNOM PENH ARRIVAL
Welcome to PHNOM PENH! Upon arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport, you will be welcomed by our local tour guide, then be transferred to your hotel for check in. Depend on your actual arrival time, some soft sightseeing for an orientation tour is suggested.
The capital of Phnom Penh locates at the junction of the mighty Mekong River, Bassac River and Tonlé Sap River. It was once considered as the “Gem” of Indochina with a nice riverside promenade and numerous beautiful Cambodian Buddhist wats, palaces and many colonial-era buildings where Asian and Western architectures meet in a fascinating way. The bustling city of Phnom Penh is the international and domestic transport hub for whole Cambodia and region.
After a short rest, take a sunset river cruise along the Mekong river, observe daily life of local, enjoy the sunset view on the river while tasting a delicious fruit juice or soft drink.
In the evening, free to explore the city at your own pace. You may want to have dinner at Romdeng Restaurant which is recommended on Lonely Planet as the top choice for Cambodian cuisine in Phnom Penh. In this restaurant, you would sample some typical, tasty modern Cambodian dishes. The restaurant is located in a gorgeous colonial villa with a small pool with a beautiful garden.
Today, explore the most remarkable sights of the beautiful city of Phnom Penh. Begin our Phnom Penh sightseeing tour with a visit to Wat Phnom (a Buddhist temple) which is the oldest religious structure in Phnom Penh. According to legend, the first pagoda was built in 1373 to house four Buddha statues which are discovered by a wealthy widow called Penh, inside a large koki tree floating down on Mekong river.
After that, pay a visit to the Royal Palace which is a popular tourist destination in Phnom Penh. It was built by King Norodom I (ruled 1860-1904) in 1886. Then move to Silver Pagoda (also known as Wat Preah Keo or Temple of the Emerald Buddha) which is located on the south side of the Royal Palace Complex. Inside the pagoda, you can see the collection of Buddhas in gold, silver, crystal, and bronze.
In the afternoon, come face to face with the horrors of the Pol Pot regime as we visit Toul Sleng (Security Prison - S21), a school that was gruesomely transformed into a torture chamber under the Khmer Rouge and visit the Killing Fields where over 10,000 people were executed. A grim, but important visit that will allow you to dig below the surface and understand Cambodia better.
On the way back to city, pass by the riverside park. There is a chance to walk along the riverside, observing the life of the local. You can also participate in a Khmer dance class which offers a lot of fun!
This morning, depart Phnom Penh for KAMPONG CHAM which takes approximately two hours and a half. Kampong Cham is the capital city of Kampong Cham Province and an important trade and transportation hub of Cambodia. When you arrive, you might notice how chilled out this town is. It used to be an important trading hub in the area. Mingle with the locals and enjoy the change of pace. It's a slice of small-town Cambodia with plenty to see and do.
Upon arrival, visit colonial French buildings, and enjoy the laid back atmosphere and quaint charm in this city. Explore the 11th-century Wat Nokor (also very chill, some might say 'tranquil'). You can hire a bike to explore the rural island of Koh Paen, linked to Kampong Cham by a fancy bamboo bridge (in the wet season you'll have to take a ferry over). The locals here make their living fishing and growing tobacco and sesame, so it's an awesome place to go for a closer look at some of Cambodia's cottage industries. A little further afield are the twin 'mountain temples' of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei.
Afterwards, proceed to KRATIE, the capital of Kratie Province in eastern Cambodia. Upon arrival, take a short 10 minutes boat ride from the town to the beautiful Koh Trong Island. Check into your hotel on island. The rest of day is free at leisure to discover this small paradise. Maybe catch a swim off the beach on the west side while enjoying the spectacular sunset on the mighty Mekong River.
Following the breakfast, drive north along the river banks to Kampi Village which is 15 km from Kratie town center. This village is one of the best places to observe the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins along the Mekong. Embark on a small local boat which will take us upstream to look for these interesting creatures. As soon as we have spotted the first dolphin, our boatmen will follows the dolphin watching guidelines provided and only use oars when near the dolphins. We will follow the dolphins silently (1 to 1.5 hours).
After that, disembark and take a short transfer (22 km) to Sambour Village for a visit to Wat Sorsor Mouy Roy which is well-known for its history and as a place of pilgrimage for residents of Kratie. It was first built in the 16th century by King Chann Reachea to commemorate the memory of his daughter Vorakpheak. Have lunch at a local restaurant.
In the afternoon, drive back to Koh Trong Island, a sort of ecotourism paradise. Enjoy a leisurely bicycle ride around the island for further exploration with your guide. A 9 kilometers (6 miles) loop road around the island's perimeter provides the perfect opportunity to discover villages on this island. Along the way, you could stop for rest in a village, enjoy local fruit while observing the daily rituals and routines of the traditional village life. At the end of day, have your dinner (at your own account) with diversity of delicious Khmer food.
After breakfast, our guide and driver will pick you up at your hotel then provide you with a transfer to KAMPONG THOM, a picturesque town on the banks of the Stung Saen River. The drive will take approximately 5 hours.
Before entering the town, make a stop at Phnom Santuk Mountain, the most sacred mountain of Kampong Thom province, located about 17 kilometers south of town center. From the mountain foothill, huff up 809 stairs to the top to visit a white walled temple dotted with many shrines and deities, including several reclining Buddhas made out of rock. Enjoy the panoramic view of surrounding countryside below the Phnom Santuk Mountain, then head to the hotel for check in and rest.
Overnight in Kampong Thom.
Sambor Village Hotel
DAY 06: KAMPONG THOM – SIEM REAP
This morning, drive north towards the rarely visited Sambor Prei Kuk, a pre-Angkorian archaeological site, 30 km north of Kampong Thom town. The ancient city where monuments of Sambor Prei Kuk are found today was identified as Isanapura, the capital of Chenla in 7th century. In Sambor Prei Kuk, many temples were built during the reign of King Isanavarman I (AD 616- 635) in the 7th century. Enjoy a beautiful walk through the jungle with stunning views around the site.
Later, make a stop at a typical Cambodianlocal village near Sambor Prei Kuk and experience rural life with the local residents and their simple homes. 85% of Cambodian live in the countryside and for the majority, they live from agriculture. We stroll around the village and visit a crafting workshop which is managed by the local community to preserve traditional Cambodian crafts. You also could by some crafts made of bamboo and rattan as a support for local community. Enjoy a simple but very tasty lunch which is prepared by villagers.
After lunch, continue our drive towards SIEM REAP which takes you a 3-hour drive. When you arrive in Siem Reap, the markets are a great place to start practicing those haggling skills. Better yet, try some cheap and tasty street food. Get some rest and relaxation tonight before your Angkor visit tomorrow.
OPTIONAL: Visit the Angkor National Museum for an introduction to Khmer civilization. This archaeological museum is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of Angkorian artefacts found locally dating from the 9th - 14th centuries.
Wake up early in this morning for one of the highlights of our Cambodia tour: watching sunrise over the Angkor Complex. Our guide and driver will pick you up at your hotel in the early morning then take you to the ideal watching point. It is worthy to watch the first sunlight shines over the largest archaeological site in the world. Have your breakfast at a local restaurant near the complex.
Then, begin with a visit to Angkor WatTemple which was built in the early 12th century by the Khmer King Suryavarman II and was originally constructed as a Hindu temple to dedicate to god Vishnu. It was constructed following the model of the temple mountain symbolizing the Mount Meru, home of the gods. At the end of the 12th century, it was transformed into a Buddhist temple. Inside the temple, we will see the walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology, the wars Suryavarman II fought during his reign and more than 2000 images of Apsaras and Devatas decorating the temple.
From Angkor Wat, move to the countryside around the Western Baray, the largest artificial reservoir of the ancient Khmer civilization. Here, you can spot water buffalos in swampy ponds, local people working on their plantations and other daily activities of Cambodian.
Visit Angkor Silk Farm then witness the process from the mulberry bushes cultivation to the production of silk fabrics and life cycle of the silkworm. After the visit, we drive back your hotel for a noon break to avoid the heat.
In late afternoon, head out again to the archeological park to explore the Ta Prohm Temple, which unlike the other temples here has been left in the same ruined state that it was first discovered in with a tangle of trees growing out of its ruins.. After that, head to the pyramidal temple of Pre Rup, enjoy the panoramic view of surrounding countryside and the beautiful sunset over the forest.
Returning to the Angkor Temple Complex, then explore the ancient city of Angkor Thom. From the South Gate, an impressive stone gate carved with elephants and four giant faces, head to the inspirational Bayon Temple. This 12th century is well known for its impressive giant faces carvings and wonderful wall carvings telling the story of historical battles.
Angkor Thom is also home to the Baphuon Royal Enclosure and the Terraces of the Elephants and Leper King. It would be great experience to keep walking through the maze and observing their wonderful, fabulous, intricate sculptures. Then we come to the hotel for refreshment.
Later today, head to the banks of the giant Tonlé Sap Lake, and have the opportunity to learn about life on the lake. Tonlé Sap is South East Asia’s largest freshwater lake with its size varying greatly depending on the season. During the dry season it is roughly 2,500 km2, swelling to about four times its size in during the wet season. Board a local boat and visit Kampong Phluck, a village to see houses on stilts that are submerged when Tonlé Sap Lake extends. On the way, pass floating houses and impressive flooded forests, portraying life on the water. Return to Siem Reap.
NOTE: Due to low water levels during the dry season, the boat trip is only possible from July to Feb. However an alternative floating village at Chong Kneas can be arranged instead.
Tonight, attend the remarkable Phare NGO circus project which teaches children living on the streets how to become circus artists. Enjoy circus tricks and their interpretations of modern life and issues in Cambodian society in this popular show. Afterwards, head back to the hotel and spend the rest of the day at leisure.
Today, go a bit adventurous into the jungles then explore the lost ancient temples. After breakfast, our guide and driver will pick you up at the hotel, then provide a transfer to the beautiful Beng Mealea Temple, (40km east of the Siem Reap Town). The temple was built in the 12th century under the reign of Suryavarman II, same period as Angkor Wat.
Upon arrival, discover sweeping vines, mysterious dark chambers, towers wrapped in thick tree roots plus extensive carvings of scenes from Hindu mythology. You could also take a short walk through the lush jungle and discover the elegant structures and sculptures of temple. Then enjoy a simple but very delicious packed lunch at a local house close to the Beng Mealea Temple.
After lunch, head to the “jewel of Khmer art”, the beautiful temple of Banteay Srei which is 25 km north-east of the Angkor main group temples. Banteay Srei which means “Citadel of the Women”, is the finest examples of classical Khmer art with wonderfully well preserved wall carvings and towers which are decorated with male and female divinities and beautiful filigree relief work. The temple was built in AD 967 and was a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva.
Following the visit, drive back to your hotel in Siem Reap. On the way, make a stop at a local community to visit the local villagers and learn about their way of life. Here you also witness the process of making Cambodia traditional rice paper and taste palm wine and palm sugar, which are specialty produces in Siem Reap.
Following the breakfast, head to Battambang, second most populous city and one of most popular tourist destination in Cambodia. Embark on one of the most stunning boat trips in Cambodia, and be taken from Siem Reap to Battambang by a comfortable private boat. Packed lunch on board.
NOTE: This boat trip is only possible in the high water period from July to December as water levels are too low during the dry season and transfer times extremely long. From January to June alternative transfer by road. (Duration 6-7 hours).
Arrive in BATTAMBANG in the afternoon. This is Cambodia’s second largest city and, not so long ago, was within target range of a stronghold of the erstwhile Khmer Rouge and was therefore off-limits to most travellers. Today, it is a pretty riverside town of French elegance, friendly Khmer people and beautifully preserved colonial architecture. The city is famous for its many statues of animals and divinities that decorate the streets and buildings. The city lacks the traffic of Phnom Penh and the visitor numbers of Siem Reap, so it's a great place to get a real slice of Cambodia. In the evening, perhaps walk along the riverfront where locals indulge in hobbies such as yoga and folk dancing.
Battambang’s countryside is what makes this pleasant river town a real treat. The town is situated along the Sangker River, a quiet and small body of water that finds its way through Battambang Province.
First, head towards Phnom Sampeau, meaning ‘Ship Hill’ in Khmer, due to its distinctive shape, and one of the few hills standing out in this otherwise pancake-flat plain. From the small temple on the top, have a fantastic view over the typical landscape of paddy fields and sugar palm trees. Phnom Sampeau is home to the notorious killing caves, which are cruel reminders of Cambodia’s troubled past. Serenity and inhumanity represented in one place make this an interesting visit.
In the afternoon, make a stop at the nearby Ancient House located in Wat Kor Village, the oldest standing Khmer timber house in Wat Kor Village, where the lady of the house will give a guided tour, showing everything from how they mill their own rice to demonstrating the after-dinner betel leaf ritual.
Be led through local villages and farms on the way to Wat Banan, an 11-century temple on a mountain top situated between lush paddy fields and beautiful lotus ponds. Climb to the top and enjoy the views over the beautiful countryside and wander around the ancient temple, which is also home to finely scented flowering trees. This afternoon, be taken to some of the many cultural villages around Battambang and learn how the locals produce rice paper, prahoc (typical Cambodian fish paste), grolan (sticky rice stuffed in bamboo), and other Cambodian treats. Also, visit a weaving and handicraft centre.
OPTIONAL: You might want to visit Phare Ponleu Selpak and see students rehearsing in their circus and music school, and young painters at work in visual arts (open on Mondays and Thursdays only, on other days private performances are available on request and for a supplement). There's also an optional cooking class to learn the secrets of local dishes such as amok, Khmer curry, and fried spicy chicken.
DAY 12: BATTAMBANG – KAMPONG CHHNANG – OUDONG – PHNOM PENH
Depart from Battambang in the morning and travel to KAMPONG CHHNANG, known for its traditional pottery, with many kilns at work in this province. In a village near Kampong Chhnang, to see the different aspects of pottery making and also experience the production of traditional rice wine.
Continue to OUDONG, the former royal capital of Cambodia. The drive passes through many rural villages and pagodas, the temple mountain with its dozens of stupas can be seen from afar. Upon arrival at Oudong enjoy a traditional Khmer lunch at a picnic hut at the foot of the hill.
Then, climb the stairs to the top of Oudong Mountain and enjoy magnificent views over the plains below. The guide will explain the history of the area and its buildings as well as the religious culture of the Cambodian people. Take the time to soak in the magnificent views over the plains below. Spend time for a short break at a local restaurant and enjoy a traditional Khmer lunch.
On the way to Phnom Penh, visit Koh Chen, an island in the Tonlé Sap River that can be reached via a new bridge. Koh Chen is known as the ‘Silver Village’ for its production of silver crafts and jewellery. Stroll through the village to see the many silver workshops in the local families’ houses. From here, arrive in PHNOM PENH by mid afternoon. Check into the hotel.
OPTIONAL: Maybe visit the National Museum, with its collection of classic Khmer craftsmanship, or Wat Phnom, a peaceful hilltop temple that the city's named after. You might spend this evening along Sisowath Quay with a coffee or cocktail in hand, watching life go by.
This morning, to your preference, our driver will provide you a private transfer (without guide) to KEP or SIHANOUKVILLE which are amongst the best beaches in Cambodia. The drive will take you 3 – 4 hour drive. Upon arrival, check in to the hotel and free time at leisure for the remain of the day.
Your Grand Tour Of Cambodia wraps up today. Free at leisure until our driver provides you with a transfer to Phnom Penh International Airport for your onward flight.
For more tours options, browse the Cambodia package tours on Asia Senses Travel. Also, be sure to read the reviews of Cambodia tours. If you are travelling to Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia or Myanmar, please let our travel specialists know.
Private Tour (for 02 pax, cheaper if more)
Tour Price Includes
15 hotel night accommodation
Local English speaking guides
Meals as mentioned
Boat in Kratie, Tonle Sap (Siem Reap)
Boat Siem Reap - Battambang
Bicycle in Koh Trong Island
All sightseeing as specified and entrance fees included
Bottled drinking water per touring days
Tour Price Excludes
Visas if required
Other meals not mentioned in the program
Domestic & International flights
Phare Ponleu Selpak visit
Items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks, etc...
Tips for your guides and drivers
Any camera or video fees at any sites
When to Go
See estimated monthly temperature and rainfall for this itinerary