Day 1 - Phnom Penh
Sua s'dei! Welcome to Cambodia. The sensational Angkor ruins may be the main attraction, but Cambodia’s exquisite temples, charming villages and magical markets deserve lots of attention too. With genuine locals always ready to share a sincere smile, Cambodia will steal your heart and enrich your spirit. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm tonight. Check with hotel reception for more information, and have your insurance details and next of kin information ready for collection. Phnom Penh is set at the meeting point of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, and life centres around the lively river-front area where the locals come to take in the air, snack on the street hawkers food and enjoy impromptu waterside entertainment. If you have free time, perhaps stroll the broad tree-lined boulevards dotted with old colonial villas and explore the city. The National Museum and the Silver Pagoda are both worth a visit. Or consider Wat Phnom, a peaceful temple situated on a hill for which the city is named. Cambodian food is often overshadowed by focus on Thailand and Vietnam, when in fact Khmer cuisine is one of the world's oldest living food cultures. The Cambodian cooking pot combines an eclectic mix of local and international influences and has a flavour all its own. Kick off this food adventure ‘eating for a cause’ at an inspirational hospitality school that provides vocational training for former street youths in Phnom Penh. It’s a great opportunity to sample some tasty modern Cambodian cooking.
Day 2 - Kampot
This morning, drive south along National Road 2 through the town of Takeo towards Kampot, one of Cambodia's most attractive old towns (approximately 2.5 hours). On the way, confront Cambodia's tragic past on a guided tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located in a former high school that served as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) for the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979. Arrive in Kampot by early afternoon. Famous for its pepper, Kampot supplied most French restaurants for many years during colonial rule. Today, the region is also renowned for its durian, a spiky, pungent fruit that either incites adoration or sheer loathing. Try it if you dare! In some free time you might stroll along the riverside's French colonial architecture, or enjoy a coffee on the veranda of a riverside restaurant and admire the Bokor Mountain Range. A traditional massage is also highly recommended. Certainly one of the most enjoyable ways of supporting a local charity, put yourself in the capable hands of one of the blind masseurs or masseuses. In a country with no social security, the training and support provided by the centres allows blind Cambodians to support themselves with dignity. Tonight you’ll head out into the small town to sample some popular Khmer drinks, from Angkor beer to locally distilled rice wine!
Notes: The Tuol Sleng Prison Museum is an important culture site and insight into the country, but if you do not wish to visit, please inform your tour leader.
Day 3 - Kampot
Rise early to see the fishing boats arrive at the port with their daily catch. A meal of crab, prawns or squid cooked up with Kampot green pepper corns and served with rice is a Cambodian favourite. Try some of Kampot's tastiest baguettes on a visit with the owner of a small wood fired oven. This legacy of French colonization is ubiquitous – many roadside carts sell baguettes with meat, sauces and salad as a snack for workers. Then, in the countryside, taste locally grown seasonal produce. If it’s fruit season, taste Cambodia's best durian, or rambuttan, lychee, pineapples, mangos and bananas. Next, visit the Kampot Pepper Project. Grown in Cambodia for centuries, Kampot pepper is considered one of the world’s finest. Today the pepper is seen as an important symbol of Cambodian regeneration – the province’s pepper heritage returning after almost being wiped out by rice production during the Khmer Rouge. A short walk through rice fields and a climb provides a lovely outlook over the surrounding countryside. Then enter Phnom Chhnork limestone cave, home to a small 7th century temple. Explore the lively Kep Crab markets, where crabs are kept fresh in pots that float in the Gulf of Thailand's warm waters. Enjoy a lunch of fresh crab cooked to perfection, eaten on a pier overlooking the ocean. After lunch, a walk along the Kep beach and explore the old oceanfront buildings. Kep was once Cambodia's most popular and prestigious beach town, but the Khmer Rouge destroyed many of Kep's mansions and villas. The ghostly remains now stand as a silent reminder. Alternatively, relax in a hammock or swim in the warm South China Sea. Return to Kampot by early evening.
Day 4 - Phnom Penh
Today you’ll return to Phnom Penh (approximately 3 hours). Back in the capital, take a cycle-rickshaw (cyclo) tour around Phnom Penh, taking in some of the interesting sights, sounds and smells of the capital, including the wonderful art deco-designed Psar Thmei (Central Market). Today you’ll discover the building blocks of Khmer cuisine. Kroeung (fragrant herb paste), prahok (Cambodian fish paste), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, tamarind and the famous Kampot black pepper are just some of the flavours you will encounter. Next, check out the food stalls in front of the Royal Palace and taste some of the best street food in the capital – fried cricket snack anyone? During free time this evening you might choose to have a relaxing sunset drink at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, or stroll along the famous Sisowath Quay and enjoy a coffee or cocktail at one of the many cafes while observing the busy river traffic – a great way to while away the evening.
Day 5 - Battambang
Travel by public bus to Battambang (approximately 6-7 hours including several stops). Cambodia's second-largest city, Battambang (pronounced Battambong), 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. There are a number of activities for your free afternoon today. Perhaps take a ride on the famous bamboo train, a great chance to interact with locals. Previously mainly used for transporting agricultural products and people, it’s often one of people's favourite activities. The train is made of a wooden and bamboo carriage powered by a small engine. Maximum speed is around 15 km per hour and it can easily be disassembled when carriages come in the opposite direction. There’s also the chance to join a local Battambang foodie for a home-cooked meal, perhaps tasting local dishes such as amok, Khmer curry, and fried spicy chicken.
Day 6 - Banteay Chhmar
Wake early and take a bicycle ride into the countryside. The ride is easy and takes in mostly shady roads and countryside through local villages. Along the way, stop and experience rice paper-making, fruit drying and preparation, production of the famous prahok (fish paste) and rice wine-making. Finish up at the best kralanh (sticky rice in bamboo) stall in the district. Then travel by private bus to the temple city of Banteay Chhmar, sometimes referred to as the Citadel of the Cat (approximately 4 hours). Some of the road is unsealed which slows down the journey, but it is worth it to visit this remote small community. The 9th century temple here is a top candidate for World Heritage Status, with the ruins here similar to the famous Bayon with their face towers, and surrounded by an impressive 9 kilometre-long wall. Experience true Cambodian hospitality by staying with a local family in a traditional Khmer wooden stilted house. As the day draws to a close, enjoy a memorable traditional Khmer dinner by torch-light in the grounds of the temple.
Notes: A Cambodian motor-remork – a reticulated tuk tuk – is available if you do not want to ride a bike.
Day 7 - Siem Reap/Angkor Wat
After a traditional Khmer breakfast, take a turn around the village food market. Collect some ingredients and help prepare lunch with your community hosts, picking up a cooking tip or two! Enjoy a final unchtime feast before farewelling your hosts and departing for Siem Reap by private vehicle (approximately 4 hours). The small but expanding town of Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor. This is the most popular destination for travellers in all of Cambodia, perhaps even in South East Asia. You'll probably notice a change of pace here, so take a short introductory walk around the centre of town and enjoy the atmosphere. With its cafes, bars, restaurants, food and drinks stands, Siem Reap caters for foodies of all persuasions. A visit to the old market is a must, even if you're not looking for souvenirs; wandering through the stalls and surrounding shops, the silks, cottons, sarongs, silver and statues are a riot of colour and a feast for the eyes. In the evening, take a motor remork around the hidden local street food treasures of Siem Reap. If you’re lucky you might find fried crickets that taste like potato chips, which are usually enjoyed with a cold beer; barbecued meat on skewers; Khmer Fried Chicken; green mango served with chilli and salt; ducks eggs; barbecued corn; and durian, the smelly King of all fruit. Continue on to a local restaurant to sample some tasty local delicacies, before finishing at a dessert stall where fruit shakes, fruit with sweetened condensed milk and baked puddings are the specialty.
Day 8 - Siem Reap
Spend a full day temple-hopping with your local guide to make the most of your visit to the world-famous Angkor complex, built between the 9th and 13th centuries when the Khmer empire was the pre-eminent influence in South-East Asia. The ruins are scattered over an area of some 160 square kilometres, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap so you'll have plenty of time to fully appreciate the great archaeological sites. These include Angkor Wat, the Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm. The temples were believed to represent the cosmic world and were set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. The intricately carved bas-reliefs and architectural designs are mind-blowing and there are spectacular photographic opportunities at any time of day.
Day 9 - Siem Reap
This morning is free for you to pursue your interests. If you feel like some adventure, maybe do the Flight of the Gibbon zip-line course, which gives you a birds-eye view of the beautiful rainforest – and an adrenaline rush, of course. Alternatively, spend your morning exploring Siem Reap and perhaps indulge in a traditional Khmer massage. Late afternoon, get one final insight into the heart of Cambodia with a cooking class with your hosts. A local expert will explain a little about Khmer food culture and superstitions related to food, then help you to cook up a few signature dishes such as amok trey (fish curry), mee kola (vegetarian noodles) and pleah (beef salad). Say farewell to this delicious Real Food Adventure over a Cambodian feast that you've helped to create!
Day 10 - Siem Reap
Your food adventure through Cambodia concludes this morning. There are no activities planned for this final day and you are free to leave at any time.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
Flights, Travel Insurance, Visa, Vaccinations or Personal Spending Money