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Cambodia Culture & Cuisine - 9 Days


Although riven by trauma, Cambodian culture remains resilient. This epic journey takes in some of its most appealing strongholds while also showcasing the often-unsung merits of Khmer cuisine.

Buzzing Phnom Penh with its architectural mosaic and potent food scene is the perfect jumping off point for exploration of the relaxed town of Battambang. Siem Reap and Angkor, meanwhile, provide a show-stopping finale.


Day 1 - Phnom Penh Arrival (D)


Following their morning arrival at Phnom Penh Airport, guests will be greeted by a local English-speaking guide and transferred to their hotel in the heart of the city.

Phnom Penh was once considered as one of the most beautiful cities in the Orient, and despite its recent turbulent history it still retains a colonial charm. Cambodia’s capital is a bustling city, majestically located at the confluence of the mighty Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers. Wide tree-lined boulevards and many colonial-era buildings reflect its former glory and add to the allure of the city, where Asian and Western traditions meet in a fascinating way.

This afternoon, depart on a walking and driving tour that will take guests on a fascinating discovery of Cambodian architecture from both the colonial times and the late 1950s and 1960s - a culturally and politically vibrant time. During that era, an en vogue ‘New Khmer Architecture’ movement was emerging, uniquely focused on integrating international style with local traditions, materials and climate.

This evening, guests can indulge in a delicious welcome dinner at Malis Restaurant, one of Phnom Penh’s top addresses for authentic Khmer cuisine.

Overnight in Phnom Penh.

Distances and journey time:

Phnom Penh Airport - Phnom Penh (11 km): 20 mins


Day 2 - Phnom Penh (B,L,D)


Spend the morning exploring the local market and learning about Khmer cuisine. Despite its cuisine not being as well-known as its neighboring countries, Cambodia has a great variety of national dishes and the guide will offer insights into the country’s culinary heritage. Guests will travel by traditional “cycle” from their hotel to the market, before walking through the aisles of different fruits, herbs and vegetables, with the guide on hand to explain how they are used in Khmer cuisine.

Try some seasonal, local fruits along the way. The walking tour will last about two hours before continuing to a local restaurant which uses many of the ingredients seen at the market. Various dishes are ready cooked, and guests can order “num pang” (French-style baguettes) and the tasty “nom banh chok”. This tour is ideal for foodies and lovers of local, non-touristy experiences.

In the afternoon, guests will visit the most remarkable sights Phnom Penh has to offer. First, head to the National Museum, which houses the world's foremost collection of ancient Khmer artistic, archaeological and religious artifacts from the 4th to the 13th centuries. More than 5,000 pieces are on display, constituting the repository of the Kingdom's cultural wealth. In addition, the roof space is home to a large bat colony!

Continue along the lively riverfront to the Royal Palace. This palace dates back to 1866 and houses the Silver Pagoda, named for the 5000+ heavy silver tiles that cover its floors. Its original name is Wat Prakeo, meaning “Temple of the Emerald Buddha”, and in this temple guests will be able to view a collection of Buddha’s in gold, silver, crystal, and bronze.

Enjoy dinner at the renowned Foreign Correspondents’ Club located on the riverside. The building is a colonial gem with great views of the confluence of the Upper Mekong, Lower Mekong, Basses and Tonle Sap rivers. Dinner is à la carte with a large selection of Western and Asian dishes.

Overnight in Phnom Penh.


Day 3 - Phnom Penh - Battambang (B,L)


Travel by private vehicle along scenic back roads to Cambodia’s former capital, Oudong (transfer time: one hour), about 39km from Phnom Penh. En route guests will pass rural villages, local pagodas and scenic rice paddies before reaching the main hill of Oudong. Visit a family that produces palm sugar at their house, before climbing to the top of the stupa-filled hill of Oudong for great views over the rural plains. Enjoy an early local style lunch in the picnic huts at the foot of the mountain.

Continue to Battambang (transfer time: four hours). Guests will be taken directly to their hotel for check-in. Even though Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city, the atmosphere is very laid-back, and this charming and relaxed river town is full of fine examples of French-colonial architecture.

Overnight in Battambang.

Optional: Phare Ponleu Selpak

A special visit awaits at Phare Ponleu Selpak. A school of music, visual & performing arts, Phare Ponleu Selpak uses the arts to provide education, support and entertainment to poor communities. This project is an example of how humanitarian aid work can turn into a display of zest for life, genuine warmth and creativity, against all odds. A visit to one of their circus shows will leave guests with a lasting memory of the wonderful Cambodian people and should not be missed when in Battambang. (Note: The circus performance is only performed regularly on Mondays & Thursdays. On other days private performances are available on request and for a supplement).

Distances and journey time:

Phnom Penh – Battambang (330km): 5hr


Day 4 - Battambang (B,D)

Battambang’s countryside makes this pleasant town a real treat. It is situated along the Sangker River, a quiet body of water that winds its way through Battambang Province and connects the Cardamom Mountains with the Tonle Sap Lake and feeds water into the paddy fields. This results in Cambodia’s best rice, which can be found here in Battambang Province.

This morning guests will be taken to some of the many cultural villages around Battambang, where they will learn how the locals produce rice paper, “prahoc” (typical Cambodian fish paste), “grolan” (sticky rice stuffed in bamboo) and other Cambodian treats. Guests will also visit a weaving and handicraft center in another village.

Afterwards, take a short ride on the famous Bamboo Train, an original means of transportation on the old train tracks leading to Phnom Penh – a true rollercoaster ride without loops! (Note: the train tracks from Battambang to Phnom Penh are currently being rebuilt. The long-term future of the Bamboo Train cannot be guaranteed. Should the service stop we will arrange alternative sightseeing).

Take a break at the hotel for lunch (at own expense).

In the afternoon explore another side of Battambang. Take a relaxing cyclo ride around the town with an audio set providing an informative guide to the history of the town. Guests can sit back and relax as the cyclo driver takes them on a 2.5-hour ride around the colonial streets, markets and temples. The audio set narrates short anecdotes of the city’s many highlights in English or French. At many, guests can stop and walk around the points of interest before moving on the next stop. (Note: only two cyclos are available with one person per cyclo only).

Afterwards, head to Jaan Bai, which means “rice bowl” in Khmer. This is a social enterprise run by the Cambodian Children’s Trust, which is working to break the cycle of poverty in Battambang by empowering underprivileged children. This training and development restaurant is located in an original French colonial building in the heart of Battambang. Jaan Bai uses seasonal organic produce sourced from their kitchen garden, local farmers and neighboring markets to create a tasty menu showcasing the best of South East Asian cuisine with Western influences.

Overnight in Battambang.


Day 5 - Battambang - Siem Reap (B,L,D)


The day starts with a boat ride along the Stung Sangker River to the Prek Toal bird sanctuary - one of the most important breeding grounds for water birds in the region. Continue along the edge of the largest freshwater lake in Asia, Tonlé Sap- an exceptional water system which swells to almost five times its size during the rainy season. The water of the Tonlé Sap River is pushed back from the Mekong, reversing the direction of the lake’s flow in the rainy season and causing it to overflow, flooding nearby fields and forests and supporting an extraordinarily rich and diverse eco-system. The lake is also an important breeding ground for fish, providing more than half of the amount of fish consumed in Cambodia. This unique water system requires the people living of the lake to adapt to the living conditions. Guests will see many villages on the way where people live on stilted or entirely floating houses, before arriving at a port just a short drive from Siem Reap town. The boat trip takes 6-7 hours depending on water levels and is a slow, but beautiful journey to take. Guests can put their feet up, watch village and lake life and read a book as they sail from Battambang to Siem Reap. (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 can be extremely long. From January to June alternative transfer by road.)

In mid to late afternoon guests will arrive in Siem Reap, the gateway to the majestic temples of Angkor and a charming little city. The rest of the day is at leisure.

This evening, enjoy an Asian-inspired French meal at Abacus Restaurant in a beautiful garden setting.

Overnight in Siem Reap.

Distances and journey time:

Battambang – Siem Reap (174 km): 03 hours


Day 6 - Siem Reap (B,D)

Start the morning temple exploration at the most illustrious of the Small Circuit Temples, Ta Prohm, which was built in the mid-12th to early 13th centuries. Ta Prohm is unique in that it has been left largely as it was found: overgrown by jungle trees and vines, with many parts of the temple crumbling to the ground. This makes the so-called “Tomb Raider Temple” (as it was used during the filming of the movie) one of the most picturesque and memorable of the Angkor temples.

Visit the ancient city of Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire under the reign of Jayavarman VII. This city is surrounded by an eight-meter-high wall, drawn in a perfect square. Enter the city through the ancient South Gate, an impressive stone gate carved with elephants and four giant faces. On each side of the entrance path a row of 54 gods or demons is holding the sacred”naga” snake.

From here, continue to Bayon Temple in the exact center of the city. This 12th Century masterpiece is a study in grandeur and is well-known for its 54 towers with enigmatic faces representing the 54 provinces of the Great Khmer Empire. The Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King are also must-visits as they are both known for their intricate bas-reliefs.

Afterwards, guests return to their hotel for some time at leisure, to take lunch (at own expense) and perhaps relax at the pool.

Optional

This afternoon, guests will have the chance to tour the Angkor National Museum. The interactive museum showcases artifacts from the golden era of the Khmer Empire by use of multimedia technology to picture this interesting historical period.

Enjoy dinner at the Apsara Terrace of the Raffles Hotel, including the famous Apsara Show.Located in lush gardens and surrounded by traditional boundary stones, an Apsara Show is an essential experience while in Cambodia and features traditional Cambodian dances and Khmer martial arts, accompanied by a delightful selection of pan-Asian barbecued cuisine. This distinctive Cambodian venue is very versatile and can be used for parties, barbecues and pre-dinner cocktails. (Mon/Wed/Fri throughout the year).

Overnight in Siem Reap.

Distances and journey time:

Siem Reap – Temples (06 km): 10 mins


Day 7 - Siem Reap (B,L)


This morning, discover the secrets of authentic Khmer cuisine in a half-day cooking class with Mrs Kethana Dunnet. First, travel 35km out of Siem Reap to a village near Banteay Srei to meet the chef at her beautiful country home. Kethana is the owner and founder of the Sugar Palm restaurants in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and is known for her work with many celebrity TV chefs including Gordon Ramsay and Luke Nguyen. She grew up in Cambodia before moving to study in New Zealand where Kethana met her husband, Bruce. Living abroad she developed a keen understanding of Khmer cuisine and how it can work in the west, where ingredients are harder to come by. Since 2002, Bruce and Kethana have been living in Cambodia and today will host a cookery class par excellence!

Over the course of the morning, guests will learn how to create a variety of dishes that are served at Sugar Palm and the differences between Khmer and other regional cuisines. The class lasts about three hours, at the end of which guests can appreciate the fruits of your labor by tasting their own dishes (two starters and two main courses).

After lunch, continue to visit the Golden Silk Pheach Farm, a local NGO which helps to revive the ancient Khmer silk-weaving skills and provides job opportunities to more than 100 local staff. The farm area, mulberry trees and weaving ateliers can be seen as part of the guided tour. Golden Silk products are ecologically produced from the yellow silkworm which is unique to Cambodia. Some of the silk products are months or even years in the making, and each one is unique. So this is perfect for connoisseurs of high quality craftwork.

Later travel to the “gem” of the Angkor area, the pretty temple of Banteay Srei. The so-called “Citadel of the Women” remains the best preserved temple in Cambodia and displays some of the finest examples of classical Khmer art, including the truly remarkable fine bas-reliefs for which the temple is famous. Banteay Srei is unique in that it is constructed of pink sandstone, which is seen nowhere else in Angkor.

Transfer back to Siem Reap and spend an evening at leisure.

Overnight in Siem Reap.

Distances and journey time:

Siem Reap – Banteay Srei (37 km): 45 mins


Day 8 - Siem Reap (B,D)

This morning guests will visit the legendary Angkor Wat by local “remork” (similar to the Thai tuk tuk). Built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th Century, Angkor Wat is constructed following the model of the temple mountain symbolizing Mount Meru, the home of the gods. Inside the temple, the walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology and the wars Suryavarman II fought during his reign. Angkor Wat is well known for the more than 2,000 Apsara dancers decorating the temple. Construction is thought to have taken around 30 years of intensive labor. Today, Angkor Wat is depicted on Cambodia's national flag as the temple symbolizes the soul of the Khmer people.

Take a break back at the hotel until the late afternoon.

Enjoy a relaxing cruise along the moat of Angkor Thom in a gondola paddle boat while watching a spectacular sunset at Prasat Chroung temple. Cocktails, champagne, canapés and soft drinks will be available on the boat, as it paddles slowly along the ancient moat.

As this is the last evening in Cambodia, guests will enjoy dinner at the renowned Cuisine Wat Damnak. This restaurant was founded on the simple concept of using only local fresh seasonal produce to create exquisite Cambodian food. The head chef and owner, Joannès Rivière, has a reputation as one of the top chefs in Cambodia and is the author of the book, ‘Cambodian Cooking’ - one of the first cookbooks on Khmer cuisine. (Note: closed mid-Aug to mid-Oct and Sunday/Monday weekly. Only five- or six-course menus are served and change weekly, according to the seasonal produce available. Special requirements and requested reservation time is required in advance).

Overnight in Siem Reap.

Distances and journey time:

Siem Reap – Temples (06 km): 10 mins


Day 9 - Siem Reap (B)


After breakfast, enjoy some time at leisure until the transfer to the airport for the departure flight.

Distances and journey time:

Siem Reap - Siem Reap Airport (8 km): 15 mins


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Angkor Wat sunrise