Responsible Travel Guide: Cambodia
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This Complete Cambodia Vacation includes all the essential sights required for a comprehensive Cambodia tour, from the ancient temple city of Angkor to the growing modern capital of Phnom Penh. However, you'll also venture off the beaten path with trips to the island community of Ko Trong, south coast beaches and lesser-known ancient temple sites, such as Sambor Pre Kuk.
Your Cambodia tour starts in the capital, Phnom Penh, where you'll take a private tour of the city. The Royal Palace and gleaming Silver Pagoda are must-see sights, whilst the difficult stories surrounding the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum can be upsetting to visit, yet they are stark and poignant reminders of the horrors that still exist in living memory.
You'll head northeast to Kratie and the island of Ko Trong, where you will have the opportunity to participate in a sustainable tourism project. The project links visitors with the local community, offering an insight into the rural life of Cambodia and a side of the country not often seen by travelers. Kratie is also one of the few remaining places in the world where you can still catch a glimpse of the rare and endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.
Next, you'll delve into the ancient mysteries of the Khmer Empire with visits to temple city sites such as the famous Angkor, as well as Angkor's lesser-known predecessor, Sambor Pre Kuk. Finally, you'll end your Cambodia Vacation with some relaxation on the country's south coast, with the seaside village Kep, riverside Kampot (home of Kampot pepper), and quiet Rabbit Island.
This Complete Cambodia tour combines the country's most iconic monuments, such as Angkor Wat, with less-visited destinations, such as Ko Trong, creating the perfect balance for an all-around, authentic travel experience in Cambodia.
A representative will meet you on arrival at Phnom Penh (PNH) Airport with a Wayfairer welcome sign, then you'll take a private transfer to your hotel. Depending on your arrival time, you may wish to visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda or take a cycle tour of the city. If you arrive later in the day, then start your Complete Cambodia Vacation with some classic Khmer dishes, such as creamy fish amok, then get an early night, ready for the start of your action-packed Cambodia tour.
Today, you'll take a private tour of Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, with a professional English-speaking local guide, who will provide explanation and context, especially with Cambodia's history and culture.
Beginning at the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda (if there was no time yesterday), you can admire the colorful grandeur of the structures, as well as the 5,000 glimmering tiles on the pagoda's floor. Next, there is the option to visit the sombre site of the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum, where prisoners of the Khmer Rouge regime were detained and tortured. Although this site makes for a disturbing visit, it is an important historic account of comparably recent events in the country and highlights the changes that have taken place since it was closed.
This private tour of Phnom Penh can also include a stop for lunch at Pour un Sourire d’Enfant. This fantastic project has rescued thousands of children from scavenging on the rubbish dumps around Phnom Penh and is a great way to support local people in the city.
After lunch, you'll visit another important landmark of Cambodia’s tragic past with the Choeung Ek Killing Fields, located just outside the city, where victims of the regime were slaughtered en masse. This can be a very emotional place to visit, but it provides poignant lessons about Cambodian history during the time of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot's ruthless leadership.
*Note: we don't recommend trips to Tuol Sleng or Choeung Ek for families and can arrange an alternative tour to different attractions in the city, customized to your preferences.
Today, you'll head northeast to the small riverside town of Kratie. On the way, you'll make a stop at Skoun, a small town whose culinary speciality is deep-fried spiders! Friendly locals sell these eight-legged snacks and delight in joking with tourists who are rarely brave enough to try them.
Next, you'll stop at the unique Angkorian temple of Wat Nokor, which is far less visited than the famous Angkor Wat and its surrounding ruins, adding to its appeal as a deserted ancient temple of mysteries.
You'll also visit a small Cham Muslim village. The Cham people are a Southeast Asian ethnic group which mainly resides in Cambodia and Vietnam, with a diaspora in other Southeast Asian countries. Cham culture is diverse and rich, with a mix of indigenous cultural elements and foreign influences from India, Buddhism, Han Chinese and Islam.
Finally, you'll arrive in Kratie, cross the river by local ferry and transfer to your accommodation on Koh Trong Island.
Koh Trong is a small, beautiful island on the Mekong River, where a sustainable tourism project has been developed by the locals to create more opportunities for the islanders. Wayfairer are proud to support this project, which offers visitors the chance to engage with the community and learn about rural life in Cambodia.
You'll work alongside the locals, tending to fields, planting trees or learning how to fish. The island is around five miles long and perfectly flat, making it ideal for a relaxing cycle to take in the beautiful fruit orchids. Participation in this project is a wonderful way to experience the real Cambodia and still stay in rustic comfort.
This morning, you'll cross the river and head north to catch a glimpse of the rare Irrawaddy dolphin, an endangered species with a tiny population of approximately 92. This stretch of the Mekong River is one of the last sanctuaries where people can see these creatures in their natural habitats. You'll take a boat with a local boatman who knows the best spots for encounters with the dolphins.
Later, you'll head south, crossing the Mekong by local ferry and making your way to Kampong Thom, which will be your base for exploration of the pre-Angkorian temples of Sambor Pre Kuk.
This morning, you'll explore the temples of Sambor Pre Kuk. Scattered throughout the forest, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was once the largest temple complex in Southeast Asia. Built between the 6th and 8th centuries, these temples may not be as intricate or dramatic as their Angkorian successors, but they do offer an excellent chronological introduction to ancient Khmer architecture (and a chance to explore a lesser-known archaeological wonder).
Located on the Eastern bank of the Tonle Sap Lake, the central part of Sambor Prei Kuk is divided into three square sites, each surrounded by a brick wall. The structures are made of brick and sandstone, featuring prasats, octagonal towers, ponds and reservoirs, as well as lion sculptures.
Following on from your visit to Sambor Prei Kuk, you'll continue to Siem Reap, the gateway city to Angkor. Upon arrival in Siem Reap, there is time to relax, or you may wish to visit the Angkor temples for sunset if you still have the energy.
Today, you'll start your exploration of the Angkor complex this morning by bicycle. Making an early start to avoid the crowds and enjoy the relative cool of the morning, you'll ride in a support vehicle to the temple complex, in order to avoid the traffic.
Today’s cycle tour focuses on Angkor Thom, the walled city, built in the 12th century. You'll start at Ta Prohm, given the moniker "Tomb Raider Temple," where branches and roots have swallowed the structure, giving you an idea of how the monuments of Angkor appeared when European explorers first stumbled upon them.
You'll use quiet roads, small tracks and alternative approaches to visit other temples so that you can really feel the magic of Angkor away from the crowds. In the afternoon, you'll visit Banteay Kdei (a citadel of chambers), Sra Srang (the royal bath), East Mebon temple and finally, the Pre Rup temple for sunset.
This morning, you'll be able to enjoy sunrise at Angkor Wat, the most famous monument in the ancient temple site of Angkor. Built in the 12th century in the high classical style of Khmer architecture, Angkor Wat still stands as a great symbol of Cambodia. You'll enjoy a packed breakfast before continuing with a detailed tour of the magnificent temple, which is one of the largest religious monuments anywhere in the world.
The sun rises from behind the five towers of the temple, and the experience is truly extraordinary. However, be warned that you'll be sharing the views with many others, as sunrise at Angkor Wat is a very popular activity. If you prefer, we can recommend a quieter temple for an equally stunning sunrise away from the crowds.
After lunch, you'll take a break from the temples and head out to the Tonlé Sap River and the floating village of Kompong Phluk. The river is the home to many Cham and Vietnamese communities living on floating villages around the lake and a quiet area not frequented by tourists. The lake is the pulsing heart of Cambodia, where many Cambodians make their daily living. Everything here happens on the lake; schools, shops, restaurants and even floating pigsties!
Your final day of Angkor exploration includes a visit to Banteay Srei, one of the highlight temples featuring some of the most intricate carvings found in the ancient temple city. The pink sandstone structure's name translates as "The Citadel of Women" because it was felt that the hands of men could not create such delicate beauty.
You'll also stop at the Land Mine Museum. This small self-guided museum offers a fascinating insight into Cambodia’s troublesome past and its continuing problems with unexploded ordinances.
In the afternoon, you'll visit Angkor Thom and the extraordinary Bayon temple, which is a favorite among many visitors to Angkor due to the hundreds of faces carved into the monument. We time the visit carefully to ensure we're there after the crowds have moved on. As the sun gently falls, it casts a warm light and shadows onto the giant stone faces; as the light changes, so do their expressions, creating a magical experience.
A short flight takes you back to the capital for an overnight stop before heading south to the coast. Spend a relaxing afternoon navigating the city's markets, cafes and restaurants, then head to the National Museum, known for its fine collection of Cambodia sculpture as much as its iconic red terracotta exteriors. Sample Cambodian curry at a local restaurant (our local guides are full of recommendations) or dine on street food at the lively night markets, before taking a rest back at your hotel.
After breakfast, you'll head south and make your way towards the gorgeous coastal town of Kep. During the 1950s and 60s, Kep was Cambodia’s premier seaside resort and attracted the Khmer elite, as well as French expats. Many luxurious villas were built here, some in the colonial style, some Khmer and others very modern for their time.
The period under the Khmer Rouge saw an end to this affluence, but more recently, there has been a revival of Kep as a luxury beach destination. Many of the villas have been restored and have been converted into hotels or private residences, meaning that Kep now boasts a number of charming boutique accommodations and stylish restaurants.
The nearby lazy riverside town of Kampot houses some of Cambodia’s best-preserved colonial architecture. The town itself is small and easy to explore on foot. Pay a visit to a pre-Angkorian pagoda cave known as Phnom Chhnork, take in the beautiful natural scenery and, depending on the time of year, join in with the locals and help them work in the fields (this can be arranged upon request). The Kampot region is famous for its production of fruit, vegetables and Kampot pepper, with visits to local pepper plantations available for those interested in its production. End your day trip to Kampot with a sunset cruise on the river before returning to your hotel.
Take a short boat ride to Rabbit Island, just a short way off the coast from Kep. There are no developments here other than some very simple family-run bungalows and restaurants. Seaweed farming is the only other activity on the island, and the golden sand beach here is perfect for swimming, with palm trees offering shade at the water's edge.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can enjoy squid fried in local Kampot pepper. Swim, have a massage, and simply relax in this idyllic island paradise, as you come to the end of your Complete Cambodia tour.
There's time for a last swim or walk along the beach before you make your way back from Kep to the capital as the end of your Cambodia vacation draws near. In the evening, you'll take a sunset cruise on the Tonlé Sap River, passing Cham houseboats and floating villages as you watch the sun set behind the majestic Royal Palace. There is no better way to watch the sunset for one last time in Cambodia.
Your Complete Cambodia Vacation sadly comes to an end. According to your flight time, you will take a private transfer back to Phnom Penh (PNH) airport in plenty of time for your onward journey. This truly extraordinary Cambodian adventure has seen you exploring ancient temples, vibrant modern cities, riverside communities, and beachside retreats, leaving you with memories that will last a lifetime.