Immerse yourself in Cambodia on this custom tailored tour that will show you the giving spirit of the ruins, cities, and countryside. The sunrise casts light over historic Angkor Wat and brings the sandstone to a golden shimmer. Monks light incense and offer you blessing. Stroll alongside ornate French colonial buildings in the historic center of Battambang. Feel the cool breeze on an open platform as you travel on the bamboo train. From the ancient customs of distinct villages to classic markets...
Welcome to Siem Reap, Cambodia, a city that sits on the banks of the Siem Reap River and is known as the gateway to Angkor. The streets around Psar Chaa, the Old Market, are lively and energetic. The restaurants emanate aromas of traditional and western cuisine. Tuk tuks wind through the streets and carry tourists to and from the Angkor complex. Large cows pull large carts around the wide boulevards and away from the city center. The city is small and mixed with lavish hotels and boutique guesthouses. Your private transfer meets you at the airport and escorts you to Journeys Within, a celebrated bed and breakfast found outside of the bustling city streets. The grounds feel like a jungle oasis.
The breeze blows quietly through the surrounding trees. The greenery is endless and bright. The pool is cool and refreshing. You are greeted inside the French Colonial building that, in itself, speaks volumes to the history of Cambodia. In the evening you will return to the city to watch a fabulous rendition of a traditional dinner and Khmer performance. The dance-drama conveys classical scenes from folklore. The costumes are vibrant and characteristic of the culture. Women flex their fingers and arch their backs in exaggerated poses. They wear gilded crowns and long dangling earrings. Their movements are graceful and refined, each step telling another element of the story.
Understanding Storied Pasts
Outside of Siem Reap the dawn is quiet and soothing. The river gently trickles beneath the canopy and the wildlife slowly comes alive. Many people depart their hotels before sunrise and venture to Angkor Wat, the iconic temple of Angkor, to see the sun rise over the historic edifice. When you come to the entrance gate you see the dark sandstone that makes the entrance look like you are stepping into a shadow. You come to the spacious plaza and find a pond filled with flourishing lilies. The temple stands at the far end of the fertile grass. Five towers rise over the sprawling structure. Each tower resembles a beehive in shape and is textured with tiers. The central tower rises to a height of 141 feet.
The entire temple was constructed in the 12th century and displays the power of the Khmer Empire and its devotion to the deities and beliefs of Hinduism. Monks in burnt saffron colored robes walk around the pond. When you enter the main gallery you find a small shrine and burning incense. The scent of sandalwood drifts in the tiny wafts of smoke. The pillared windows and heavenly nymphs decorate the inner wall. Male figures dance and animals prance. The sheer scale of the entire temple is spellbinding. The beauty of this ancient complex is magnificent and makes you wonder how stunning it must have been almost a millennium ago.
A Different Representation
You rise before the sunshine hits the hills in order to experience the shifting colors of Angkor Wat. The Towers stand tall and proud over the outer gallery that covers an area of over 430,000 square feet. The light casts a glow on the sandstone that brings the dark silhouette to a golden glisten. After breakfast you make your way to Banteay Srei. The 10th century temple complex consists of low walls and is surrounded by peaked edifices made of rich red sandstone.
When you arrive near the complex you find the jungle sprawl and these how the trees separate into an open plaza. You find remaining temples standing tall against the backdrop of spectacular wild countryside. The exteriors of the central buildings contain elegant and well-preserved relief carvings. The pediments are magnificent and large with a gabled shape. Entire epic scenes are played out on the stone base. The entrances are guarded by various dvrapalas, fearsome warriors and giants often armed with a weapon. Each relief tells a different story; however, their artistry is impressively detailed and captivating, a testament to the décor and the devout.
Shortly outside of Siem Reap is the Rolous Group of temples. They once stood at the heart of the first capital of the Khmer Empire, Hariharalaya. The laterite and sandstone temples shine vibrant red in the morning light against the background of verdant trees and grass. Some of the temples date back far enough to have been built entirely of brick. Lolei was constructed in the 9th century and is dedicated to Shiva. Four brick temple towers stand together on a raised terrace. The dvarapala is armed with a trident and stands under an arched doorway, safeguarding the temple from spirits and people alike. False doors help to hide the main entrance.
In the afternoon you will visit the Old Market which is home to artisan workshops. The interior structure is cavernous and filled with everything from food to clothing. Wicker baskets dangle from the ceiling. Hand-woven purses surround an open store. Locally made shirts and blouses are folded neatly and stacked around the vendor. This is a piece of modern Cambodia that you find enlightening and charming. Local people come to do their marketing. The aroma of fresh noodles and fried eggs travel down the walkways. Little carts sell fresh baguettes and spreadable cheese, flavors left over from French Colonialism. You have taken a rich look into the historic and contemporary culture of Cambodia.
The New History
The crowds disappear behind the lush jungle as you make your way to Beng Mealea. The temple was constructed in the 12th century and only recently opened to the public for viewing. Nature is gorgeously rampant around the temple, which adds to the structure’s mystique and luster. The area is largely un-restored. Through the overtaking vines you can see Buddhist and Hindu motifs. The entire temple is almost 300,000 square feet. Wind your way around, and sometimes over, fallen masonry, through stretches of dim chambers, and alongside thick vines. The complex was at the center of the ancient road that connected Angkor to another ancient province nearby. The ambiance is quiet. The leaves rustle in the breeze and you swear they are trying to tell you about the area’s secret history. At times the overrun jungle looks like a purposeful, composed garden.
The French Givings
Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city but maintains its small-town charm. The local people are friendly, always smiling and welcoming. The French Colonial architecture fills the city’s historic center. You leave behind Angkor and the bustling streets of Siem Reap and find yourself in a time warp of architecture. The Governor’s Palace was constructed in the early 1900s and upholds its regal façade and decadent décor. A long balcony extends from the second story and watches over the manicured garden. The surrounding historic district has embellishments of the French design, from pillars to wooden shutters, doorframes to pedestrian alleyways.
The scents of coffee and baguettes drift through the streets. You see an iconic façade with floral designs that looks like a building you may have seen in Paris. History thrives alongside the wide avenues, but the past has been reconstituted by Battambang to be part of its culture, as opposed to a reminder of what the city once was. In the evening you can partake in the celebrated Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus Show. The non-profit organization allows underprivileged youth to express themselves in an artistic manner, whether through dance, artwork, or even the now renowned circus performances. Children use their talents of twisting and flipping to express their culture and connection to an emotional history.
The Bamboo Culture
The river is serene in the morning light. The sky is pale blue. The city comes to quiet life and you make your way to the Bamboo Train. Outside of Battambang you will discover the rural life of Cambodia. Paddy fields stretch to the distant tree line. You can see farmers pulling at the rice. The marshes are sectioned and the fertile greenery glows. The Bamboo Train takes you into the classic journey of Cambodia’s rural history. The train tracks were laid by the French and have since warped or misaligned.
You climb aboard the Bamboo Train, a seven-foot long wood frame topped with bamboo slats. Other platforms have been loaded with large bags of rice before commuters use the bags as cushions. Monks have sat on the front and watched the countryside pass by. Your private cart trundles down the track. The surrounding lush trees whisper as you pass. There is only one real train a week and you think you can hear its whistle in the far off distance. The Bamboo Train is unique to Cambodia and allows you to immerse yourself in the culture of this rural landscape.
The Countryside of Battambang
You can hear the serene trickle of the lake that runs alongside the city. Today you will make your way outside of Battambang to venture deeper into the celebrated countryside around the city. Phnom Trong Morn Trong Tea is known for its abundance of flora and fauna. The greenery is endless, from the tall grass to the towering trees. You can see a rocky outcrop at the center of a field. Sporadic homes create an untouched vision of the landscape, until you find Barsaet Temple. The edifice was built in the 11th century and sits next to a pond over 65 feet in length.
Nature helped concave the doorframe; however, the remaining edifice is powerful in its strength. It stands as a symbol of historical perseverance in the face of time. At Wat Kor you can see the tribe that maintains their cultural values in the face of pressing modernity. Twenty-one Khmer heritage houses are made with rare hardwood. Orchard gardens surround the complex, which creates an ethereal and time-tested ambiance. In the Khor Sang House you will walk through the cherished home with bare feet. Antique furniture decorates the interior and photos give you a glimpse into the family’s personal connection to their past.
You have seen Battambang and have felt its warm embrace. The serene river and gracious people have created an atmosphere of endless and relaxing acceptance. In the morning you watch the sun slowly rise higher into the pearl blue sky. Sit alongside the river at one of the charming cafes and sip a fresh coffee. You wrap your fingers around the warm cup and wait for your transfer to the airport. You have seen timeless temples and immersed yourself into the marvelous culture of the people. Cambodia has given you unforgettable memories that you happily take home with you.
Read the Cambodia travel reviews for ideas on how to extend this trip or customize it further.
- Explore the incredible Angkor complex, from the famous Angkor Wat to the ancient capital of Angkor Thom
- Discover the traditions and historic culture on the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia at Tonle Sap
- Visit pre-Angkorian temples that date back to the 8th and 9th centuries
- Witness the charming French Colonial architecture of Battambang
- Immerse yourself in the magnificent culture of Cambodia, from the cuisine to the traditions, such as a visit to the cultural theater
- Ride through the immense countryside on the unique Bamboo Train
Paddy fields offer endless greenery to the expansive landscape. Temples are overrun with winding roots that form towering trees. Dancers tell ancient stories as they move their hands in specific, detailed motion. On this 9-day tour through Cambodia you will immerse yourself in the past and present culture of the country. The people are gregarious and curious. The ancient citadels continue to stand despite the persistent efforts of time. You will be given the chance to make magnificent memories, filled with temples and myths, landscapes and monks.
Your journey begins with your arrival in Siem Reap. The city is filled with music and smiles on the edge of the Angkor complex. In the evening you will arrive and partake in a traditional dinner and dance show to witness the evolution of the story form. The following morning you will make your way to Angkor Wat to explore the exceptional renowned temple. In the afternoon you will venture to Angkor Thom and see the Khmer Empire’s capital city. The next day travel to Banteay Srei where the 10th century temples display tremendous carved reliefs. A tour on Tonle Sap Lake will take you to see the floating villages and traditional fish farms that have spanned the body of water for centuries.
Discover the Rolous Group, a collection of 8th and 9th century temples that predate Angkor Wat. Later in the day you will visit the Old Market and once forgotten citadel of Ta Prohm. The next morning you will arrive at Beng Mealea, a temple that has been fabulously overtaken by nature. Transfer to Battambang, where the French Colonial architecture adds a touch of the western world to the city streets. The Bamboo Train sits on the outskirts of the city and takes you on a unique tour of the countryside on the antique French railroad tracks. Explore the surrounding lush landscape where the greenery is unparalleled. On your final day you will be taken to the airport to make your flight home.
$1,615 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
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Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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