Day 1: Arrival in Siem Reap (-)
At your arrival, you will be picked up and driven to your hotel in Siem Reap.
Overnight at the hotel.
Day 2: Siem Reap – Angkor Thom & Angkor Wat by Tuk-Tuk (B, L)
After breakfast, you will go to Angkor Wat, one of the most famous and incredible temple in the world. Considered the largest religious edification ever built, this gigantic temple is a model of symbolism and symmetry, and the pride of an entire population. Erected in the 12th century under King Suryavarman II’s reign, it is widely recognized by experts as the eighth wonder of the world, and is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. Then, you will visit the Ta Prohm temple, engulfed by tree roots, and the temples of Preah Khan (“Sacred Sword”) and Neak Pean.
Lunch at a local restaurant.
In the afternoon, you will discover the marvelous city of Angkor Thom, the masterpiece of the most powerful of all Khmer kings, Jayavarman VII. This ancient city is accessible at the South Gate by a finely crafted bridge representing a famous scene in Hindu mythology: the Churning of the Milk Sea.
You will start to discover Angkor Thom by visiting the Terrace of the Leper King. In the past, the royal crematorium was disposed on this gigantic platform. There, you will find a statue, which was before believed to be a representation of the Leper King but is in fact a representation of Yama, the God of Death. Next, is a visit to the Terrace of the Elephants, a location where shows, parades, and traditional sports events took place.
A little further south, you will visit the temple of Baphuon, one of the most beautiful temples of Angkor, dating from the 11th century and the reign of Uditayavarman. The Baphuon has undergone a massive renovation that was undertaken by the École Française d’Extrême Orient (French School of the Far East) and is again open to visitors today.
The highlight of your visit will be the discovery of the enigmatic Bayon temple. Located in the center of Angkor Thom, it perfectly expresses the creative genius and the ego of the most ambitious of all the Khmer kings. Its 49 towers are all adorned with four faces of Avalokiteshvara (the Buddha of Compassion), whose resemblance to the sovereign itself is troubling.
Dinner and Overnight at the hotel.
Day 3: Siem Reap – Banteay Srei – Beng Mealea (B, L, D)
After breakfast at the hotel, you will go to Banteay Srei, a jewel of Khmer art. This small pink sandstone temple is the expression of refinement of the sculptural Angkorian art. The delicacy of its sculptures makes it one of the most remarkable site in all Angkor. Its name, which means “Citadel of Women”, derives from its delicate engravings, considered too subtle to have been made by men.
Originally believed to be dating from the latest period of the Angkorian era, the inscriptions found on this site suggest that this temple was built by a Brahman in 967. However, architects and historians agree that these inscriptions may actually date from a former structure that already existed on this same location during the construction of Banteay Srei.
Then, you will visit Banteay Samré, dating from the 12th century. Built by King Suryavarman II, to whom we also owe the phenomenal Angkor Wat, this temple was later renovated almost entirely. Pediments above the interior doors contain engravings considered to be among the most beautiful of all the similar sculptures dating from the Angkorian period.
Lunch at local restaurant.
In the afternoon, you will depart for the remote temple of Beng Mealea, a giant edification that has been nestled for centuries in the heart of Cambodia's forests. This is the most accessible of all the temples buried in the jungle, mirroring the beauty of Angkor Wat but today largely devoured by the voracious appetite of nature. Also built by King Suryavarman II (1113-1150), it is hard to exactly guess the shape of the monument from these ruins that are swallowed by the massive and invasive vegetation.
Overnight at a homestay in Beng Mealea.
Note: two types of accommodations are available. Either at the village guesthouse, or at a homestay. Shared bathroom and toilets. There is no A/C at the homestay, but there is a ceiling fan at the guesthouse. No hot water, but the water tank is naturally heated by the sunlight. The accommodation and the activities in the village are managed by a NGO responsible of a sustainable tourism project, in cooperation with the local community.
Day 4: Beng Mealea – Phnom Penh (B, L)
After breakfast at the homestay, you will depart for Phnom Penh (6-hour drive).
Lunch at a local restaurant.
You will be free in the afternoon.
Overnight at the 3-star Lux Riverside Hotel (Superior Room).
Day 5: Phnom Penh – City Tour – Departure (B)
Have a good breakfast at the hotel. In the morning, you will visit the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, home of the royal family and the symbol of the Kingdom. You'll start your tour with the beautiful gardens of the palace, adorned with many species of tropical plants. Next, you will enter the Throne Hall, where official receptions are organized and where the coronation of the King took place. Then, you will go through the steel-made Napoleon III Pavilion, which was a gift made by the French emperor to the Cambodian royal family in the 19th century.
After that, you will go to the Silver Pagoda, which name is explained by the presence of 5,000 silver tiles covering its soil. It contains the most extraordinary treasures of Cambodia such as a life-sized golden Buddha adorned with 9,584 diamonds, weighing in at 25 carats. You will also see a delicate Emerald Buddha, made of Baccarat crystal, which explains why the temple’s Khmer name is Wat Preah Keo (“Temple of the Emerald Buddha”).
Then you leave the Royal Palace to visit the National Museum of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, which houses the most fabulous collection of sculptures dating from the Angkorian period. This astonishing structure was built between 1917 and 1920, and possesses a beautiful courtyard with a lush garden surrounded by the unique pieces of museum art.
Lunch at local restaurant.
In the afternoon, you will discover the Russian Market, one of the best places to shop in the capital. Known as Tuol Tom Pong Psar, it is also called "Russian Market" since the 1980s, when the Russians were the only tourists in Cambodia. This place is a giant bazaar where everybody bargains and where you can find almost everything you can imagine: local crafts, sculptures, silk and other textiles, clothing, footwear, computer software, music CDs, and DVDs.
After strolling a good time in the narrow alleys of this market, you will head to the impressive Central Market, one of the most famous monuments in Phnom Penh. Built and opened by the French in 1937, this imposing Art-Deco-styled structure is known by the inhabitants as Psar Thmei (or "New Market"). The huge central dome allows the market to be naturally ventilated. There, you will also find an incredible diversity of items. However, don’t shy away from bargaining and try to negotiate good prices, because the merchants in this market have a reputation of giving higher prices to tourists.
Finally, you will discover the Wat Phnom, the symbol of the city. Located on one of the few hills of the capital, the first pagoda was originally built in 1373 to house Buddha statues discovered on the Mekong River by a woman named Penh. This lady is at the origin of the city’s modern name: Phnom Penh, which literally stands for “Hill of Madame Penh”. The Wat Phnom is today a place of pilgrimage where Cambodian regularly gather and pray.
In the late afternoon, you will be driven to airport for your departure flight.