Phnom Penh & the Temples of Angkor
Discover the cultural highlights of the vibrant but charming capital of Phnom Penh, catch a glimpse of Cambodia’s countryside with its stunning sceneries, observe life in one of the floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake and explore the fabled temples of Angkor at a leisurely pace.
Phnom Penh is the ideal gateway for daytrips to the surrounding countryside. Particularly attractive are boat trips on the Mekong and Tonle Sap combined with a visit to the picturesque Silk Island or a visit of Udong, once the Capital of Cambodia, and the floating villages of Kampong Chhnang.
6 days (5 nights) Phnom Penh to Siem Reap or vice versa
- Day 1 Arrive in Phnom Penh, city tour including Royal Palace and National Museum
- Day 2 Transfer to Siem Reap via the former capital of Udong
- Day 3 Visit Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and other temples on the Small Circuit
- Day 4 Banteay Srei, Banteay Samre and Temples on the Grand Circuit
- Day 5 Forest temple of Beng Maelea and floating village
- Day 6 Check out and transfer or start of your onward programme
Day 1: Arrive in Phnom Penh, where you are picked up by our tour guide and transferred to your hotel. Later we visit the spectacular Royal Palace complex, including Wat Preah Keo Morokat with the spectacular Silver Pagoda, decorated with a floor made up of 5,000 silver tiles, the National Museum which houses the world’s finest collection of sculptures from the Angkor period, Wat Phnom, the city’s landmark, and the notorious Toul Sleng Genocide Museum.
Day 2: We leave early today to explore some of the places of interest on our way to Siem Reap. The first stop is Udong, once Cambodia’s capital. There are a number of stupas on the top of nearby Phnom Udong, where former kings and queens are buried. We enjoy the magnificent views over the plains below as our guide provides us with information about the historical and cultural significance of this sacred hill, before we continue to Kompong Thom, where we climb the sacred hill of Phnom Santuk. There are over 800 steps to the top which is dotted with a number of pagodas, shrines and reclining Buddhas and enjoy once again the stunning view over the plains below. Back at the bottom of the hill we visit Santuk Silk Farm and learn more about silk production in Cambodia, from silkworm breeding to weaving fine garments. After lunch in Kompong Thom town we continue to Siem Reap, where we arrive in the early evening.
Day 3: Today we start our exploration of the temples of Angkor. We begin with a visit to the ancient walled city of Angkor Thom which also houses the Bayon with its mysterious four-faced towers, the royal palace and the terraces of the Elephants and the Leper King. In the afternoon we explore Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building and national symbol of Cambodia. With its perfect layout and unsurpassed bas-reliefs that depict tales from Hindu mythology, Angkor Wat is considered the masterpiece of Khmer architecture. After lunch we visit the Ta Prohm which has been left to the forces of nature by archaeologists as it was rediscovered, many parts of its structure being embraced by the roots of gigantic trees, giving the ruin a special atmosphere, as well other structures on the Small and Grand Circuit. In the evening we witness the scenic sunset over one of the temples.
Day 4: Early in the morning we head to the temple mountain of Pre Rup, before driving further north to Banteay Srei. Compared to other structures, this Hindu temple almost seems petite, but is magnificently decorated with countless elaborate carvings which are the finest found in Cambodia. The name translates as “Citadel of the Women”, due to its intricate decoration. On the way back to Siem Reap we make a detour to the less frequently visited Banteay Samre. Built by King King Suryavarman II, the same king who built Angkor Wat, the structure with its high temple tower has undergone extensive restoration. In the afternoon we visit Neak Pean, a small island temple situated in the middle of an artificial pool, which translates as “intertwined serpents” due the coiled serpents encircling the base of the structure. We then continue on to Preah Khan or “sacred sword”, a huge monastic complex which features elaborate carvings.
Day 5: In the morning we visit the jungle temple of Beng Mealea. Built in the 12th century, but undiscovered for centuries after the demise of the Khmer empire, this temple has only recently made accessible and has not yet been restored. With its special atmosphere the structure is popular among photographers. After lunch we visit a floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake. This village is entirely built on stilts, some as high as 10 metres. We take time to look around the village and meet some of its inhabitants. As the water level of the Tonle Sap lake rises during the wet season, the entire area is submerged in water and we take boat to explore the community, whereas during the dry season we stroll through the forest of stilts supporting the entire village. Towards the evening we return to Siem Reap.
Day 6: Time free at leisure until your check out and transfer or the beginning of your onward programme.
The above tours are therefore sample itineraries.
Cambodia’s bustling capital is situated at the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers. Legend has it that Phnom Penh was founded when a woman by the name of Penh found Buddha images washed up on the bank of the Mekong River. In 1373, a temple, Wat Phnom, was built on a hill to house them. With Phnom in Khmer meaning hill, Phnom Penh literally translates as Hill of Penh. Officially the city was founded in 1434 by King Ponhea Yat, following the fall of Angkor.
Today, Phnom Penh is a city of more than 1.5 million people. With continuing urban development it is fast developing into an economic hub of the region, at the same time retaining its distinct atmosphere with its wide tree-lined boulevards, French colonial buildings and an abundance of chic bistros dotted along the riverfront, bustling markets, intriguing boutiques and stylish hotels.
Places of interest include the royal palace including the Silver Pagoda with its spectacular floor made up of 5,000 silver tiles, the National Museum housing treasures from the world’s finest collection of sculptures from the Angkor period, Wat Phnom, the city’s landmark and the notorious Toul Sleng Genocide Museum.
Phnom Penh is also ideal gateway for daytrips to the surrounding countryside. Particularly attractive are boat trips on the Mekong and Tonle Sap combined with a visit to the picturesque Silk Island or a visit of Udong, once the Capital of Cambodia, and the floating villages of Kampong Chhnang.
Gateway to Preah Vihear
Situated midway between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap on the river Stung Sen, Kampong Thom is a relatively new tourist destination, serving primarily as a base for further excursions to the temple of Preah Vihear and Sambor Prei Kuk, the capital of Chenla during the 7th century.
Other attractions include Phnom Santuk, a sacred hill affording spectacular views over the surrounding countryside and Santuk Silk Farm, which offers guided tours on silk production.
Tourist hub of Cambodia
As gateway to the temples of Angkor, Siem Reap is clearly the tourist hub of Cambodia. Accordingly, the town offers a vast array of accommodation options, ranging from boutique guest houses to some of the best hotels in the region.
The picturesque town centre hosts many speciality restaurants, lively bars, designer boutiques and a bustling night market.
Apart from temple visits, there are plenty activities that warrant a longer stay than just a couple of days, ranging from photography courses to cycling adventures to excursions to nearby bird sanctuaries or a homestay in a floating village on the nearby Tonle Sap Lake.
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