Day 1: Phnom Penh
Arrive at the Phnom Penh International Airport and enjoy a complimentary transfer to your hotel to check in. Ask hotel reception about the specific place and time of your welcome meeting in the evening. Until then, you’re free to explore the wealth of riverside eateries, bustling markets and Buddhist temples in Cambodia's capital on your own.
Located along the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, Phnom Penh boasts many fine examples of French colonial and Buddhist architecture. Consider a visit to Wat Phnom — situated on a hill for which the city is named — or take a stroll along Sisowath Quay to find coffee or a cocktail at one of the many cafés.
Overnight: Ohana Palace Hotel or similar in Phnom Penh
Day 2: Phnom Penh (B)
After breakfast at your hotel, prepare for an intense morning confronting Cambodia's tragic past on a guided tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The sites reveal emotional relics of Pol Pot’s rule in the late 1970s when an estimated 1 to 2 million people were starved, tortured or killed.
At the museum, you’ll learn about the Khmer Rouge regime, which transformed a former high school into Security Prison 21 (S-21) to detain more than 30,000 people. Here, you can view 114 stirring photographs of the original 6,000 portraits taken at the secret prison.
Head out to the Choeung Ek Memorial, located about 10 miles (17 km) south of Phnom Penh. The site pays respect to the men, women and children brutally
executed at the infamous Killing Fields; many of whom suffered
interrogation and torture at S-21 Prison. A memorial glass stupa filled with
thousands of human skulls honors the 9,000 political prisoners that were discovered in mass graves after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.
After this heavy dose of human history, learn about a brighter period in Cambodia’s past with a visit to the Royal Palace, which still serves as the royal residence for the king of Cambodia. Take a breath of fresh air as you wander through the serene palace grounds, whose manicured tropical gardens and ornate buildings sit behind high walls overlooking a riverfront park. With your guide, tour the palace complex and its spectacular Silver Pagoda before free time during your afternoon.
After lunch (own expense), indulge in some strong local coffee to fuel your independent explorations. If you’d like, check out the National Museum whose traditional building contains many outstanding examples of Khmer craftsmanship. Find silver and local crafts in the Russian Market, take a cyclo tour around town or meander along Sisowath Quay at sunset.
Overnight: Ohana Palace Hotel or similar in Phnom Penh
Days 3 – 5: Siem Reap (3 B, 1 L, 2 D)
Following breakfast, a short flight (approx. 1 hour) takes you to Siem Reap, gateway to the Angkor Archaeological Park. Built between the 9th and 13th centuries during the reign of the Khmer Empire, the immense and awe-inspiring temples at Angkor — believed to represent the cosmic world — are nothing short of spectacular.
Use your 3-day Angkor Pass to make the most of your visit to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Angkor complex. The archeological ruins are scattered over an area of some 100 square miles (160 sq km), but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap. Temple-hop with your local guide, and discover the fascinating history and mythology of the Bayon, the jungle-clad Ta Prohm and magnificent Angkor Wat. The intricately carved bas-reliefs and architectural designs provide fantastic photo ops at any time of day, including sunrise or sunset.
See 12th-century Bayon Temple, located in the old city of Angkor Thom and flanked by 51 stone towers, each topped by four smiling faces of a bodhisattva. Explore the South Gate and the ancient city wall with your guide, stopping for photos of magnificent demons lining the causeway before visiting the Terrace of the Elephants, the Royal Palace and the Terrace of the Leper King.
Hear fascinating stories about the Khmer kings that once ruled the ancient city, full of sacred temples like the popular Ta Prohm. Left in much the same condition in which they were discovered, the atmospheric ruins remain entangled with trees. Don’t miss the best preserved and most famous of all the temples: Angkor Wat, considered the most architecturally impressive temple of the entire complex. Wander through the galleries of the vast ceremonial structure to find an array of ornate carvings depicting scenes from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana.
In addition, you’ll visit the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB). Fall in love with the resident wildlife at this rehabilitation center for animals that have fallen victim to wildlife trafficking, and learn about the breeding facility for highly endangered animal species.
On one of the three days, enjoy a delicious Khmer lunch at Sala Bai, a local training center for families developing a career in hospitality.
During your free time, take advantage of the mouthwatering street food and vibrant nightlife of Siem Reap, a small city with a timeworn French feel. If you’d like, you can shop at local markets, take a 40-minute jungle trek to the River of a Thousand Lingas (a Hindu site that predates Angkor Wat by some 200 years), or ease away your fatigue with a traditional massage (own expense). Ask your guide about other optional activities such as a Khmer cooking class or boat trip on Tonle Sap.
Your 5-night tour of Cambodia ends with a sumptuous Khmer feast with newfound friends!
Overnight: Steung Siem Reap Hotel or similar in Siem Reap
Day 6: Siem Reap
There are no activities planned for your final day. Leave your accommodations at any time, and head to your next destination at your own expense.