If your vacation time is short but you want to see amazing temples and palaces, experience a way of life completely different to your own, and laze by the water, Cambodia may be just the place.
Day 1: Arrive in Phnom Penh. A driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel so you can relax after the long flight.
Day 2: It’s your first full day in Southeast Asia so you’ll have the afternoon to yourselves but first, spend the morning with a private guide exploring Phnom Penh. Cambodia was once a wealthy land with a strong tradition of art and culture. Marvel at the Royal Palace, home to the Silver Palace with its 5,000 silver tiles and Buddha statues made of gold and Baccarat crystal. Stop by the National Museum to check out Khmer sculptures dating back more than a thousand years. Stroll through the markets of Psar Tuol Tom Pong (known as Russian Market for the many Russians who shopped there in the 1980s) and Psar Thmei (Central Market). Practice your bargaining skills and pick up a souvenir or two or sample some fresh fruit, there may be some you’ve never tried before! Consider joining the locals for a quick lunch in one of the many stalls selling cheap, tasty meals. Wander as you wish for the afternoon or relax in the comfort of your hotel, perhaps take a dip in the pool. When you’re ready to head back out, stop by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club where you can look out over the Mekong River with a cold drink in hand. Head to Friends or Romdeng for dinner, both run by Friends International, an organization that helps at-risk children and youth as well as their families and communities by providing practical training, health care, emergency support, and so much more.
Not interested in the palace, museum, and markets? Spend the day with rescued animals instead at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary where you can feed elephants and come face to face with tigers, leopards, gibbons, and other endangered animals. Know that your money goes to the rehabilitation and conservation of these beautiful creatures.
Day 3: See the dark side of Cambodia’s history with a visit to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng, a school turned prison by the Khmer Rouge. A visit to these two sites is imperative to understanding contemporary Khmer history and the ruthless violence of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge that reduced Cambodia’s population by a quarter. For many, it’s an emotional journey so you may wish to use the remainder of the day to rest and reflect. Explore the lively riverfront for dinner, maybe you’ll see a public post-workday aerobics class in action!
Days 4-5: A driver will take you south about three hours to the riverside town of Kampot for some lazy days. The area is known for its slow pace of life and there’s no better place to truly unwind. When you want to explore, check out a peppercorn plantation or the Kampot Museum to learn about life in Cambodia when the French were in charge. Get a ride or hop on motorbikes for an afternoon in Kep to indulge in fresh-caught crab seasoned with Kampot pepper. But really, this is your vacation so why not jump in a hammock and take it easy?
Day 6: By car and plane, you’ll head to Siem Reap and have the evening to relax and explore. The bustle here will be a stark change to Kampot so you’ll have a tranquil room in which to retire and an inviting pool for escaping the heat.
Day 7: Start exploring the temples of Angkor with visits to Banteay Srei and Ta Prohm. Or if you’re up for an adventure, head out to Beng Melea where you can climb over stones and swing from vines among the ruins. Temple fatigue is real and your final day will be full of temples so use the rest of your day to relax. Get a message at Seeing Hands which trains the blind in massage techniques, walk around the beautiful streets of Siem Reap, stopping as you like to enjoy the many cafés and shops, or take it easy poolside. When golden hour nears, take a private sunset tour by quad bike to see rice fields and villages.
If one day of temples will be enough, you could use this day for a cooking class, to explore a nearby village, go horseback riding, take an ox-cart ride, go hiking, bicycling, kayaking or even ziplining. Siem Reap is full of things to keep you busy if that’s what you’re into.
Day 8: Get up early for a sunrise visit to Angkor Wat, followed by Angkor Thom including the 216 stone faces and intricate bas-reliefs of Bayon. After a few hours of rest, end your Cambodian adventure with a true delight: a performance by Phare, the Cambodian Circus. Performers are young Cambodians, many from challenging social and economic backgrounds who have transformed their lives through the arts. It’s hard to leave with anything but a smile when you see the passion and energy these young performers display.
Day 9: A driver will collect you for the ride to the airport and you’ll begin the long journey home.