Siem Reap and Phnom Penh may be the heavyweights, but to some extent they are a bubble, a world away from the Cambodia of the countryside. This is the place to experience the rhythm of rural life and time-less landscape of dazzling rice paddies and swaying sugar palms. The South Coast is fringed by tropical islands, with just a handful of beach huts in sight. Inland from the coast lie the Cardamom Mountains, part of a vast tropical wilderness that provides a home to elusive wildlife and is the gateway to emerging ecotourism adventures. The mighty Mekong River cuts through the country and is home to some of the region’s last remaining freshwater dolphins. The northeast is a world unto it-self, its wild and mountainous landscapes a home for Cambodia’s ethnic minorities and an abundance of natural attractions.
Despite having the eighth wonder of the world in its backyard, Cambodia’s real treasure is its people. No visitor comes away without a measure of admiration and affection for the inhabitants of this enigmatic kingdom.
Cambodia can be visited at any time of year. The ideal months are December and January, when humidity levels are relatively low, there is little rainfall and a cooling breeze whips across the land, but this is also peak season when the majority of visitors descend on the country.
Some time in May or June, the southwestern monsoon brings rain and high humidity, cooking up a sweat for all but the hardiest of visitors. The wet season, which lasts until October, isn’t such a bad time to visit, as the rain tends to come in short, sharp downpours. Angkor is surrounded by lush foliage and the moats are full of water at this time of year. If you are planning to visit isolated areas, however, the wet season makes for tough travel.
DAY WISE ITINERARY
Day 1: Arrival in Siem Reap
Arrive at the Siem Reap International Airport in the early morning. Meet your guide and driver and transfer to your hotel. Siem Reap was the ancient capital city of the Khmer Empire and it is also the place where you can explore hundreds of mountainous temples.
In the afternoon, Explore the most famous Angkor Wat. Known as the Seventh Wonder of the world, this temple was built by King Suryavarman II, in the early 12th century. It is a replica of the universe in stones and represents an early model of the cosmic world. The central tower rises from the center of the monument, symbolizing the mythical Mount Meru which is situated at the center of the universe. Because it faces to the west, this temple was the funerary temple for King Suryavarman II. Inside the temple the walls are covered by carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology and the wars King Suryavarman II made during his reign. In addition, Angkor Wat is well-known for the 2,000 Apsara dancers decorating the temple.
View the sunset at Phnom Ba Kheng before returning to the hotel for an overnight stay in Siem Reap
Day 2: Siem Reap
Start the day with a visit to Angkor Thom. It the last capital of the Khmer Empire, and was a fortified city enclosing residences of priests, officials of the palace and military as well as buildings for administering the kingdom. It was built from the end of the 12th century to the beginning of the 13th century by the famous King Jayavarman VII. The visit to this Great City of Angkor Thom starts from one of the five gateways – the South Gate – where you can see a row of gods on the left and a row of demons on the right.
Visit the Bayon Temple. It is one of the more popular temples in the Angkor complex, and is located in the center of the city. Over 200 large faces are carved on the 54 towers which, at that time, represented the 54 provinces of the kingdom.
Visit the Terrace of the Elephants and Leper King
Stop for lunch (not included)
Explore some temples on the Small Circuit, namely: Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang, Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon, Ta Keo Temple.
Return to the hotel for an overnight stay in Siem Reap
Day 3: Siem Reap
Start the day with a visit to Banteay Srei
Also known as the Citadel of Women, it is made of hard pink sandstone and is one of the smallest temples, but it is the most charming temple built by King Rajendravarman and King Jayavarman V in the second half of the 10th century. This Brahmin temple is decorated with excellent carvings and bas relief of Khmer architecture. That is why it is a precious gem and a jewel in Khmer art.
Next we visit Banteay Samre, it was built in the middle of the 12th century by King Soryavarman II, and is dedicated to Vishnu Brahmanism.
Stop for lunch (not included)
Visit the temples on the Grand Circuit, namely: Preah Khan,Neak Pean, Pre Rup Temple, Ta Som
View the sunset at Eastern Mebon before returning to the hotel for an overnight stay in Siem Reap
Day 4: Siem Reap
Visit Chong Kneas (by car and boat)
This is a Floating Village on the Tonle Sap Lake. There is much to learn about life on the lake.
Tonle Sap is South-East Asia’s largest freshwater lake with its size varying greatly depending on the season. During the dry season, it is roughly 2,500 square kilometers, but it swells to about four times its size during the wet season – 10,000 square kilometers!
There are floating houses, floating farms and even a floating hospital. In the afternoon, transfer to the Siem Reap International Airport for your departure flight.
Places to Visit:
Siem Reap (literally “Siam Defeated”) is undoubtedly Cambodia’s fastest growing city and serves as a small charming gateway town to the world famous destination of the Angkor temples. Thanks to those Cambodia attractions, Siem Reap has transformed itself into a major tourist hub. It is laid-back and a pleasant place to stay while touring the temples. Siem Reap offers a wide range of hotels, ranging from several 5-star hotels to hundreds of budget guesthouses while a large selection of restaurants offer many kinds of food.
Preah Vihear is a Khmer temple situated atop a 525 meter (1,722 ft) cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains, on the border between Cambodia and Thailand. It has the most spectacular setting of all the Khmer temples. Most of the temple was constructed in the 11th and 12th century during the reigns of the Khmer kings Suryavarman I and Suryavarman II. It was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Preah Vihear is the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, and several soldiers were killed in clashes in 2009.
Sihanoukville, also known as Kampong Som, is a port city and beach resort on the Gulf of Thailand. The big attraction here are the white-sand beaches and several undeveloped tropical islands. Sihanoukville is a good place to relax and unwind, though be prepared to battle the crows during the high season or a holiday weekend.
Tonlé Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and is of major importance to Cambodia. The lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. From November to May, Cambodia’s dry season, the Tonlé Sap drains into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh. However, when the year’s heavy rains begin in June, the flow of the Tonlé Sap changes directions and an enormous lake forms. Tonlé Sap is home to many ethnic Vietnamese and numerous Cham communities, living in floating villages around the lake.
Located within the Royal Palace compound in Phnom Penh, the Silver Pagoda houses many national treasures such as gold and jeweled Buddha statues. Most notable is a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha (the Emerald Buddha of Cambodia) and a life-sized gold Maitreya Buddha decorated with 9584 diamonds. The internal wall of the Silver Pagoda courtyard is decorated with a richly colored and detailed mural of the Ramayana myth, painted in 1903–04 by 40 Khmer artists.
Bokor Hill Station
Bokor Hill Station near Kampot was built by the French in the 1920s to be used as a retreat from the heat of Phnom Penh. It has since been abandoned twice, first in the 1940s when the Japanese invaded Cambodia and again in the 1970s, when the Khmer Rouge engulfed the country. Today, Bokor Hill Station and its abandoned buildings have an eerie, ghost-town feel. As of October 2008, the road to Bokor is officially closed due to ongoing reconstruction. Independent access seems to be impossible. though there are hiking tours arranged by local travel agents.
Kratie is a small town located on the banks of the Mekong River and is dominated by a central marketplace surrounded by old, French colonial buildings. There’s no large scale tourism, but plenty of backpackers pour through here during the peak season. It is the place in Cambodia to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins, which live in the Mekong River in ever-diminishing numbers. It is estimated that there are between 66 and 86 dolphins left in the upper Cambodian Mekong area.
Koh Ker was the capital of the Khmer empire for a very brief period from the year 928 to 944 AD. In this short time some very spectacular buildings and immense sculptures were constructed. A giant Garuda (mythical half-man, half-bird creature), carved into the stone blocks, still guard the very top, although its partially covered now. Left to the jungle for nearly a millennium, Koh Ker was one of Cambodia’s most remote and inaccessible temple destinations. This has now changed thanks to recent de-mining and the opening of a new toll road.
Although officially part of the Angkor complex, Banteay Srei lies 25 km (15 miles) north-east of the main group of temples, enough to list it as a separate Cambodia attraction here. It is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still clearly visible today. Banteay Srei is the only major temple at Angkor not built for a king, instead it was constructed by one of king Rajendravarman’s counselors, Yajnyavahara.
The greatest attraction in Cambodia and one of the most spectacular ancient sites on earth, Angkoris a vast temple complex featuring the remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century AD. These include the famous Angkor Wat temple, the world’s largest single religious monument, the Bayon temple (at Angkor Thom) with its multitude of massive stone faces and Ta Prohm, a Buddhist temple ruin entwined with towering trees.
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