An Introduction to Cambodia

6 days

This short itinerary is an excellent introduction to Cambodia. Covering Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and the surrounding areas, it gives you an understanding and appreciation of the history and culture of this remarkable region. Beginning in Phnom Penh, it includes visits to the lavish Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda; the National Museum, which houses a stunning collection of Khmer art; the moving Toul Sleng Genocide Museum; and the confronting Killing Fields and Choeung Ek Memorial. It ends at Siem Reap with visits to the majestic Angkor Complex which, with its soaring towers, mysterious faces, and exquisite sculptures, boasts some of the largest religious monuments ever constructed. Along the way enjoy the beauty of the countryside and colourful local markets, and experience the warmth and hospitality of the Khmer people.

Day 1: Phnom Penh

You will be met on arrival and transfer you to your hotel. After settling in, visit two of the city's main attractions - the Royal Palace and the National Museum. The Royal Palace, constructed over a century ago, served as the residence of the King of Cambodia. The complex consists of several buildings, structures and gardens all located within walled grounds overlooking a riverfront park. The 'Silver Pagoda' located within the compound is named for the solid silver floor tiles that adorn the temple building. Next to the Palace is the National Museum. George Groslier (1887-1945), historian, curator and author was the motivating force behind much of the revival of interest in traditional Cambodian arts and crafts, and it was he who designed this building that is today synonymous with 'traditional Khmer' architecture. The museum houses one of the world's largest collections of Khmer art, including sculptural, ceramics, bronzes, and ethnographic objects. 151

Day 2: Phnom Penh

Begin today with a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located at the site of a former high school, which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by Pol Pot's forces. This was the largest centre for detention, interrogations and torture during the rule of the Khmer Rouge (1975 to 1979). Continue on to Choeung Ek, one of the Killing Fields sites, where a memorial park is built around the mass graves of many thousands of victims (about 17,000 people) most of whom were executed after they had been transported from the S-21 Prison. This afternoon explore the Russian Market (Psah Tuol Thom Pong), a lively outdoor market where you will find antiquities, silver and gold jewellery, gems, silk, kramas, stone and wood carvings, etc. End the day at the Victory Monument; modelled on the central tower of Angkor Wat, it was built to commemorate Cambodia's independence from France in 1953. 154

Day 3: Phnom Penh - Siem Reap

Transfer to Siem Reap today, where you begin your exploration of the temples of Angkor with a visit to Ta Prohm. One of the area's most beautiful temples, Ta Prohm has been left relatively untouched since it was discovered and retains much of its mystery. Its appeal lies in the fact that, unlike the other monuments of Angkor, it was abandoned and swallowed by the jungle, looking today very much the way most of the Angkor temples appeared when European explorers first stumbled upon them. Continue on to Preah Khan, which, like Ta Prohm, is a place of towered enclosures and shoulder hugging corridors. Unlike Ta Prohm, however, this temple is in a reasonable state of preservation and ongoing restoration efforts should maintain and improve this situation. End your day with visits to two of the smaller 12th century temples, Neak Poan and Ta Som. This evening enjoy a Khmer traditional dance performance.

Day 4: Siem Reap

In the morning, visit the ancient (12th century) capital of Angkor Thom. Sites of interest here include: the South Gate with its huge statues depicting the churning of the ocean of milk; the Bayon Temple, unique for its 54 towers decorated with over 200 smiling faces of Avolokitesvara, the Phimeanakas; the Royal Enclosure; the Elephants Terrace; and the Terrace of the Leper King. This afternoon visit the most famous of all the temples on the plain of Angkor: Angkor Wat. The temple complex covers 81 hectares and is comparable in size to the Imperial Palace in Beijing. Its distinctive five towers are emblazoned on the Cambodian flag and this 12th century masterpiece is considered by art historians to be the prime example of classical Khmer art and architecture. Late afternoon view a wonderful sunset from the Top of Phnom Bakhen Hill. 141

Day 5: Siem Reap

After breakfast, take a 45-minute drive through typical Khmer countryside to visit the 10th century Banteay Srei temple. Considered by many to be the 'jewel in the crown' of Angkorian artisanship, its exquisite carvings are very well preserved. After a stop here, continue on to Banteay Samre, which dates from the same period and is also well preserved. End your day at the mountain temple of Pre Rup, thought to have been an early royal crematorium. This is a lovely spot to be at sunset with beautiful views over the surrounding rice fields. 94

Day 6: Siem Reap

This morning, visit the floating village of Chong Khneas, located 10 kilometres south of Siem Reap. Explore the village and take an excursion in a traditional wooden boat on the Tonle Sap Lake, the "Great Lake" of Cambodia, and one of the largest in Asia. Later transfer to Siem Reap international airport for your departure flight to your next destination. 59

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