11 Days, 10 nights
Tour begins in Phnom Penh and ends in Siem Reap.
home to the ancient and glorious Khmer kingdom and Angkor Wat.
A former French protectorate, this land is regaining its strength and stature, and winning awards for Best Destination in the world, plus for the friendliest people in Asia. Join us on our gourmet circle tour of Cambodia, beginning in capital Phnom Penh, visiting remote ancient temples, viewing weaving and crafts, including the Unesco-heritage colonial city of Battambang, and Angkor Wat.
This is a small-group tour hosted and organized by cookbook author Robert Carmack, and textile designer Morrison Polkinghorne. Cambodia is where we live, and Southeast Asia is what we know best. Delicious food, delightful company, decorative design and deluxe accommodation: That’s our Globetrotting Gourmet winning recipe.
- Arrive Phnom Penh
Welcome to Phnom Penh, once described as The Pearl of Asia. Today it’s a vibrant cosmopolitan city, despite its relatively small population of nearly 2 million. Founded in the mid 15th century, Phnom Penh was built on the confluence of the Tone Sap, Bassac, Mekong rivers and tributaries. Originally named Chaktomuk for its “four faced” river crossroads, it later was badged Penh’s Hill or Phnom Penh, after a lady Penh discovered images of the Lord Buddha and Lord Vishnu inside a floating tree. Lady Penh ordered increasing the height of the district’s nearby small hill, and constructed temples there to house these sacred relics. The main temple eventually became known as Wat Phnom Dau Penh, with the city’s name eventually shortened to Phnom Penh. This eventually became the country’s capital in the mid 19th century.
You will be met at the airport by a Globetrotting Gourmet representative and driven to our host hotel. Depending on arrival times, we will offer an optional dinner tonight. Today is Constitution Day, so government offices may be closed today and the preceding Sunday 24/9.
Need extra nights? Just ask for pre- and post extension advice…
- Architectural Tour, Sunset Cruise
Phnom Penh is considered an architectural gem, with both its colonial Deco and post ’53 independence Khmer Moderne architecture lauded. After breakfast tour its most important buildings. Lunch is at the city’s finest eatery, set in a sumptuous courtyard. The menu is refined Khmer, but we’ve selected a few of their little-known village specialties that are sure to excite the taste buds. Visit the Royal Palace. Remaining afternoon free, then regroup for dinner.
Optional & On your own: visit the Tuol Slend prison, a school used by the Khmer Rouge to interrogate its citizens, or further afield the Killing Fields. Both are highly recommended, albeit harrowing eyewitness testimony to the horrors of Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia. As these are sobering experiences, we recommend viewing quietly in solitude, and not with a group. We can help you arrange a private remok/tuktuk to take you there (payable directly to the driver).
In the evening we’ve scheduled a sunset cruise dinner.
- National Museum & Royal Palace, Night Market
This morning, climb Penh’s Hill and get a brief historical introduction to the city, followed by the city’s domed Psar Thmei Central Market, a deco treat constructed in 1935. View local crafts and shopping street highlights. Nearby, we’ll stop for delicious grilled chicken and rice luncheon near the market.
After lunch, visit the Cambodia’s National Museum, and the Royal Palace.
Although looted during the dark days of Khmer Rouge mis-rule, both remain treasure troves of unexpected delights. Most surprising are the museum’s collection of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman-influenced figurines and artifacts dating to the 6th century Pre-Angkorian civilizations — attesting to this region’s early trade routes.
Return to hotel to freshen up, walk to the night market and to a nearby Cambodian grill eatery, one of our local faves. The seafood is freshly grilled, the beer cold and plentiful, and its outdoor setting convenient to the Night Market. Adventurous Khmer in a bustling setting.
Today we drive to the colonial city of Battambang.
Our first stop is Kampong Chhnang, gateway to the little visited floating villages of the southern Tonle Sap. After a local lunch, continue to Battambang; en route stop for a brief introduction to the local picked bamboo shoots. Check in, then free until dinner.
Schedule permitting, we will attend the famous Phare Ponleu Selpak circus and art school on one of our nights in Battambang.
This morning we send you to a local market and cooking school, and afterwards you will cook your own Khmer lunch. In the late afternoon, a walking tour of colonial Battambang, which is officially nominated for Unesco Heritage status due to its architecture of French colonial buildings. From about 1908 until 1953 Cambodia was a French protectorate, but for more than a century prior to that Battambang and most of Northwest Cambodia was under Thai tutelage. Surprisingly, you will discover that the famed Governor’s Mansion is not French at all, rather designed by Italian architects during the city’s Thai sovereignty. Regroup for drinks followed by dinner.
This morning visit picturesque Ek Phnom, built in 1029 during the Bayon period. The temple is in dilapidation, and gives one the impression of an early archaeologist discovering a forgotten kingdom. For the intrepid, climb inside and over the fallen masonry and huge stones. There is a new, very picturesque modern temple adjoining containing the country’s largest collection of contemporary murals, and several massive Buddha statues as well.
Better yet, getting here is half the fun! Enroute, stop to watch rice sheets made for spring rolls, a rice distillery, plus local specialty of stuffed and grilled coconut rice in bamboo – it’s extremely labor intensive – and the Khmer “cheese” factory where artisans dry fish for prahok, Cambodia’s national flavoring and condiment. Lunch is a local rice noodle salad adorned with crisp spring rolls and redolent of Vietnamese mint. Late afternoon go to the famed bat caves of Phnom Sampov.
Remaining afternoon free. Walk around the town, hire a tuktuk to traipse up the 300+ steps at Banan Temple, visit the world’s worst winery, see the old teak homes in Wat Kor, or go on a gallery crawl to view contemporary art. The city has more artists per capital than any other. There is plenty to do in Battambang, or simply sit back and relax.
As this is our final night in Battambang, we’ve prepared a French colonial dinner in your honor. We’ll eat around the formal 19th century dinner table in the middle of Bric-à-Brac’s Boutique showroom.
- To Banteay Chhmar & Anlong Veng/Preah Vihear
Banteay Chhmar is one of the largest ancient Khmer temples, but little visited because of its isolation. Its massive wall friezes are extraordinary. (There are rumors a Thai politician absconded with two of them in the 1990s and they now grace his back garden in Bangkok.) There is a small French silk factory in the village, which we will also visit; prices here uniquely are cheaper than in other cities, and the quality superb. Time permitting, we’ll also visit nearby Banteay Tuop, whose weathered towers have the distinction of retaining a few wooden ceiling planks still in situ. Lunch at a local eatery near the temple, then continue driving alone the Khmer-Thai border to Preah Virhear and overnight.
- Preah Vihear, Kulen, Siem Reap
Morning drive to Preah Virheah. This is a masterpiece of ancient Khmer architecture: A massive tiered complex reached by 900 steps, perched precariously on an escarpment with the Cambodian plains below. Its location has been the cause of both wars and legal disputes with neighboring Thailand, and to this day, entry from Thailand is restricted, and currently prohibited. (You will still find Khmer-rouge cannons on premises facing toward Thailand.) The site is exceptional for the quality of its architecture, which is adapted to the natural environment and the religious function of the originally Hindu temple, as well as for the exceptional quality of its carved stone ornamentation.
The naturally-fortified Kulen plateau was the first Khmer capital, followed by Roluos in the 9th century, then for a relatively short 20 year term in Koh Ker. It’s believed Koh Ker was abandoned not only because of drought, but also as its founding king was considered an usurper to the throne. Conversely, too much water — the annual flooding of Tonle Sap — caused Roluos’ later abandonment. By the mid 10th century, the capital moved to Angkor.
Continue to Beng Melea, then Koh Ker — the former referred by Lonely Planet as “exploring this titanic of temples is Angkor’s ultimate Indiana Jones experience.” This area is both architecturally and historically significant. Continue to Siem Reap. After a long day’s trekking, we’ve left the evening free.
- Siem Reap
- Angkor Wat, Bayon, Lunch in Temple
This morning we’ll have a break from temples: Visit Siem Reap’s Old Market to explain local foodstuffs, followed by cooking class and lunch. In the afternoon, the jewel in the crown: Angkor Wat.
What more can we say about the vast spectacle of Angkor Wat, except that it is truly an awe-inspiring, breathtaking experience. This is the largest temple in the world, as tall as Notre Dame cathedral, and its stone volume equals Cheops’ Great Pyramid in Egypt. Uniquely, it faces West (where our group will exit, against the tides of tourists), and was constructed in the 12th century. (Its symmetrical towers are stylized on the modern Cambodian flag.) Conceived by Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat took an estimated 30 years to build, and is debatably a funeral temple for the king. Intricate bas reliefs surround its four sides, each telling a story. The most celebrated of these is the “Churning of the Ocean of Milk” on its east wing. Note we will not visit the highest third tower, due to wearing of the stones from constant tourism.
Afterwards, sunset on the temples. Surprisingly, the best views are from below, not atop, with the golden rays hitting the temples. Dinner is at a popular restaurant where we will taste a wide range of grilled Khmer-style meats and copious cold beer.
After breakfast, visit the ancient walled city of Angkor Thom, literally “Great City.” Built in the 12th century by Jayavarman VII, the first sight of Angkor Thom complex is its magnificent South Gate. All five gates are similar, but the south gate has been extensively restored, and the most impressive. To give you a contrast, we also visit Angkor Thom’s West gate, seldom visited and largely overgrown. It still retains its original paving stones, but most heads are missing. Central to Angkor Thom is Bayon, a state temple built between the late 12-13th centuries. This is certainly one of the most impressive edifices in all of Angkor, and one which you will recognize from its giant heads. Our guide will help translate the reliefs depicting everyday life and food gathering. Visit the Terrace of Elephants, triumphal entry point of processions to the ancient Khmer kings After, visit Terrace of the Leper King with detailed carvings winding along a narrow passage way leading to baths of Baphuon.
We are proud supporters of Ecole Hotellier Paul Dubrule, the kingdom’s leading cooking and hospitality training facility. Their students will prepare a special luncheon for us today.
Remaining afternoon free to explore at your leisure. Wander through the Old Market, indulge in a spa, or hire a tuk tuk to return for a few more hours of temple viewing on your own: your temple pass is valid all day and tomorrow.
This is our final night together in Cambodia, so we’ve organized a very special dinner, a multi-course degustation at what we consider the kingdom’s finest food.
- Tour ends today.
After breakfast, we include private transfers back to the airport. For those wishing to extend their stay in Siem Reap, ask us for special hotel rates and additional services. BONUS: Your 3-day Angkor entry ticket is still valid today.