Tranquil Laotian & Cambodian impressions


ITINERARY: Luang Prabang – Siem Reap – Phnom Penh – Kampot – Kep – Phnom Penh

DURATION: 16 days and 15 nights on the spot

Day 1

Arrival in Luang Prabang (L)

Note: Upon your arrival at Luang Prabang International Airport, it is possible to obtain your visa on arrival (VOA). Simply bring 1 passport picture along with between USD 30 and 45 / person in cash, visa fees varying from one nationality to another. Make sure your passport is valid at least 6 months beyond your return departure date. Visa on Arrival forms are available before immigration counters.

Welcome by your Lao English-speaking tour guide in the arrival hall and transfer to your hotel for check-in.

The crown jewel of Laos, Luang Prabang, is perhaps the best–preserved traditional town in Southeast Asia. It is a sleepy town that has a long-standing reputation as a stronghold of Lao culture with splendid natural scenery and a sense of timelessness. Magical and charming Luang Prabang is a destination that every traveler has to see once in their lifetime. In 1995, Luang Prabang was voted by the UNESCO as a World Heritage town.

Lunch at a local restaurant.

We then ascend Phou Si hill. The hill commands great views over the town, the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers and the mountainous ranges. It takes you 328 steps to reach the top, and at sunset set, the changing colors of the sky are particularly spectacular. The light reflecting on the golden spire of the temple at the top is also beautiful. The stairs are lined up with flamboyant and frangipani trees providing a deserved shade as you walk up and down.

Once back to ground level, end your day by stopping at the awakening Hmong minority people Night Market. It is held daily in the streets around the National Museum. Villagers come here to sell their handicrafts.

Accommodation in Luang Prabang.

Day 2

Luang Prabang (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

Half day city tour with essentials:

The National Museum that used to be the former Royal Palace where is presented the “Pra bang” sacred golden statue, giving its name to the town.

Then visit Vat Mai, next to the National Museum.

Vat Sene, one of the most beautiful temples in town, with its red walls and golden bas-reliefs.

TAEC, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre. Depicts Laos ‘rich ethnic diversity with themed rotating exhibits. It is hosted in a former French colonial times judge’s mansion.

End with the Heritage House being a perfect example of Luang Prabang traditional building, made of wood on poles, at the back of Vat Xieng Muane.

Drive to Ock Pop Tok weaving centre, on the bank of the Mekong. Enjoy lunch at “Silk Road Café

Ock Pop Tok dyeing session. The Natural Dyes Class is an introduction to silkworms and silk types. In this class, students have a hands-on experience with natural dye preparation and complete their own color dyes. At the end of class you will take home 3 dyed silk skeins. Many of the natural dyes used are grown in their garden. Just to name but a few colors are turquoise, ochre, golden, ivory, emerald green, etc.

Accommodation in Luang Prabang.

Day 3

Luang Prabang – Pak Ou Caves – Luang Prabang (B/L)

At 0540AM, head by Tuk-Tuk to the peninsula to witness and attend alms giving. Long lines of monks and novices stroll the street of the town center to collect their daily food subsistence from the worshippers. This ancient ritual is locally known as “Tak Bat.

Continue with a visit to the open-air food market that is held daily in the streets nearby the former Royal Palace. Lao people still like buying fresh food. While fridges are widely spread in households, people prefer going to local markets and returning home with fresh ingredients.

Return to the hotel for breakfast.

Enjoy a morning visit to the beautiful Vat Xieng Thong, one of the most emblematic temples in Laos. It is located at the top of the peninsula, where the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers meet.

Then, continue to the pier to board your long-boat for a highly scenic 2 ½ hour boat ride up the Mekong River to the mysterious Pak Ou Caves. In Pak Ou, thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues are crowded into the two caves carved out of a towering limestone cliff. They range in size from a few centimeters to the size of a human.

Return to Luang Prabang.

Lunch at “Un Petit Nid”. This 1920’s restored mansion is an enjoyable place in a quiet part of town. The terrace with frangipani trees is pleasant.

Accommodation in Luang Prabang.

Tranquil Laotian & Cambodian impressions

Day 4

Luang Prabang – Kuang Si Waterfall – Luang Prabang (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

In this morning, excursion by road to Kuang Si waterfall, a picturesque series of cascading waterfalls hidden in the forest (bring your swimsuit if you would like to enjoy a refreshing dip in the cool water of the pools). En route to the falls, your guide will take you to some of the nearby ethnic minority villages for a look into Laotian rural life and a chance to interact with the locals.

You will also have the opportunity to visit the Asian Black Bear Rescue Center.

It is also possible to hike to the top of the falls via a steep trail, and if the weather is good, you might enjoy a swim in the crystal clear water ponds.

Back to town, lunch at a local restaurant.

Free time at leisure.

In the late afternoon, enjoy Petanque games with local residence. Another French legacy here. This balling game is extremely popular with Lao gentlemen. Civil servants and retired people are numerous to gather in the late afternoon and evening to share some happy moments together. Bottles of Beer Lao are often around and chit-chat playing with friends is another opportunity to cheer on any occasion!

Accommodation in Luang Prabang.

Day 5

Luang Prabang - departure to Siem Reap and visit the Roluos group (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

Free at leisure, check-out and transfer out to the airport for your onward Lao Airlines flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

On arrival you will be welcomed to Cambodia by your guide and driver and transferred to your hotel.

We then travel back in time to one of the earliest capitals in the Angkor area, Hariharilaya, now known as Roluos. We begin with a visit to the brick temple of Lolei, originally set on an island in the center of the Indratataka baray (reservoir). We continue to Preah Ko (Sacred Cow), named in honour of Shiva’s mount, Nandin. Originally coated in stucco and painted, there is still some of the ancient plaster visible on the rear towers. Finally, we encounter Bakong, the earliest of the temple mountains, which later became the signature of Khmer kings. It is a giant pyramid, its cardinal points marked by giant elephants.

Accommodation in Siem Reap.

Day 6

Beng Mealea, Kompong Khleang and Phare Circus (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

We travel to the lost temple of Beng Mealea, the titanic of temples, a slumbering giant lost for centuries in the forests of Cambodia. It is the most accessible of Angkor’s lost temples, a mirror image of Angkor Wat, but utterly consumed by the voracious appetite of nature. Constructed by Suryavarman II in the 12th century, the builder of Angkor Wat, the forest has run riot here and it is hard to get a sense of the monument’s shape amid the daunting ruins. Then, we travel southeast to one of the largest and least-visited villages on the Tonle Sap Lake, Kompong Khleang, about 55km from Siem Reap. It’s population of 10,000 all make a living from the fishing industry. We explore the canals (wet season) or streets (dry season) of this incredible town. In the wet season, the houses appear to be floating, as water laps at the verandas, but in the dry season towering stilts are revealed, the houses almost like wooden skyscrapers. We cruise into the open water of the great lake to see a small floating village and learn some more about this incredible natural flood barrier.

Later we return to Siem Reap by road.

In the evening we head out to the home of the innovative circus performers from Phare Ponleu Selpak. Their regular modern circus show under the Big Top is proving very popular in Siem Reap and in each show they display a variety of disciplines including acrobatics, choreography, juggling, clowning, live music and much more.

Accommodation in Siem Reap.

Tranquil Laotian & Cambodian impressions

Day 7

Ta Prohm at dawn, Banteay Srei and afternoon visit to the Walled City of Angkor Thom (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

We rise early to travel to Ta Prohm in the dawn light. Ta Prohm has been abandoned to the elements, left as it was ‘discovered’ by French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860, the tentacle-like tree roots here are slowly strangling the surviving stones. After soaking up the unique atmosphere of Ta Prohm, we continue to the giant pyramid of Takeo, one of the highest temples in the Angkor area. Built at the end of the 10th century, it was never completed.

We then continue to Banteay Srei, Angkor’s ultimate art gallery. This petite pink temple is the jewel in the crown of Angkor-era sculpture. The elaborate carvings here are the finest found in Cambodia and the name translates as ‘Fortress of the Women’, thanks to the intricate detail here, considered too fine for the hands of a man. Later we visit the 12th century temple of Banteay Samre. Built by King Suryavarman II, the genius behind Angkor Wat, this temple has been extensively restored.

In the afternoon, we visit the immense walled city of Angkor Thom that was the masterpiece of King Jayavarman VII. The scale is simply staggering and we are immediately overwhelmed by the audacity of Jayavarman on arrival at the city’s gates. We begin our visit at the Terrace of the Leper King, continue along the Terrace of Elephants, and visit the Baphuon, once of the most beautiful temples at Angkor, dating from the 11th century. It has undergone a massive renovation by the French and is now once again open for viewing. Our climax is the enigmatic and enchanting temple of the Bayon. Its 54 towers are each topped off with the four faces of Avalokiteshvara (Buddha of Compassion), which bear more than a passing resemblance to the king himself. We unravel the mysteries of the temple’s bas-reliefs, with their intricate scenes of ancient battles against the Chams and their snapshot of daily life during the Angkor period.

Accommodation in Siem Reap.

Day 8

Angkor Wat sunrise and on to Battambang (B)

Rising at the crack of dawn, we journey out to the Mother of all temples, Angkor Wat. Believed to be the world’s largest religious building, this temple is the perfect fusion of symbolism and symmetry and a source of pride and strength to all Khmers. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, this is most famous temple at Angkor.

We stay at Angkor Wat to enjoy a picnic breakfast.

As the crowds return to their hotels, we venture into Angkor Wat to enjoy its magnificence in peace and quiet, beginning at the bas-reliefs that tell of tales from Hindu mythology and of the glories of the Khmer empire.

After time to freshen up at your hotel we drive west through the town of Sisophon and then continue south to Battambang. We leave the rest of the day free to soak up the charm of this historic riverside city.

Accommodation in Battambang.

Day 9

Battambang Lifestyle (B/L)

After breakfast, we travel to Wat Koh district to visit a local village and learn about rural life in Cambodia. We learn about the rice harvest, fruit farming and how the sugar palm is used. After our village visit, we board the bamboo train to travel back towards Battambang. These ‘local trains’ are bamboo platforms with wheels and they fly along the rail tracks offering great views of the surrounding countryside.

After lunch in town, we travel to the hilltop temple of Wat Banan. The winding road follows the Sangker River and passes by many traditional wooden homes, offering an authentic glimpse of rural Cambodia. Arriving at the temple, we ascend to the summit and are rewarded with striking views of the surrounding plains.

We continue to Phnom Sampeau, a sacred mountain dotted with interesting pagodas and stupas. There is also a moving memorial to Khmer Rouge victims who were thrown into one of the many caves that pepper this holy mountain.

We then return to Battambang town for the night.

Tranquil Laotian & Cambodian impressions

Day 10

Battambang to Phnom Penh via Kompong Luong (B)

We leave Battambang after breakfast and travel southeast towards Pursat province. We pass through typical Cambodian landscapes of endless rice fields dotted with sugar palms. We come to the small town of Krakor and turn off the main road to visit the incredible floating town of Kompong Luong. The largest floating community on the Tonle Sap Lake, there are almost 10,000 inhabitants living here. Everything floats on water, including the schools, the clinic, the shops and the petrol station. We explore by boat and experience life in a real floating community untouched by mass tourism.

We journey to the busy riverside town of Kompong Chhnang where we stop to enjoy a local lunch.

There may also be the opportunity to visit a local pottery village, as Kompong Chhnang is famous for producing undecorated items for the Cambodian home.

Later we continue to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. We check into our hotel and leave the rest of the afternoon free to soak up the atmosphere of this quixotic riverside capital.

Accommodation in Phnom Penh.

Day 11

Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields tour with witness. Lunch at PSE and tour (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel.

We come face to face with the horrific crimes of the Khmer Rouge with the help of one of its survivors. Tuol Sleng was a former high school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a centre for interrogation, torture and death. Today it is a museum of torture and serves to remind visitors of the terrible atrocities that came to pass in Cambodia. 17,000 people passed through the gates of this prison and only seven lived to tell the tale. The Khmer Rouge were meticulous in their record keeping, photographing all the prisoners and many of these haunting black and white images are on display in the cells. Tuol Sleng is a profoundly moving experience and not everyone will want to visit. However, it is key to understanding the hell into which Cambodia descended and how far it has come in the years since.

We then travel out of town to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Prisoners from Tuol Sleng followed this same route to their fate. An old Chinese cemetery, Choeung Ek was turned into an extermination camp for political prisoners. The remains of 8985 people were exhumed from mass graves and are kept in a memorial stupa here. Despite the horrors of the past, it is a peaceful place to go and a tranquil spot to reflect on the tragic events that engulfed Cambodia and its people.

We have lunch in the capital at PSE (a French NGO supporting children from the garbage dump) where their Lotus Blanc restaurant serves excellent international and Asian cuisine. We then take a tour of the PSE facilities where both schooling and work/life skills are available to the children and youths as a way of escaping the poverty of their lives spent on the city’s main garbage dump.

Accommodation in Phnom Penh.

Day 12

Cyclo tour, National Museum and the Royal Palace (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

We discover the streets of Phnom Penh with a cyclo tour of the city. A popular form of transport throughout Southeast Asia, the cyclo is still used in the Cambodian capital and is a comfortable way to see the sights. We use the Cyclo Centre, an NGO set up to support the drivers of these vehicles, Usually poor men from the provinces trying to support their families.

We start at your hotel and pass by Wat Phnom, symbol of the city, before heading west past the National Library and Hotel Le Royal. We continue past the Phnom Penh train station before winding our way down to Psar Thmei (Central Market), the leading market in the city. We then snake through some of the smaller back streets, including 178 St, brimming with art shops, and Bohemian 240 St with its cafes and boutiques. We then pass Independence Monument, modeled on the central tower of Angkor Wat and continue to the elegant riverfront. We pass the glittering Royal Palace compound and the stunning National Museum before winding up at the riverfront, where there are dozens of cafes, bars and eateries to enjoy some refreshments.

We then explore the stunning Royal Palace complex, home to the Cambodian royal family. We begin at the Throne Hall and Napoleon III Pavilion, a gift from the French emperor in the 19th century. We continue to the Silver Pagoda, named after the 5000 silver tiles covering the floor, each weighing 1kg. Inside is a delicate emerald Buddha made of baccarat crystal, which gives the temple its Khmer name of Wat Preah Keo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). We leave and continue to the nearby National Museum, home to the world’s finest collection of sculpture from the Angkor period. The exquisite building was completed in 1920 and features collections from the pre-Angkor, Angkor and post-Angkor periods. We concentrate on the incredible sandstone sculpture from Angkor, as well as the intricate bronzes.

Accommodation in Phnom Penh.

Tranquil Laotian & Cambodian impressions

Day 13

Phnom Penh - to Kep via Tonle Bati and Kampot (B/L)

We leave Phnom Penh and travel south on National Highway 2. We stop at Tonle Bati to visit the beautiful 12th century temple of Ta Prohm. Built by King Jayavarman VII, this temple is surrounded by flourishing flowers and is a tranquil sanctuary. We continue to Takeo where we enjoy a local lunch overlooking the water. We then travel by speedboat along an ancient canal to Phnom Da, a beautiful 8th century temple atop a small mount. An island in the wet season, when this area is inundated with water, it is surrounded by a sea of green rice fields in the dry season. We explore the brick temple on top of the hill and take in the magnificent views. We then follow a forest path to Asram Moha Russei, a curious hermit’s shelter carved from sandstone.

Later we return by speedboat to Takeo and transfer to our vehicle for our onward journey to the graceful riverside town of Kampot where we may stop for lunch and a stroll along the riverfront before continuing to the old French beach resort of Kep.

Accommodation in Kep.

Day 14

Kep’s Crab Markets, Rabbit Island and Cave Pagodas (B/L)

Breakfast at the hotel

This morning, we rise early to visit the town’s famous crab markets and witness the days catch being brought in. We then travel to the boat pier to board a local boat for the journey to Koh Tonsay or Rabbit Island. We make the short journey to this beautiful palm-fringed island, home to a small community of fisher folk and farmers. We leave some time free to enjoy the white-sand beaches that ring the island.

Then, we travel back to Kep by boat and head to one of the best local crab restaurants set on stilts over the water next to the markets for a delicious lunch. Other options are available if you are not a seafood fan!

In the afternoon, we leave Kep and travel to the little town of Kompong Trach. For a long time this place was forgotten, as the civil war kept it off the map, but the new border crossing with Vietnam has seen a bit of a boom. We stop to visit the interesting cave temple of Wat Kirisan, built into the base of Phnom Sor. We travel through a small cave to a hidden chamber open to the elements, the sheer walls dripping with foliage. There are several hidden shrines here, as well as the Cave of a Thousand Rice fields, where locals claim the limestone looks like terraces. We then journey to Phnom Chhnork, a large cave that contains a 7th century brick temple in remarkable condition. This hidden temple is a very sacred place for local Khmers.

Later we return to Kep, our base of the night.

Accommodation in Kep.

Day 15

Day at leisure in Kep (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

A free day to simple relax and enjoy Kep’s tranquil atmosphere. You may choose to take a walk in the Kep National Park for sweeping views of Kep itself, the bay and Bokor Mountain.

Accommodation in Kep.

Tranquil Laotian & Cambodian impressions

Day 16

Kep - transfer to Phnom Penh for departure (B)

Breakfast at the hotel.

Free time at leisure before check-out.

Today we drive back to Phnom Penh, dropping you off at the airport in good time to check in for your onward flight.

End of services

Each program is absolutely customizable in terms of duration, itinerary, stops, types of accommodation, inclusions and activities. Anything actually! In line with your wishes and budget constraints.