A great trip that combines the highlights of the Khmer kingdom with its Laotian counterpart – think majestic temples, river cruises, ancient capitals and great outdoors.
Route: Phnom Penh – Tuol Sleng & Cheung Ek Tour – Siem Reap – Angkor Temples – Tonlé Sap – Kampong Phluk & Klaing – Laos: Pakse – 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don) – Champasak, Wat Phou – Khone Papheng Waterfall – Bolaven Plateau – Tad Lo Waterfalls – Pakse – Luang Prabang – Big Brother Mouse Village Visit – Nam Ou River Cruise – Pak Ou Caves.
Day 1: Arrival – Phnom Penh
Day 2: Phnom Penh – City Tour
Day 3: Phnom Penh – Tuol Sleng & Cheung Ek Tour – Siem Reap
Day 4: Siem Reap – Angkor Temples
Day 5: Siem Reap – Angkor Temples
Day 6: Siem Reap – Tonlé Sap – Kampong Phluk & Klaing (flooded forest & floating village)
Day 7: Siem Reap – Laos: Pakse – 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don) – Champasak, Wat Phou
Day 8: 4000 Islands – Khone Papheng Waterfall
Day 9: Bolaven Plateau – Tad Lo Waterfalls
Day 10: Tad Lo Waterfalls – Pakse – Luang Prabang
Day 11: Luang Prabang – Walking Tour
Day 12: Luang Prabang – Big Brother Mouse Village Visit – Nam Ou River Cruise – Pak Ou Caves
Day 13 : Luang Prabang – Departure
Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, you will be met by your guide and transferred to your hotel. The city was once considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Orient and despite its recent turbulent history it still retains much Colonial charm. Today the city buzzes with energy and an air of opportunity as Cambodia advances into the 21st century. The remainder of your day is at leisure. Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Morning tour of the Royal Palace, situated on the site of the former citadel and built by King Norodom in 1966, the Palace still serves as the King and Queen’s residential quarters. Also within the walls of the Palace is the Silver Pagoda, so called because of five thousand silver tiles that line its exquisite floor. You will also visit the National Museum, which houses the worlds leading collection of Khmer art and sculpture, and Wat Phnom the founding site of the city. All are within easy walking distance of each other and are a great introduction to this laid-back city. Lunch is at Friends the Restaurant a ‘kindness restaurant’ where ex-street children are trained in hospitality and restaurant skills, helping them to break away from life on the streets. The afternoon and evening are at leisure for you to explore more of the city. A great place to find yourself at sunset is on the banks of the Mekong River with a cold drink, watching the city slow down. Overnight in Phnom Penh.
In 1975, after years of guerrilla warfare, the radical Communist Khmer Rouge party, under its leader Pol Pot, seized power of Cambodia and declared ‘year zero’. They immediately abolished money and private property, and ordered the entire population of Phnom Penh from their homes and into the countryside to cultivate the fields. Over the next three years an estimated 2 million Cambodians died, many from starvation and exhaustion. Many others were tortured and executed for being supposed ‘enemies of the state’. The morning is spent learning more about these terrible years, through visits to the infamous Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes and Cheung Ek, better known as the ‘Killing Fields’. It is an incredibly moving experience, but these are two visits you will be glad to have made. During your visit to Cambodia, you will barely meet a single person who didn’t lose a member of their family during these years, yet they are all willing to talk openly about it with you. They wish you to hear about it and see these places, to ensure that it never happens again. Early afternoon departure for Siem Reap by car (driver only). Taking just five hours, you’ll pass through provincial towns, villages and roadside hamlets giving you the opportunity to observe life away from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
Siem Reap is the base for exploring the fabled temples of Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer empire. Over 100 temples are spread over a vast area and the site easily lives up to its status as one of the seven wonders of the forgotten world. Overnight in Siem Reap.
During any visit to the Angkor temples, we ensure your day(s) remain both flexible and personal. Having met with your guide, you will be able to discuss in detail what you are looking to achieve from your time at the temples. Whilst some wish to explore as many temples as they can during their stay, others like to travel at a slower, more relaxed pace. Maximum experience, minimum crowds.
Whether it’s sunrise at Angkor Wat or sunset at Pre Rup, climbing through the snake like roots that engulf Ta Prohm or swimming in the quiet waters of the West Baray Reservoir (or a combination of these), you can be sure that your visit to one of the seven wonders will not be easily forgotten. Unlike some archaeological tours, the Angkor temples never seem to lose that initial ‘wow factor’. Every site is as outstanding as the last, and it will be with a mixture of regret and excitement that you’ll get back into your air-conditioned transport to visit the next site. We do still appreciate that some visitors are wary of becoming ‘templed-out’ and to combat this we can create more varied days with visits to other sites such as floating villages and flooded forests on the Tonlé Sap Lake, museums and exhibitions, cooking schools or simply time at leisure to explore Siem Reap or laze by the pool.
Your guides: All our guides are highly experienced Angkor specialists, fully trained and licensed to work at the temples. Along with their exceptional knowledge of each temple and the civilisations that built them, Selective Asia’s guides know how best to avoid the bus-loads that descend on any given temple at certain times of the day, and know every trick in the book when it comes to getting the best photos and the most tranquil moments.
If you have any specific requirements or special interests, be sure to let us know and we will arrange the guide with the most suitable expertise.
You may also wish to consider visiting some of the further lying such as Beng Melea & Koh Ker, Sambor Prei Kuk or Preah Vihear. Excursions to these less-visited temples always enhance your experience however they do change things logistically and therefore visits must be arranged well in advance of your arrival. Overnight in Siem Reap.
Continue your tour of the Angkor Temples…. Overnight in Siem Reap.
After breakfast depart Siem Reap for the Tonlé Sap, driving down the eastern side of the lake. Arrive at Kampong Klaing, a remarkable village built entirely on stilts, where there is time to explore the various houses, school and shops before boarding your private boat. Cruise along a short tributary, passing fishermen and children playing in the shallow waters before arriving at a typical floating village where you may either disembark or cruise amongst the waterways.
At the head of the tributary you will continue out on to the ‘Great Lake’ and continue travelling north to Kampong Phluk; a ‘flooded forest’. Accessible only during high water, you’ll pass through the tree tops whilst seated in your boat. Nearby is a fishing village where you will can also learn more about the traditional methods used for generations.
Returning to the mainland, meet your driver and return to Siem Reap. Arriving mid-afternoon, the remainder of your day at leisure. If time permits you may wish to continue your tour of the Angkor Temples. Overnight in Siem Reap.
Morning transfer to Siem Reap Airport for your flight to Pakse. Upon arrival you will be met by your guide and transferred to the city centre where you will board a small private craft for a two hour cruise down the Mekong River towards Si Phan Don, or the ‘4000 Islands’. Although some of the islands are technically just sand banks, there are still hundreds of scenic spots to enjoy. Your first destination is Champasak, crossing the Mekong River by ferry and visiting the fascinating pre-Angkorian ruins of Wat Phou that are located near to the town and are one of South-East Asia’s most dramatically situated temple sites with superb views across the Mekong River. Designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2001, the site dates back to the 5th century, predating the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Whilst much of the origins of Wat Phou are unclear, it is believed that the original temple was built by the Khmer Hindus who eventually made Angkor Wat their capital. Return to Champasak to admire the town’s wonderful French colonial architecture before crossing back over the Mekong River and completing your journey to Done Daeng or Done Khong. The remainder of your day is at leisure to explore the island by foot or bike, or just simply relax into the Si Phan Don pace of life! Overnight in the 4000 Islands.
After breakfast, drive south into the heart of the 4000 Islands, a journey taking approximately 2 hours. From Khong take a local boat to the peaceful islands of Done Det and Done Khone, sites of the only railway ever built in Laos (end of the 19th century). After a stroll through the palm-fringed villages, continue to the southernmost part of Laos and the impressive Khone Papheng waterfalls, just a few miles to the Cambodian border.
In the afternoon, return to your hotel via a good location to spot the region’s rare Irrawaddy dolphins. The remainder of your day is at leisure to relax or explore the island further. Overnight in the 4000 Islands.
After breakfast journey east across the Bolaven Plateau, passing the many plantations typical of those found in the region. Any visit to the plateau provides a refreshing break from the heat and allows you to observe the cultivation of rich coffee, tea, cardamom, bananas, and other crops that can be visited en route.
The area is also famous for its many waterfalls with the most beautiful of these being Tad Fan which you will visit. During high waters, the waterfall is spectacular with twin waterfalls plummeting into the deep gorge surrounded by flourishing vegetation below. In the afternoon continue to Tad Lo where you can enjoy a sunset swim in the waterfalls. Overnight at Tad Lo.
Early risers may well be rewarded by the arrival of elephants eager for a morning bath in the waterfalls! The area around Tad Lo is home to numerous ethnic minority groups. Make a morning visit to the villages of Alak, Nge, and Katu before driving back across the plateau to Pakse in time for your flight to Luang Prabang.
Upon arrival in Luang Prabang you will be met by your guide for the transfer to your hotel. The remainder of your day is at leisure.
Luang Prabang, the ‘Jewel of Indochina’, is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and regularly voted as one of Asia’s premier travel destinations. The ancient royal city is surrounded by mountains and is situated at a junction of the Mekong and Khan Rivers. In the centre of the city is Mount Phousi, rewarding climbers of its 328 steps with stunning views of the surrounding temples and hills. Luang Prabang, a city where time has seemingly stood still, is also an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional Lao architecture with structures built by the European colonial authorities in more recent times. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions. In the evening there are plenty of great restaurants to choose from – we also recommend the local river side stalls for some truly authentic Lao flavours, washed down with the excellent Beer Lao! Overnight in Luang Prabang.
An option (although we highly recommend it; in fact, we almost insist) for early-risers is dawn visit to witness the long lines of orange-robed monks leaving their pagodas to receive offerings of food from the residents of Luang Prabang. It’s a fantastic experience and for many a highlight of their visit to this iconic city.
After breakfast, enjoy a tour of the city. Your circuit begins at the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum, continuing on to Wat Mai, a temple renowned for its golden bas-reliefs. During Pimai (the Lao New Year celebrations in April), the Kingdoms Palladium – known as Prabang and normally housed in the Royal Palace Museum – is put on public display in this temple. Continue on to Wat Xieng Thong, perhaps the most photographed temple in Luang Prabang (quite an accolade!).
In the late morning visit Wat Mai and the unique Wat Visoun, entirely rebuilt after its destruction in 1887 by the invading Black Flags from southern China. In the courtyard of Wat Visoun stands the Watermelon Stupa, which is shaped like the fruit it takes its name from. In the afternoon start with the excellent Arts and Ethnology Centre which will give you further insight into the ethnic mix and culture of Laos. There is also time to visit the weaving and textile villages of Ban Xangkhong and Ban Xienglek before returning to the Old Town to climb Mount Phousi and enjoy the stunning views across Luang Prabang as the sun sets. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Additional ideas in Luang Prabang
Today, few books are available in Laos and they rarely reach the rural villages and the children that need them most. Big Brother Mouse is a locally run project committed to changing this by publishing books that help to make it fun and easy to learn to read. They then rely on visitors to help them distribute them.
Start the day with a visit to the Big Brother Mouse shop to select some books for the morning’s visit. Heading north out of Luang Prabang you’ll soon leave the paved roads en route to Ban Khia Luang village. Upon arrival there will be ample time to visit the school, play with the kids and watch them enjoy their new books. There is also the opportunity to explore the rest of the village and the local temple.
Drive the short distance to Ban Kok Lin, passing through some beautiful scenery of mountains and paddy fields before stopping for a picnic lunch at a spot that overlooks the Nam Ou River.
In the early afternoon, board a private boat for a cruise down a particularly scenic stretch of the Nam Ou River, stopping as you reach the confluence with the Mekong River to explore the incredible Pak Ou Caves. The caves house literally thousands of Buddha statues, hidden from the looting Chinese Haw in times gone by. The statues range from a few centimetres to the size of a human. Continue on to Luang Prabang, arriving in the late afternoon. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Your day is at leisure until your transfer to the airport for your onward flight.