President’s Picks: Cambodia’s Unique Treasures

“When you mention Cambodia, what is the first thing you almost always hear? Angkor Wat! What if you heard something different? That is what this program is about – a different Cambodia. My first visit to Cambodia was as a college student with my family. I left curious, curious about what more there was. I am always looking at the possibilities of place. Travelers too often overlook Cambodia as stand-alone itinerary. This journey is proof that Cambodia can, indeed, stand on its own two legs as a unique and fascinating destination. I am proud to present you with this vision all these years later.”

Country Information

Cambodia & Laos

President's Picks: Cambodia’s Unique Treasures President’s Picks

(Countries Visited)

Cambodia & Laos


(Interest Type(s))

Adventure Travel


(Tour Length)

17 Days


Tour Highlights

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  • In Mondulkiri Province, explore the world of the Asian elephant at the Elephant Valley Project, where you spend time shadowing two families of elephants in the jungle, meet the local mahouts of the Banong indigenous community, and learn about how they work and live with their elephants, the ecosystem of the forest and conservation efforts
  • Explore the breathtaking monuments of Angkor including the Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, beautiful Bayon and more
  • Learn firsthand about village life through “The Kouk Dong Backstreet Academy”, and the local activist and community builder, who  started a private school for underprivileged children and revived traditional rice husking methods in the community
  • Travel into Cambodia’s northwest to discover the temple site of Banteay Chhmar, one of the ‘four most threatened sites in the world,’ and stay in a small tented camp, established as a community-based tourism project to provide local people with opportunities to learn new job skills and encounters with people from other parts of the world
  • Spend days on the private island of Song Saa, an idyllic resort where you can relax, snorkel, kayak and enjoy a revitalizing spa treatment

Day 1: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Welcome to Cambodia! Upon arrival at the Phnom Penh Reap International Airport, you clear customs and proceed to the exit, where you are met by your Big Five representative and privately transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure to relax or explore on your own. Raffles Le Royal Hotel - Landmark Pool View Room 

Day 2: Phnom Penh / Mondulkiri
Today after breakfast at the hotel, you will depart for Mondulkiri Province, which is about a six-hour drive. On arrival, you check into your resort and enjoy a relaxing break. Then you set out for the double drop waterfall of Bou Sraa, one of the most famous in Cambodia. Stop along the way at a Pnong minority village to learn a little about their way of life. Return to your resort where the evening is at leisure. Mayura Hill Resort - Superior Room (B) 

Day 3: Mondulkiri - Elephant Valley Project
Today you join a group to experience how to look after beloved elephants at the Elephant Valley Project. Early this morning you take in the Elephant Valley Project and spend a full day with the elephants here. The project is part of the Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment. Currently, nine elephants reside here. You will spend time shadowing two families of elephants in the jungle during the morning and afternoon. You will explore the world of these magnificent animals. You meet the local mahouts, members of the Banong indigenous community, and learn about how they work and live with their elephants, the ecosystem of the forest and conservation efforts. This is a unique experience and the first of its kind in Cambodia. After an exciting, educational and very enjoyable day, you return to your resort. Note: As this project protects and takes care of the health and lives of elephants, they do not allow elephant riding. (The Elephant Valley Project is closed on weekends). Mayura Hill Resort – Superior Room (B,L)

Day 4: Mondulkiri / Siem Reap
Today you drive to Siem Reap with your guide. On arrival, you check in to your hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure to explore the town or simply relax. Raffles Grand D’Angkor - Landmark Pool View Room (B) 

Day 5: Siem Reap – Angkor Wat
Rise early this morning to begin your discovery of the remarkable Angkor Wat, which includes taking in Angkor at sunrise by Remork (tuk tuk).

The largest and most breathtaking monument at Angkor, it was built as the funeral temple for Suryavarman II who ruled from 1112 to 1152, Angkor never fails to reward the first time or repeat visitor with its grand scale, surreal bas-reliefs and unbelievable attention to detail. Enter the temple complex from the quite east side of the site to avoid the crowds. You will spend the morning exploring one of man's most magnificent creations before returning to the hotel for a late breakfast.

After breakfast, enjoy a stunning private helicopter flight above the archaeological wonder that is Angkor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fly along the moat of the magnificent Angkor Wat Temple to appreciate its size and beauty. The short flight also takes in views of Bakheng Mountain, Srah Srang, Prasat Pre-Rup, Prasat Ta Som or Banteay Samre and the picturesque Eastern Mebon.

Next, explore Ta Prohm, a jungle-clad temple with overgrown trees that exudes a haunting and exotic atmosphere. The magnificent tree roots push between the temple's huge stone blocks in a strange embrace. Ta Phrom is particularly amazing in the late afternoon light after most of the crowds have left. Note: If time allows, visit the Angkor National Museum, with its state-of-the-art displays on Khmer civilization and the temples of Angkor. Explore the museum's eight galleries, each with different theme ranging from war to religion.

After lunch, take in the South Gate of Angkor Thom and the temples of Bayon, Baphoun, Phimean Akas, the Royal Enclosure, the terraces of Elephants, the Leper King and Preah Khan. Finish this remarkable day with an unforgettable sunset at Angkor Wat before returning to your hotel. This evening, enjoy a special Apsara Dinner Show at Apsara Theatre.

Note: Please be aware that Cambodia is a conservative country when it comes to dress. When visiting temples or other religious sites here, please be advised to follow a dress code consisting of long trousers or a skirt that covers the knees as well as the shoulders for women. Short skirts, short shorts, tank tops and revealing clothing are culturally insensitive and not allowed. Raffles Grand D’Angkor Hotel - Landmark Pool View Room (B,L,D)

Day 6: Siem Reap
Today begins early as your English-speaking guide meets you at your hotel with a Remork or tuk tuk. This small mechanized three-wheeled taxi is great fun to get around in and gives you a feeling for the pace of life here. You travel outside Siem Reap into the surrounding countryside. Rolling at a leisurely pace, the journey to Chreav and Treak villages takes you through small villages, rice fields, vegetable orchards and past traditional Khmer houses. Your guide will show you how the local people live. The two-hour ride includes time for photos and pausing to chat with local residents while experiencing the beautiful scenery. (Note: this tour can be done by bicycle, if you prefer.)

This afternoon, you explore Cambodian cuisine during a hands-on cooking class with individual work stations. Learn how to make such delicacies as mango salad and fish amok in a beautifully restored traditional Khmer house surrounded by endless rice fields and sugar palm trees. The class also includes a visit with a local family to experience cooking in a traditional household, discovering some of the food customs and superstitions.

After the cooking class, you are taken on a scenic drive to Banteay Srei, loosely translated as "Citadel of Women." It houses some of the finest and best-preserved examples of classical Khmer bas-relief. The temple's relatively small size, pink sandstone construction and ornate design give it a fairyland ambiance. Today you finish your day with a sunset tour at Pre-Rup Temple, the beautiful rusty-red hue of the laterite stone and brick used to build Pre-Rup is accentuated during sunset and stands in brilliant contrast to the lush green of the jungle in the distance. Raffles Grand D’Angkor Hotel - Landmark Pool View Room (B,L)

Day 7: Siem Reap - Beng Mealea / Koh Ker – Siem Reap
Today you travel off the beaten track to experience the seldom-visited ruins of Koh Ker and Beng Mealea. Beng Mealea is a spectacular jungle temple, located about 40 km/25 mi north of Siem Reap. Beng Mealea is a sizable temple, orientated towards the east, which has been largely reclaimed by nature with trees and moss covering the ruins. It gives a shady and quiet atmosphere and the lack of other visitors makes this temple really special. There are extensive carvings of scenes from Hindu mythology, including the Churning of the Sea of Milk and Vishnu being born by the bird god Garuda. Causeways have long balustrades formed by bodies of the seven-headed Naga serpent. Constructed during the reign of king Suryavarman II, the huge area has a layout similar to that of Angkor Wat. The moat has no perimeter wall unlike Angkor Wat. If you approach via a causeway, Beng Mealea appears to be little more than a pile of rubble partially hidden in the trees. Once you get closer, the high walls and the ancient Khmer Architecture are revealed.

After Beng Mealea you go on to encounter the fabulous pyramid temple of Koh Ker. Koh Ker is a remote archaeological site about 120 km/75 mi away from Siem Reap in a jungle-filled region. The sparsely populated area presents the feeling of being “out there.” More than 180 sanctuaries were found in a protected area of 81 square km/31 square mi. About two dozen monuments can be visited by travelers because most of the sanctuaries remain hidden in the forest and the area has not yet be fully demined. After this temple visit we will head back to Siem reap arriving in the late afternoon.

This evening enjoy an hour-long performance of the Cambodian Circus. Phare Ponleu Selpak means “Brightness of the Arts”. This is a circus like no other and is very different to a western style circus. Phare is a Cambodian non-profit art organization founded in 1994 by eight young Cambodians returning from refugee camps along the Thai border. The purpose is to improve the development of local communities by providing education and professional artistic training. The circus has performed all over the world. The shows are constantly rotating depending on the time you visit. The performances focus on both traditional and contemporary themes. Some people credit Phare with the rebirth of Cambodian dance and culture. Raffles Grand D’Angkor Hotel - Landmark Pool View Room (B,L)

Day 8: Siem Reap – Prek Toal – Siem Reap
Very early this morning, meet your guide for an unforgettable experience exploring the largest water bird colonies in Southeast Asia, Prek Toal. Today's tour is arranged through the well-reputed Sam Veasna Center, specializing in birding tours while incorporating local culture and history in Cambodia. Begin by transferring to Mechhrey, where you will board a boat on Tonle Sap Lake. On the boat, enjoy breakfast while your guide explains the biodiversity in this area and discusses the importance of the lake for the livelihood of thousands of locals. Tonle Sap, meaning "Great Lake," is in fact a combined lake and river system. Learn how it changes direction twice a year, depending on the season. It is a UNESCO Biosphere, recognizing its importance to the surrounding ecosystem.

Arriving at Prek Toal, visit the station, pick up a ranger and continue deeper into the heart of this globally important bird sanctuary, noted for eight species of birds: spot-billed pelican, greater and lesser adjutant, milky stork, painted stork, black-headed ibis, oriental darter and grey-headed fish eagle. Thousands of more common water birds also breed here, with more than 150 species recorded. Large flocks of cormorants, storks and pelicans are almost guaranteed from January to May, along with herons, egrets and terns. Arriving at The PrekToal area consists of a seasonally inundated freshwater swamp forest with a high botanical diversity. Short tree shrub makes up most of the landscape, forming a dense understory with scattered large trees, which form the vital nesting ground for large water birds. Climb to the top of the treetop observation platform from where you can observe the bird colonies and view the panorama of the flooded forest reserve below, teeming with birdlife.

After lunch at a local restaurant, enjoy a paddle boat tour of the village. All of the buildings here are constructed on a mat of bamboo, so the whole village rises and falls with the lake. Later you return to your hotel in Siem Reap where the rest of the day is at leisure. Raffles Grand D’Angkor Hotel - Landmark Pool View Room (B,L)

Day 9: Siem Reap - Kouk Dong
You are in for a memorable day in the Cambodian countryside. There is a certain quintessential quality about exploring the Cambodian countryside - an experience most people overlook. Most Cambodians live in tight-knit farming communities like in the village of Kouk Doung, just 16 km/10 mi from Siem Reap. From learning about the significance of rice husking with a pestle to fishing and hunting crabs in the streams that water the fields, there is so much to do and see. You will have ample opportunities to interact with the locals. The local host, Mr. Sophean of “The Kouk Dong Backstreet Academy”, is himself an active community builder, having started a private school for underprivileged children and revived the traditional rice husking methods in the community. He will delight you as he shows you his village in this personal, intimate journey into the heart of the country. You have the opportunity to try your hand at traditional rice husking methods. You can also learn about traditional methods for fishing and hunting crabs; rice farming and harvesting; and visit the handicraft market. These activities can be customized according to your interests. You also enjoy lunch at the host’s home. This afternoon you are your transferred back to hotel after an enriching day in the country. Raffles Grand D’angkor Hotel - Landmark Pool View Room (B,L)

Day 10: Siem Reap / Banteay Chhmar
Today you are picked up from your hotel and driven to this exquisite 12th century Temple complex of Banteay Chhmar. Listed as one of the ‘Four most threatened sites in the world,’ the complex has seen severe looting over the years, but now due to more interest from the outside world, the temple now rests peacefully. Upon arrival, you will be welcomed by the community before starting to explore the temple ruins of Banteay Chhmar on foot. Although the temple is being gradually reclaimed by nature, the size and minute details remain incredibly impressive. A picnic lunch will be served at the west gallery close to one of the Angkor era’s most amazing carvings, the Avalokitesvara, which depicts a 32-armed figure.

After lunch, take a short trip to the other side of the village to explore another astonishing temple. Children play among the ruins and local villagers come to wash their clothes and bathe in the reservoir surrounding the temple. At your camp, take time to refresh with a cold drink while watching the sun set over the temple. As night falls, you will settle into your safari-style tent. The custom-designed tents, each designed for two people, are high quality Gore-Tex and allow substantial comfort, including toilet facilities. The local community will prepare a meal for you onsite using as many local ingredients as possible. You’ll dig into your exquisite local meal overlooking the temple facade in a clearing lit by torches (weather permitting). A band from the local village will serenade you with traditional Khmer tunes. When the musicians depart, you’ll be able to settle into your tent and enjoy some free time before falling asleep in comfort. Banteay Chhmar Tent (B,L,D) 

Day 11: Bateay Chhmar / Siem Reap
Early in the morning before breakfast, you have the option to visit the temple to join the monks in their morning prayers. In return for giving alms (prepared by the villagers at an extra cost), they will offer you their blessing. You will then go back to the camp to enjoy your breakfast before returning to Siem Reap. On arrival in Siem Reap, you check into your hotel where the rest of the day is at leisure. Raffles Grand D’Angkor Hotel - Landmark Pool View Room (B)

Day 12: Siem Reap / Song Saa
Return to Siem Reap airport for your flight to the paradise known as Song Saa. Upon landing at Sihanoukville airport, the resort driver meets you and transfers you to the port for your short speedboat ride to your private island resort. In the warm sapphire waters of the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia’s islands nestle like dazzling natural jewels. Song Saa Private Island lies secluded in this magnificent seascape, just 35 minutes by boat from the port of Sihanoukville. Most of the islands remain undeveloped – deserted oases of virgin rainforests, tropical reefs and glistening white beaches. In this private intimate setting, you will lose yourself in the natural world. Song Saa Private Island – Over Water Villa (B,L,D) 

Days 13 – 16: Song Saa
These days at leisure to enjoy the luxurious amenities. Walk among old-growth rainforest, watch dazzling reef fish swim under your villa or see rare hornbills land on your balcony. Snorkel the pristine waters around the islands. The reefs are home to a colorful array of vibrant corals and tropical fish such as parrotfish, damselfish, sea horses, spotted rays and even sea turtles. Explore hidden coves and heavenly bays in a kayak. Bask in the breathtaking scenery of Song Saa from the sea, or paddle out to the sunset for heart-stopping views. Enjoy morning yoga or explore the ‘sweetheart’ islands of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, with a guide from the resort’s Conservation Team. Get to know our local species, habitats and ecosystems, and the conservation work. Visit Prek Svay Village on a neighboring island to observe the resort foundation's efforts in supporting the local community. Be as active or as laid back as you choose. Song Saa Private Island – Over Water Villa (B,L,D)

Day 17: Song Saa / Sihanoukville / Phnom Penh / Depart
This morning depart back to jetty where you meet your private car and driver who will drive you from Sihanoukville to the Phnom Penh airport where you will connect to your international flight home. (B)

Land price, per person, double occupancy:  From US$550 per person per day.

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