Cambodia Famtrip with Wide Eyed Tours
As a travel agent, famtrips are always great opportunities to visit a country you or your clients are interested in. So, when the chance arrived for a Cambodia famtrip, I immediately registered, and I was lucky: I got in! With 10 other Travel Agents from the Netherlands, we travelled to Cambodia last March under the wings of Wide Eyed Tours, our partner in South east Asia.
The flight from Amsterdam to Hong Kong was operated by Cathay Pacific. I was a great flight, also due to the fact we received upgrades to Economy Comfort. That was pretty comfortable for a 10-hour flight! After a short layover in Hong Kong, we flew to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. We are met by an enthusiastic delegation from Wide Eyed Tours who take us directly to our hotel. We stay at the nice Patio hotel & Urban Resort with spacious rooms and a roof terrace with bar and swimming pool! Fortunately, we have some time to recover from our trip before we are picked up for the evening program. We start with cocktails at the Foreign Correspondents Club. Here we meet our fun colleague Travel Counsellors from Australia, who will be joining us on this famtrip. After a nice cocktail, we are brought to restaurant Romdeng, where they serve traditional Cambodian food. The Tarantula is also on the menu, but I’ll skip that one…
The next morning, after breakfast, we are picked up by Tuk Tuk’s for a tour through Phnom Penh. Our first stop is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or S-21 prison. We get a short explanation from our guide about the history of the buildings we are seeing and after that we can explore on our own. The horrors that took place here can be seen in the buildings and pictures that hang here. Even though it is 35 degrees I have goose bumps… After our visit we ride to the beautiful colonial Raffles hotel for a site-inspection.
After the inspection it is a 45-minute ride to Choeung Ek or the Killing Fields. Prisoners from the Tuol Sleng prison were brought here to be executed. On first sight it looks like a nice park, but when you walk around and read the signs and read about the horrors that took place here, you will look at it differently.
There is an impressive memorial pagoda with 5.000 skulls that have been excavated there. Luckily the ride back takes some time, so you can let it all sink in.
In the afternoon we pay a visit to hotel Double Leaf, for a site inspection. A small and beautiful hotel, I like it! After this visit we are dropped off at the Russian Market for some browsing and shopping. It is crowded, hot, cramped and smells differently with every turn you take. Not really my cup of tea, but nice to see and experience it. After a little refreshment at the hotel we go to the luxurious Le Rose Hotel where we have a really nice dinner. After that we travel to the Ecplise Sky Bar, a rooftop bar with views, delicious cocktails and live music! A nice ending of an impressive day.
Today we have a long drive ahead of us. We drive from Phnom Penh, via Oudong to Battambang. Oudong is an ancient capital of Cambodia and you can find many buildings and stupas on the hill. It is a steep climb of 509 steps and you have to watch out for the naughty monkey’s! Once upstairs you have a beautiful view of the surroundings and you see the amazing details of the different stupas. At the beginning of the evening we arrive in Battambang. We sleep in the beautiful Maisons Wat Kor, a small hotel in a jungle with 3 authentic Khmer houses and 10 rooms. That evening we eat at the best cook of Battambang! The wife of our guide Sam cooks for us and it tastes excellent! Also as a vegetarian there is so much more to eat then just vegetable fried rice. After a lovely dinner, we are driven to a local wedding that we may crash! Very bizarre, but we are received with open arms and must join in the festivities. Especially the mother of the bride is very enthusiastic and pulls a couple of us on stage to dance: so much fun!
After this nice evening with the locals, we visit the locals during the day to see how they live and work. Our first stop is the old government building. After that we drive on to a place where they make Glass Noodles. We literally can have a look in the kitchen and it is even warmer there than outside! After the Glass Noodles, we visit Sticky Rice Village where they sell Sticky Rice in bamboo. We visit the fish market, see how whisky is made from rice and end up at spring roll village where we get to taste freshly made spring rolls!
After all the yummy treats, we drive to the Bamboo Train. On the way over we stop at a stall on the side of the road to taste…. Barbecued rat! No thank you! Some taste it and say it tastes like chicken. At the Bamboo Train we make a short ride on a flat cart that they used for transport. Now they have made it into a tourist attraction. It is a fun ride, but not much more then that. After the ride we drive to a lake for our lunch. A great place with huts, hammocks and delicious food. It’s kind of like a picknick and we have a chance to take a nice little nap while swaying in our hammock or go for a tour in a kayak on the lake. Unfortunately, we cannot stay here, so we get in our Tuk Tuk’s and drive to Phnom Saupeau. This hilltop has several temples and is also known for the ‘Killing Caves’. A cave where the Khmer Rouge threw in their victims after they had finished questioning them. Now it is a beautiful memorial with a reclining Buddha.
After a long ride back to the hotel, we are happy to try out the swimming pool and enjoy a lovely dinner at a local restaurant in the evening.
Today we have a 4-hour drive to Siem Reap which gives us the chance to see more of the country of Cambodia. As it is the dry season, there is not a lot of green or water. We arrive in Siem Reap and have the afternoon off to explore the town on our own. It is a busy town with lots of shops, restaurants, message tents and markets. We have a lovely lunch and visit the Old Market. The evening we eat traditional Khmer cuisine at Changrey Tree. A really nice restaurant! Sadly, we don’t have much time, because we have an appointment at the circus! We visit Phare: the Cambodian Circus. The show is a mixture of dance, music, acrobatics and theatre and it is amazing! It is kind of the Cambodian version of Cirque du Soleil. A must visit when in Siem Reap!
Today is the day we have all been waiting for: the temples of Angkor! Covered in sunscreen and in appropriate clothing we depart for the temples. Our first stop is Ta Phrom, also known as the Tomb Raider Temple. It is an amazing temple where nature has taken over. Everywhere you look you see trees, branches, roots and bushes overgrowing the temples. It is wonderful and mysterious. After every corner I half expect to see Indiana Jones. After that, we drive to Angkor Thom, the great city. The last capital of the Khmer empire. Surrounded by a huge wall and inside we visit the Elephant terrace and some beautiful temples.
Highlight is the Bayon Temple. An amazing temple with 54 pillars, each with 4 faces. Because the faces look so friendly, it is such a nice place to have a sit in the crowd and just absorb everything. After feeling totally at ease, we walk back to the bus who takes us to our lunch location. Here we have burgers (veggieburger for me!), fries and ice cream: delicious! After the lunch we prepare ourselves for the most famous temple: Angkor Wat. We stand on the other side of the water and stare at the powerful complex. Unfortunately, the main bridge is closed for restoration, so we must use an alternative bridge. We walk to the main entrance and when we walk through it, we arrive at a huge path that eventually leads to the temple. It is incredibly hot, which spoils the sightseeing a bit. We climb the temple and look around. I am glad we have a guide with us, who can tell us where we are and what we see. After a last look, we walk to the other side and get back in our (airconditioned!) bus.
We have some time to relax in the hotel before we explore the nightlife of Siem Reap. We visit the Night Market and end up in the famous Pub Street, a busy street with restaurants, bars, music and dancing! A great please to dance the night away.
Our last trip of the famtrip is to the fishing village Kompong Khleang. The 10.000 people who live here, live in stilted houses. In the raining season, the water in the river rises a few meters, so the stilts are absolutely necessary. The people here are poor and live from agriculture and fishing. They are shay and friendly and work very hard. We take a boat tour on the river and end up on the largest freshwater lake in Asia: Tonle Sap Lake. Water everywhere you look. We end our visit with a walk through the local village where we are greeted with shy smiles and curious eyes.
That evening we have a hotel inspection at the hotels of Shinta Mani (meaning open heart). Beautiful modern hotels with Cambodian influences. We end our day and the famtrip in restaurant Kroya where we are served modern Khmer food. We talk and look back on a fantastic famtrip with Wide Eyed Tours!
The next day we fly back home, and we say goodbye to Cambodia. An amazing country with friendly people, a beautiful culture, but also a horrific history. The contrasts can be seen daily in the country and its people and that makes it a country worth your visit.