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Set out on an enchanting journey through the temple-strewn landscapes, intriguing cultures and enthralling cities of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam on this incredible Angkor Trails adventure. From the bustle of Thailand’s heady capital to the stately grandeur of Angkor, the rural charms of a village homestay to the French flavours of Ho Chi Minh City, this trip will leave you with myriad memories of a rich and wonderful region.
Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place, and have your insurance details and next of kin information ready for collection. Bangkok has so much to offer those with time to explore, so perhaps arrive a day or so early and take a riverboat to Chinatown and explore the crowded streets, uncover the magnificent Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, pay a visit to Wat Pho (home to the country's largest reclining Buddha), wander down the tourist mecca of Khao San Road, or indulge in some Thai massage. After the meeting tonight perhaps gather your fellow travellers together and tuck into some into world famous street food.
A long travel day awaits you today. It's a long drive from Bangkok to Siem Reap by private bus (approximately 10 hours/450 kilometres, including border crossing and lunch). You will exit Thailand at Aranyaprathet and enter Cambodia at Poipet. Your leader will help you with border procedures. If you are getting your visa at the border you will need cash in US dollars. From Poipet to Siem Reap is approximately another 150 kilometres. The small but expanding town of Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor. This is the most popular destination for travellers in all of Cambodia, perhaps even in South East Asia. You'll probably notice a change of pace here, so take a walk and enjoy the atmosphere. Perhaps start by hitting the local markets to try some delicious street food.
Spend a full day temple-hopping with your local guide to make the most of your visit to the world-famous Angkor complex, built between the 9th and 13th centuries when the Khmer empire was the pre-eminent influence in South-East Asia. The ruins are scattered over an area of some 160 square kilometres, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap so you'll have plenty of time to fully appreciate the great archaeological sites. These include Angkor Wat, the Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm. The temples were believed to represent the cosmic world and were set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. The intricately carved bas-reliefs and architectural designs are mind-blowing and there are spectacular photographic opportunities at any time of day - watching a sunrise or sunset is a must.
Continue your exploration of the Angkor Complex this morning on a half-day tour. The constructions you’ll see yesterday and today include the eponymous Angkor Wat, the largest and most complete structure, and the only one of Angkor's temples that has its entrance facing west – the others face east. Then there is Angkor Thom, the 'Great Royal City', a temple that is famous for its series of colossal human faces carved in stone. Of all the temples visited, Bayon temple is the centrepiece, with over 200 smiling carved faces and more than 50 gothic towers. You’ll also visit Ta Prohm temple, where nature has taken over again and large trees are embedded in the stone foundations of the structure. Your afternoon will then be free and there are some optional activities to keep you busy. If you feel like some adventure, maybe do the Flight of the Gibbon zip-line course, which gives you a birds-eye view of the beautiful rainforest – and an adrenaline rush, of course. Depending on the season there may be a chance to visit visit Tonle Sap Lake and its floating villages, or explore the town’s market stalls and shops, where the silks, cottons, sarongs, silver and statues are a riot of colour and a feast for the eyes.
Travel by private bus to Sambor Prei Kuk and your homestay (approximately 3.5 hours). You will embark on a tour of the village with your local guide. The guide will introduce you to the way of life of the local people, your homestay facilities and your hosts for tonight. Facilities are simple at your homestay, but this is a fantastic opportunity to experience everyday life in rural Cambodia. The temple ruins at Sambor Prei Kuk just nearby are some of the oldest in the country (dating back to the 6th century) and are well worth a visit (this is optional). In the evening, relax and unwind as you enjoy a traditional Khmer dinner with your host family.
Notes: We stay in the one room in multishare accommodation. Depending on the group size, we may use two homestays that are located close to each other. The will be a thin mattress on the floor, with pillow provided and mosquito net. The bathroom facilities will be shared and will often consist of a squat style toilet and a washing area. The washing area may be a shower or it could be Asia style with a bucket shower. This is when there will be a large bucket of water with a small scoop that you use to poor water over yourself. Towels will be provided for you to use for washing. For passengers wanting a little more comfort we recommend bringing your own towel and extra pillow.
After breakfast, leave the village and travel to Phnom Penh in a private minibus (approximately 4 hours). The journey is a great opportunity to see the real Cambodia, with several stops at points of interest along the way. It may be possible to see the cottage industry at Santuk Silk Farm and sample the local cuisine of deep-fried spiders at Skun. Cambodia's capital is set on a major junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and boasts some fine examples of French-influenced architecture. This afternoon, enjoy some free time for optional activities. Perhaps explore Wat Phnom, a peaceful temple situated on a local hill. A great way to see the city's key landmarks is a cyclo tour, which generally covers the central market, US Embassy, Wat Phnom, Mekong river front, Independence Monument and Royal Palace. If you're in the mood for shopping, stop in at the art-deco Psar Thmei (Central Market), or travel out to Psar Tuol Tom Pong (Russian Market) for the best range of local souvenirs.
Phnom Penh remains a living relic of the country’s past struggles and successes. Your included visits to the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek tell the story of the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Tuol Sleng is a former school that served as a Khmer Rouge torture centre, and it’s estimated that more than 20,000 people were held and tortured here. The Choeung Ek Memorial is home to stupa made up of some 8,000 human skulls, marking the site of the infamous Killing Fields. This was the execution ground for the torture victims of Tuol Sleng, and standing in this peaceful setting it's almost unthinkable to imagine that to date nearly 9,000 corpses have been exhumed from the area. You’ll have free time for the rest of the day. Perhaps learn about a brighter period in Cambodian history with a visit to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, while the National Museum, housed in a beautiful traditional building, is a great place to see some excellent Khmer craftmanship. An ideal way to spend the late afternoon and evening is to stroll along the famous Sisowath Quay and enjoy a coffee or cocktail at one of the many riverside cafes.
Say goodbye to Cambodia as you travel by public bus through rural Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City (approximately 6-7 hours). Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a vast array of sights and sounds, a fascinating blend of old and new, East and West, where daily life plays out on the streets. The huge number of people rushing about their daily lives in Vietnam's largest city gives it a dynamic atmosphere, and the French influence is evident in the excellent baguettes and coffee on offer. You’ll have a few hours in the afternoon to `explore the frenetic heart of the city, or to get bargaining for final purchases at the historic Ben Thanh Market. Tonight maybe toast to your trip with an optional final dinner with your fellow travellers.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
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