You’ve seen it on screen but in person, wow! Nowhere raises the bar quite like charismatic Cambodia. This Southeast Asian nation boasts floating villages and riverside reveling. It’s got Art Deco monuments, ancient Angkor Wat temples and echoes of the Khmer Empire rippling through its cultural scene. Prepare to explore capital Phnom Penh, get social in Siem Reap, sail to tropical islands and learn from the famously friendly locals on this epic trip through the intoxicating Kingdom of Cambodia. Here’s what your nine-day FFX experience looks like.
Sumptuous Siem Reap
Cosmopolitan Siem Reap is Cambodia’s second city and gateway to Angkor Wat. With its colonial and Chinese-influenced architecture, Temple Town’s mind-blowing array of activities will excite lovers of hedonism and heritage alike. Savour downtown’s haute cuisine or tuck into a crunchy tarantula at Angkor Night Market. Dirt-bike the countryside or learn about the 1970s’ Khmer Rouge regime as depicted in the film, The Killing Fields. Focus on Cambodia’s bright future as you roam the riverside cafes and rediscover your flow with a relaxing massage. To taste the terroir and bond with your FFX group, Malis is the perfect spot for a welcome feast. This elegant riverside restaurant is reinventing Cambodian cuisine. Dine on sour soups, shellfish specialties and colorful lotus leaf curries.
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
It’s clear why Angkor Archaeological Park is one of the planet’s most magnetic spots. This vast and mysterious 12th-century temple complex has got everything. There are endless temples, treks and trails. A 2001 Hollywood blockbuster (Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider) made its tree shrouded temple, Ta Prohm, the selfie center of the universe. It’s home to the world’s largest pre-industrial city and sports a UNESCO World Heritage T-shirt too. Sunrise is the finest time to see this other-worldly land, as fingers of light edge over the temples. With ingenuity it’s easy to lose the crowds, as most head to the ‘big three’ of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. Chat with thriving local traders and enjoy a meal at the NGO-run Sala Bai Hotel School. You’ll leave with a good taste in your mouth, both because it was delicious and because your bill covered a day’s tuition for one of its students.
Life afloat and Khmer cookery
Cambodia is renowned for its intricate floating villages such as those on Tonlé Sap lake. Locals don’t bat an eyelid to attending school, work or hospitals built on stilts up to 7m above the water. Families travel in bright-painted boats and even the Theravada Buddhist pagoda welcomes worshippers from the water. FFX will charter a private wooden boat to get you into the heart of Tonlé Sap’s floating world, followed by a row-boat trip through a flooded forest. Back on land, your FFX guide’s expert knowledge will take you to the best, freshest food markets around. Their flavor-busting herbs and spices might come in handy for the evening’s Khmer cookery class based at a picturesque organic farm.
Curious and creative Cambodia
The word unique can be overused but, in Cambodia, it’s often the only word that fits. Where else but Siem Reap could you take a Vespa motorbike tour to learn about Khmer and Buddhist lifestyles…then visit a place that uses rats to sniff out land mines? Or share a coconut juice and sticky, bamboo-grilled rice with rattan weavers while photographing water buffalo nearby? Nature and history fans might be drawn to Phnom Kulen, birthplace of the Khmer Empire. It’s known for its ruined temples, reclining Buddhas and alluring waterfall. Round off your day with a mindful hatha yoga session before a Cirque-du-Soleil-inspired circus performance at Phare Ponleu Selpak, whose profits provide creative education and support to local youngsters.
Gulf of Thailand Islands
Love islands? The beaches and isles of Cambodia’s Gulf of Thailand now beckon – it’s time to fly to Sihanoukville. This coastal city is cloaked in golden beaches so get ready to crack out that beach body! Sihanoukville was named for King Sihanouk, founder of modern Cambodia. Today, it’s a seafood mecca and springboard to islands like Koh Rong, Koh Preus and Koh Bamboo. Boats jostle for trade at the towns jetties and piers, with fishing trips and snorkeling adventures to the coral reef major pull factors. Your FFX crew will jump onto a private charter out to Koh Rong, a forested ocean escape whose protected bays are perfect for swimming, snorkeling and fishing. The sunshine and salt-air will help build an appetite for a healthy lunch before returning to…ruin all that good work at the waterfront’s legendary late-night bars. Sihanoukville. #palmfringed-heaven.
Culture capital, Phnom Penh
Beach-bronzed team FFX now heads overland to the capital, Phnom Penh. It’s Cambodia’s economic and cultural core. The city was given a colonial sheen by the French and, in 1920s Indochina, it was the ‘Pearl of Asia’. Boat trading remains big, as the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers collide in this lush location. There’s a dynamic waterfront vibe fueled by street food vendors, bars and cafes. An original way to cram the culture in – saving energy for the night’s happy hours and Khmer dancing lessons – is to travel by three-wheeled Cyclo. Whiz to the French Quarter (where colonial shopfronts line broad boulevards) and to the 27m high Buddhist temple, Wat Phnom, as heady scents and saffron-clad monks float on by.
Phnom Penh’s palaces and prisons
Khmer architectural highlights in Phnom Penh include the Royal Palace and its shimmering Throne Hall. If you’re not all ‘watted’ out, there are plenty left to explore! Immerse in the chaos of the moment at the Russian Market, bartering for high-quality souvenirs crafted from wood, stone, silver and silk. More sobering insights come from guided tours of the Genocide Museum or Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Viewing Cambodia in this context makes the nation’s positivity and progress all the more astonishing.
Get your Cambodian dance on
Dancing is hugely revered in Cambodia, so Team FFX will enjoy its final evening in the company of accomplished dancers and artists. Try on a traditional ‘kben’ costume, attend a dance workshop and practice throwing some new Cambodian shapes as a live band plays on.
It’s like X Factor meets Strictly and yes, sounds totally embarrassing. Strangely, with a liberal sprinkling of Cambodian magic, it just works. We promise! The climax of the evening is a fabulous finalé of a meal, and watching the professionals on stage at a captivating Cambodian Living Arts performance. A perfect ending to this epic adventure.
Discover Cambodia with FFX – book now
That is how to immerse in Cambodia, from the depths of Angkor Wat to the culinary and cultural highlights of Phnom Pen. Enjoy action-packed days, down time and team-time as part of this small-group adventure experience for like-minded people in their 30s and 40s. This itinerary is crafted with high quality ingredients including extremely comfortable accommodation. Many dining and cultural experiences are organized by NGOs and are included as their profits support young Cambodians training in the tourism or creative industries. To book onto an FFX departure to Cambodia in 2020, get in touch today.