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Angkor Wat: Cambodia + Thailand

With ICS Travel Group

Day 1: Chiang Mai. Visit Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, the sacred temple with the challenging flight of steps flanked by Naga Serpents. Continue to Wat Chedi Luang, the site of a formerly massive pagoda that was unfortunately destroyed in the great earthquake of 1545, yet still retains a unique shape. Afterwards visit Wat Phra Singh, which includes the lovely Lai Kam chapel housing the revered Phra Singh Buddha image.

Day 2: Chiang Mai. Visit the Patara Elephant Farm and begin your training with a briefing on the history of domestic elephants in Thailand. The session includes hiking to find the elephant in the bush, learning about elephant farm management and the site.

Day 3: Chiang Mai – Bangkok. Spend the morning relaxing and then fly to Bangkok.

Day 4: Bangkok. Join us on a City Safari through some of Bangkok’s most exciting areas. Start by taking the Skytrain from your hotel to “Saphan Taksin” pier, where you’ll hop on an express boat and cruise along the Chao Phraya River to Tha Chang pier. Visit Wat Po and the famous Reclining Buddha, covered in gold leaf, and with an early start experience the monks early morning chanting ritual. Continue by tuk tuk to Baan Bat, where locals have been crafting monks alms bowls since the 1700s, and then to Wat Saket, the ‘Golden Mount’. Climb its nearly 400 low steps to the top and see the large golden Chedi, which houses a holy relic of the Buddha. Enjoy panoramic views of the city from this high vantage point. Head to the Giant Swing and explore the area on foot. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant serving up some of the best Thai dishes in town. After lunch, try coconut ice cream from a nearby vendor who has been selling homemade ice cream for over 50 years from the same location. Continue to Phanfa Lilat pier and take a boat ride through Bangkok’s Saen Saeb canal to the beautiful Lanna-style house of Jim Thompson, who brought Thai silk international recognition before mysteriously disappearing during a trip to Malaysia.

Day 5: Bangkok. Enjoy a gentle 15-km ride that is suitable for any level. Our experienced cycle guides set a relaxed pace while leading the group through the activity of Chinatown and along quiet back roads. Of course water, soft drinks, and snacks are all included, as are a quality mountain bike and helmet.

Day 6: Bangkok – Siem Reap. Fly from Bangkok to Siem Reap and visit the crown jewel of Khmer architecture – Angkor Wat – the national symbol and the highlight of any visit to Cambodia. The largest, best preserved, and most religiously significant of the Angkor temples, Angkor impresses visitors both by its sheer scale and beautifully proportioned layout, as well as the delicate artistry of its carvings. To approach the temple, first cross the vast moat, continuing along a broad causeway lined with naga balustrades. Upon entering the main structure, ascend through a series of galleries and courtyard before reaching the central sanctuary, which offers beautiful views back over the causeway and across the surrounding countryside. On the way, stop to enjoy the intricate stone carvings that adorn nearly every surface of the temple, with some 1,700 Apsaras, or celestial dancers, sculpted from the walls. Along the outer gallery walls run the longest continuous bas-relief in the world, which narrates stories from Hindu mythology, including the famous Churning of the Ocean of Milk. Angkor Wat is stunning at any time of the day, but sunrise and sunset are especially beautiful times to watch the play of light on the stones.

Day 7: Siem Reap. The fortified city of Angkor Thom covers an area of 10 square km. Enclosed by a wall and wide moats; the city includes many of Angkor’s most popular sights. Enter by the monumental South Gate over a causeway lined on either side by statues of demons and gods, each carrying a giant naga. Continue to the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper Kings, former spaces for public ceremonies, both adorned with dramatic bas reliefs. Visit the ruined Baphuon, Royal Enclosure and Phimeanakas before continuing to the mysterious Bayon Temple. In this temple, one of the most popular and compelling in Angkor, explore the galleries of beautifully preserved bas reliefs and ascend narrow stairs to reach the central sanctuary, where giant stone faces smiling enigmatically down from every angle.

Ta Prohm is one of the most popular attractions of Angkor as much of the jungle has not been cleared and it looks very much as most of the Angkor monuments would have appeared when European explorers first stumbled across them. Participate in a water blessing performed by a monk at the Roluos Group of temples. This holy water splashing is believed to bring on the good luck and prosperity of our life cycle.

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Day 8: Siem Reap. Ride a remork to a rural location for a cooking class in an outdoor bamboo pavilion, surrounded by banana trees, bamboo and a fish pond.  Take a short walk in the village to visit a local family and garden to see the ingredients growing. Learn about food superstition and beliefs. Classes are very hands-on and interactive and each person has an individual cooking station. Enjoy eating your meal in a lovely pavilion perched over a fish pond. Take a splendid trip to the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles located about 1 kilometre from the Old Market in Siem Reap. The institute has their shop upstairs and demonstrations of silk weaving downstairs. After that visit the institute’s other farm on the way to Banteay Srey Temple. There the workers introduce different methods of silk production and raising silk worms.

Seemingly miniature in comparison to the other Angkor temples, Banteay Srei is considered to be the jewel of classical Khmer art. Built in pink sandstone, the walls are covered in exquisitely preserved carvings of unusual delicacy. Because of its small size, wondrous atmosphere and extraordinary examples of Khmer sculpture, this temple is often a favourite with visitors.

Day 9: Siem Reap – Phnom Penh. Fly from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and take a tuk tuk to the pier where you will board a sunset cruise. Enjoy nice views of Phnom Penh while watching the sunset over the Mekong River.

Day 10: Phnom Penh. Begin your tour of this charming capital with a visit to the Royal Palace, built in 1866 by King Norodom. See the different structures of this pagoda-style compound and stroll in its beautiful garden. Visit the Silver Pagoda, so named owing to the 5,000 silver tiles lining its floor. Other treasures include a gold Buddha encrusted with 9,584 diamonds and a small 17th-century emerald and baccarat crystal Buddha. Afterwards, visit the Champey Academy of Arts (CAA), a local non-profit school focused on training in the traditional Cambodian arts. The school supports students from impoverished and vulnerable conditions and is totally free. Its mission is to promote self-empowerment and preserve traditional Cambodian arts and culture. Continue to the nearby National Museum. Built in 1917, it is an exceptional example of traditional architecture and is exclusively devoted to preserving and exhibiting Khmer art and sculptures. Hundreds of pieces are housed here including both pre-and post-Angkorian pieces. Later, explore a dark chapter in the history of Cambodia with visits to the Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The Tuol Sleng Museum (Museum of Genocide) was formerly the Tuol Svay Prey High School, but in 1975 it became the main torture and interrogation centre under the Khmer Rouge. It was known as Security Prison 21 or just S-21. The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek were where many people who were tortured in the S-21 prison were brought to be executed. Many mass graves were found in this area.

Day 11: Phnom Penh – Kep. Journey southwest to the province of Kep. Along the way visit Tonle Bati, a lake south of Phnom Penh, with a beach and the impressive laterite temple of Ta Prohm. Also visit Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, a 6th-century monument, built in laterite by King Rudravarman of Funan. His patron deity was Vishnu and many Hindu statues survive from this site. It is one of the few remaining sites with traces of the Kingdom of Funan (a kingdom influenced by India and thought to have spread as far as southern Burma and Indonesia).

Day 12-13: Kep. Enjoy at leisure. Return from Kep to Phnom Penh.

Content Courtesy of ICS Travel Group

Who is ICS Travel Group?

ICS Travel Group offers a premium line of products and services featuring authentic, hand-crafted experiences, unique luxury and boutique resorts, and highly personalized service for the discerning traveller in search of an extraordinary journey in Asia. They seek out experiences that are both bucket list & off-the-beaten path, and have developed unique encounters that provide close cultural interactions and deep immersion for an authentic and memorable experience in the destinations. Programs include culinary, adventure, cruising & sailing, luxury, family, arts & culture, cycling & walking, sustainable, beaches & islands, nature, and more. Services include: - Private transfers - Private sightseeing day tours and multi-day tours - Private shore excursions - Inside access to special events - Meetings with local artists - Business meetings - Air, train and boat tickets - A wide selection of accommodations ranging from luxury beach resorts to eco-tourist home stays in remote villages - Exceptional local guides with a wealth of knowledge and experience as well as strong links to the local communities.

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