Located in what is now Cambodia, Angkor Thom, the capital of the flourishing Khmer empire in the 11th century, once was one of the world’s most densely populated cities. An incredible mass of dazzling pagodas grew up around Angkor Thom, culminating in the glory of the magnificent temple complex at Angkor Wat.
With the fall of the Khmers, the temples were slowly recaptured by the lush forest and remained a hidden legend until 1861 when they were re-discovered and introduced to the western world.
Join only 13 others for an enlightening 17-day journey to Cambodia and Laos that includes not only four full days exploring the great Khmer city of Angkor, but also takes in glorious Banteay Srei, remote Beng Mealea, rarely-visited Koh Ker, and Cambodia’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, Preah Vihear.
And in the nation’s capital of Phnom Penh, we visit the National Museum filled with Khmer treasures, the opulent Royal Palace, and the Silver Pagoda, home of a priceless emerald Buddha.
From Siem Reap we cross the border into Laos and travel to Wat Phu, certainly one of the most spectacular of the Khmer cities.
For centuries, the Mekong River was a major artery of the Khmer Empire, and the spectacular temple ruins along the water’s edge proclaim this civilization’s greatness. While in Laos, explore the capital city of Vientiane, and discover the World Heritage City of Luang Prabang.
Keep reading to learn more about this incredible archaeological tour of Cambodia and Laos, and please get in touch if you have any questions.
“What a class act! It’s just the sort of thing – not going the extra mile, but going the extra TENS of miles, that I should have learned to expect from you. You and Far Horizons have spoiled me. I’m sneering at tours that promise ONLY 20-25 participants; ones that have “ho-hum” extras; etc. It if sounds like you’ve developed a major fan, you’ve got it right… The entire trip was WONDERFUL, tremendous, terrific, every superlative I can come up with & some I can’t…” – Jo Thomas
“I went to see and learn about Angkor Wat and ended up with so much more. But then again I knew I would get that traveling with Far Horizons.” – Lynne Johannes
Depart on a flight bound for Cambodia.
Arrive Phnom Penh. Transfer to the charming boutique Palace Gate Hotel & Resort, a luxurious 5-star boutique hotel in the heart of Cambodia’s bustling capital, and our home for three nights.
Begin our explorations of the capital of Cambodia by boarding a cyclo to view the historic Khmer architecture of the city. This afternoon visits the Genocide Museum of Toul Sleng, documenting the devastation left by the Khmer Rouge.
The site is a former high school that was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979. The buildings at Tuol Sleng are preserved as they were left when the Khmer Rouge was driven out. The regime kept extensive records, including thousands of photographs. Several rooms of the museum are now lined, floor to ceiling, with black and white photographs of some of the estimated 20,000 prisoners who passed through the prison. Our final stop is the Russian Market, or Psar Toul Tom Puong, repository of an amazing selection of goods from silk to silver to antiquities. Gather this evening for our festive welcome dinner. (B/L/D)
We begin with a visit to the magnificent National Museum of Art, containing some of the greatest works of art ever produced in Southeast Asia. Founded by the French in the early 20th century, the museum is housed in a beautiful building constructed in the traditional Khmer style. Continue to the lavish Royal Palace, still home to Cambodia’s present king, and the Silver Pagoda, so named for the 5,000 silver tiles which adorn it and which houses the priceless Emerald Buddha sculpted from baccarat crystal. Dinner is on our own to sample one of Phnom Penh’s excellent restaurants. (B/L)
Today is a long but worthwhile day as we travel into the lush countryside to Prasat Wat Nokor. At first glance, this Mahayana Buddhist shrine made in the 11th century of sandstone and laterite simply seems to offer an opportunity to visit a Khmer temple. Instead, as though passing through a portal, a transformation occurs and little by little we become aware that this is a living sanctuary that is a revered modern expression of the Buddhist faith. Certainly, we find carved lintels and pediments still in situ; but we then find ourselves visually assaulted by a riot of multi-hued, almost garishly painted scenes from the life of Buddha. And here and there are scattered day altars, created by present-day devotees, nestled within the many ancient alcoves, each graced with a modern-day statue of Buddha.
The opportunity to see this vivid juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern within a living temple is an experience not to be missed. Our afternoon drive takes us into the Preah Vihear Protected Forest, a protected area located in the highlands of the Dângrêk Range in northern Cambodia bordering Thailand. Overnight tonight in the Preah Vihear Boutique Hotel for one night. (B/L/D)
Explore the resplendent yet rarely visited site of Preah Vihear, Cambodia’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in isolated and spectacular splendor on an enormous overhanging cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains, this is without question the most magnificent site of any Khmer temple. It was laid out on a north-south axis with only one entrance, and most of the large monuments here were built as a microcosm of the Hindu universe, a magical recreation on Earth of the home of the gods and the surrounding seas and continents. Possibly pre-dating Angkor, Preah Vihear displays distinctive architecture covered with stunning carvings. On our drive towards Siem Reap, you’ll stop at Koh Ker, shrouded in forest and the capital of the Angkorian empire from 928 AD to 944 AD.
Long one of Cambodia’s most remote and inaccessible temple complexes, the opening of a new road makes the site accessible, though still isolated. Built by King Jayavarman IV, the city once contained almost 100 temples. The most important structure is more than 100 feet tall, with a design that resembles a seven-stepped stupa. Then it’s on to Beng Mealea, one of the most interesting of Angkor’s many edifices. The 12th-century temple is enclosed by a massive moat and is nearly the size of Angkor Wat, but utterly subsumed by the jungle. Clambering over large sandstone blocks to reach the inner sanctuary and worship corridor is an exploration to remember. Continue to Siem Reap and overnight for the next five nights in the Shinta Mani Angkor Boutique Hotel, decorated in the lovely Cambodian style. (B/L/D)
This morning’s excursion takes us east to the Roluos Group, comprising three remarkable temples. Dating from the late ninth century, this is the oldest area open to visitors of the 600-year Angkor Period. See Bakong, protected by fierce seven-headed serpents and elegantly sculpted elephants, Preah Ko, with its six towers made entirely of brick and covered with ornate stucco ornamentation, and Lolei, covered with stunning carvings. An active Buddhist monastery is located within the compound.
Finish the day at the Angkor National Museum, housing a collection of approximately 1,300 pieces, including a gallery of 1,000 Buddhas. (B/L/D)
An early morning drive takes us to Banteay Srei, an exquisite miniature temple hidden in the heart of an immense and mysterious forest. In remarkable condition, it has a beautiful tapestry-like decoration covering the walls and scenes inspired by Indian epics that contain a liveliness not seen in earlier complexes’ more formal adornment.
Continue to Banteay Samre, a graceful Hindu temple built in the early 12th century in the Angkor Wat style. The elaborate architecture and fine carvings make this a must-see pagoda. This afternoon, enjoy an optional visit to the Artisans d’Angkor Workshop, created to revive, support, and teach the artistic traditions of Cambodia. Transfer to Chandara Villa this evening for a private dining experience with traditional dancing and a small-format puppet show. (B/L/D)
Spend the morning in Ta Prohm, a largely untouched site since its “rediscovery” by French explorers. Shrouded in dense jungle with massive roots of soaring trees encasing the temple walls, the sanctuary creates a lost world environment. Move on to enjoy a specially-arranged morning tea in the forests at Sra Srang. Opposite this 10th-century baray, or reservoir, lies Banteay Kdei, a large unrestored monastic complex displaying carvings of exceptional beauty.
In the afternoon, walk through Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Khmer Empire and surely one of the world’s great architectural achievements. The city was fortified by an enormous square of laterite walls 26 feet in height and almost two miles on each side, and within the city are glorious temples and terraces. Traverse the long causeway guarded by tranquil gods and intimidating demons and the Terrace of the Elephants protected by a multitude of these animals. Walk through the Bayon with its richly decorated galleries of bas-reliefs displaying historic scenes along with depictions of everyday life 1,000 years ago. Crowning the Bayon are tall towers graced with four iconic heads, one facing each cardinal direction that may represent the rulers of the four cardinal points at the summit of mount Meru. Explore Phimeanakas, the sanctuary where the king was said to have had nightly congress with the Snake Goddess. (B/L/D)
Begin the day in Angkor Wat, constructed as the funerary sanctuary of a 12th-century king and represents an earthly model of the cosmic world. Within the galleries is the longest continuous bas-relief in the world. The exquisite imagery on one wall depicts the kingdom’s military strength with parades of soldiers and the ruler mounted on his great war elephant. On another wall is the depiction of Vishnu and other gods pulling on a great snake to churn the cosmic sea in search of eternal life. After lunch, walk through the vast complex of Preah Khan, built in the 12th century for King Jayavarman VII and covering 140 acres. Today it is an outstanding example of a large linear temple complex in a dense jungle setting.
Covering 138 acres, Preah Khan’s boundaries are defined by a protective moat and fortified walls adorned by monumental carved stone garudas—eagle-like divine beings. Our last stop is at the small temple of Ta Som, one of the late-12th – century Buddhist temples built by Jayavarman VII. As the sun begins to go down, board traditional Khmer gondolas to float on the baray surrounding Angkor Thom. Lift a glass to the glorious sunset and a memorable day! Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Depart Cambodia on our flight for Paksé in Laos. The slow-moving Mekong River flows through southern Laos at a leisurely pace, through the lush rainforest, and past charming villages. This majestic waterway was once a major “highway” for the Khmer empire, and awesome reminders of the greatness of this civilization are located along the water’s edge.
Aboard a privately-chartered longtail river boat, zigzag south through spectacular scenery. Arrive at Champassak in time for a riverside lunch, followed by an exploration of the majestic pre-Angkorian 10th-century temple of Wat Phu, once connected to Angkor Thom by a Royal Road. The temples contain extraordinarily beautifully executed reliefs and are considered some of the best of Khmer art. Return to Champassak and overnight at the River Resort Hotel. (B/L/D)
A morning flight brings us to Vientiane, where we have time to explore the renowned Central Market, overflowing with enticing wares. After an elegant lunch, we will explore Wat Phra Kéo, the original home of the Emerald Buddha, and Wat Si Saket, containing hundreds of small wooden, bronze, and terracotta Buddha images sitting in niches. Dinner is on our own to enjoy one of this capital city’s many fine restaurants.
Overnight for the next two nights in the Settha Palace, a beautiful French colonial mansion built at the turn of the last century. The French left Laos in 1953, but today there are more French people living here than at the height of colonial occupation. Dinner is on our own to discover one of Vientiane’s excellent restaurants. (B/L)
This morning, we go to Carol Cassidy’s Lao Textiles workshop, studio and gallery. Specializing in 100 percent hand-woven silk, the forty Lao artisans she employs produce exquisitely crafted wall hangings, scarves, shawls, and custom furnishing fabrics. Carol’s pieces are displayed in galleries and museums throughout the world. After lunch, explore Vientiane, walking along the river, including Pha That Luang, Laos’ most sacred structure and Buddhist pilgrimage site. (B/L/D)
Fly to the former royal capital of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage City. Enjoy lunch upon arrival, walk through the truly picturesque city, and visit Wat Wisunalat, containing the largest Buddha in Luang Prabang, and Wat Xieng Thong, a royal pagoda built in the 16th century. See the murals depicting life on the Mekong River as it was centuries ago in Wat Paa Huak and the ornate door panels at Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham. Overnight for two nights in the boutique Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel, located in the city’s heart. (B/L)
Board a long-tailed boat to motor up the Mekong River to the ancient meditation caves of Pak Ou. Located on a striking limestone cliff where the Nam Ou River meets the Mekong, the caverns were used to worship the river spirit until Buddhism spread into Laos along the southern route from India.
Now filled with thousands of beautiful Buddha images, the site is still revered by locals who travel here to worship. After lunch, walk through the former Royal Palace. Visit the Private Chapel to see a gold Buddha, the opulent reception room of the king, the throne room, and the royal library. Our final dinner together will be at one of Luang Prabang’s superb restaurants. (B/L/D)
Early this morning, watch the monks receive their offering of food from the local people. After breakfast, transfer to the airport for our flight to Bangkok, Thailand, with lunch onboard. Dinner is on our own. Overnight at the 4-star Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel. (B)
Transfer to the airport for our flights home. (B)
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.