Forget any resemblance to the cuisines of Vietnam, Thailand and Laos; Cambodia has a unique and ancient food culture that is truly exotic. Using pepper rather than chilli to add spice, Cambodian cuisine is laden with fresh herbs, spices, rice, freshwater fish and condiments. And while there are influences from French and Thai cooking, Cambodian food has a style and flavour all its own.
In this trip, while travelling from Phnom Penh through to Siem Reap, discover the sights, sounds and flavours of Kampot, Battambang, Banteay Chhmar and Angkor Wat, and marvel at a cuisine, culture and population so special that you will very quickly be won over for life.
Upon your arrival, you will be met then transferred to the hotel for check in. Phnom Penh is set at the meeting point of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, and life centres around the lively river-front area where the locals come to take in the air, snack on the street hawkers food and enjoy impromptu waterside entertainment.
Your Flavors of Cambodia adventure begins with a stroll along the broad tree-lined boulevards dotted with old colonial villas and explore the city. The National Museum and the Silver Pagoda are both worth a visit. The next destination is Wat Phnom, a peaceful temple situated on a hill for which the city is named.
Cambodian food is often overshadowed by focus on Thailand and Vietnam, when in fact Khmer cuisine is one of the world's oldest living food cultures. The Cambodian cooking pot combines an eclectic mix of local and international influences and has a flavour all its own. Kick off this food adventure ‘eating for a cause’ at an inspirational hospitality school that provides vocational training for former street youths in Phnom Penh. It’s a great opportunity to sample some tasty modern Cambodian cooking. Have dinner then return to hotel and rest.
Phnom Penh nowadays is still a living relic of Cambodia’s past turmoils and successes. Before you depart for Kampot, confront Cambodia's tragic struggles on a guided tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located in a former high school that served as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) for the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979. You will also stop past the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek which represent the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge.
Then drive south along National Road 2 through the town of Takeo towards Kampot, one of Cambodia's most attractive old towns (roughly 2.5 hours). Arrive in Kampot by early afternoon. Renowned for its pepper, Kampot played the role as the main supply for most French restaurants for many years during colonial time. Today, the region is also famous for its durian, a spiky, pungent fruit that either incites adoration or sheer loathing. Try it if you dare!
In some free time you might stroll along the riverside's French colonial architecture, or enjoy a coffee on the veranda of a riverside restaurant and admire the Bokor Mountain Range. A traditional massage is also highly recommended. Certainly one of the most enjoyable ways of supporting a local charity, put yourself in the skillful hands of one of the blind masseurs or masseuses. In a country with no social security, the training and support provided by the centres allows blind Cambodians to support themselves with dignity. Tonight you’ll head out into the small town to sample some popular Khmer drinks, from Angkor beer to locally distilled rice wine! Overnight in Kampot.
Rise early to see the fishing boats arrive at the port with their daily catch. A meal of crab, prawns or squid cooked up with Kampot green pepper, corns and served with rice is a Cambodian favourite. Try some of Kampot's tastiest baguettes on a visit with the owner of a small wood fired oven. This legacy of French colonization is ubiquitous – many roadside carts sell baguettes with meat, sauces and salad as a snack for workers. Then, in the countryside, taste locally grown seasonal produce. If it’s fruit season, taste Cambodia's best durian, or rambuttan, lychee, pineapples, mangos and bananas.
Next, visit the Kampot Pepper Project. Grown in Cambodia for centuries, Kampot pepper is considered one of the world’s finest. Today the pepper is seen as an important symbol of Cambodian regeneration – the province’s pepper heritage returning after almost being wiped out by rice production during the Khmer Rouge. A short walk through rice fields and a climb provides a lovely outlook over the surrounding countryside. Then enter Phnom Chhnork limestone cave, home to a small 7th century temple.
Explore the busy Kep Crab markets, where crabs are kept fresh in pots that float in the Gulf of Thailand's warm waters. Enjoy a lunch of fresh crab cooked to perfection, eaten on a pier overlooking the ocean.
After lunch, walk along the Kep beach and explore the old oceanfront buildings. Kep was once Cambodia's most popular and prestigious beach town, but the Khmer Rouge destroyed many of Kep's mansions and villas. The ghostly remains now stand as a silent reminder. Alternatively, relax in a hammock or swim in the warm Vietnam's East Sea. Return to Kampot by early evening.
Kampot Pepper Project, Phnom Chhnork limestone cave, Kep Crab markets
Head back to Phnom Penh (approximately 3 hours). then take a cycle-rickshaw (cyclo) tour around the capital, taking in some of the interesting sights, sounds and smells of the capital, including the wonderful art deco-designed Psar Thmei (Central Market).
Discover the building blocks of Khmer cuisine. Kroeung (fragrant herb paste), prahok (Cambodian fish paste), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, tamarind and the famous Kampot black pepper are just some of the flavours you will encounter. Next, check out the food stalls in front of the Royal Palace and taste some of the best street food in the capital – fried cricket snack anyone.
During free time this evening you might choose to have a relaxing sunset drink at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, or stroll along the famous Sisowath Quay and enjoy a coffee or cocktail at one of the many cafes while observing the busy river traffic – a great way to while away the evening.
A cycle-rickshaw (cyclo) tour, Khmer cuisine discovery and food tour
After breakfast, being transferred by car to Battambang. Cambodia's second-largest city, Battambang (pronounced Battambong), is a pretty riverside town of French elegance, friendly Khmer people and beautifully preserved colonial architecture. The city is famous for its many statues of animals and divinities that decorate the streets and buildings. The city lacks the traffic of Phnom Penh and the visitor numbers of Siem Reap, so it’s a great place to get a real slice of Cambodia.
There are a number of activities for your free afternoon today. Perhaps take a ride on the famous bamboo train, a great chance to interact with locals. Previously mainly used for transporting agricultural products and people, it’s often one of people's favourite activities. The train is made of a wooden and bamboo carriage powered by a small engine. Maximum speed is around 15 km per hour and it can easily be disassembled when carriages come in the opposite direction. There’s also the chance to join a local Battambang foodie for a home-cooked meal, perhaps tasting local dishes such as amok, Khmer curry, and fried spicy chicken.
Wake up early and take a bicycle ride into the countryside. The ride is easy and takes in mostly shady roads and countryside through local villages. Along the way, stop and experience rice paper-making, fruit drying and preparation, production of the famous prahok (fish paste) and rice wine-making. Finish up at the best kralanh (sticky rice in bamboo) stall in the district.
Then travel by private bus to the temple city of Banteay Chhmar, sometimes referred to as the Citadel of the Cat (approximately 4 hours). Some of the road is unsealed which could slow down the journey, but it is worth it to visit this remote small community. The 9th century temple here is a top candidate for World Heritage Status, with the ruins here similar to the famous Bayon with their face towers, and surrounded by an impressive 9 kilometre-long wall.
Experience true Cambodian hospitality by staying with a local family in a traditional Khmer wooden stilted house. As the day draws to a close, enjoy a memorable traditional Khmer dinner by torch-light in the grounds of the temple.
Notes: A Cambodian motor-tuk tuk is available if you do not want to ride a bike.
After a traditional Khmer breakfast, take a turn around the village food market. Collect some ingredients and together prepare lunch with your community hosts, picking up a cooking tip or two! Enjoy a final lunchtime feast before bidding farewell to your hosts and departing for Siem Reap by private vehicle (approximately 4 hours).
The small but expanding town of Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor. This is the most popular destination for travelers in all of Cambodia, perhaps even in entire South East Asia. You'll probably notice a change of pace here, so take a short introductory walk around the centre of town and enjoy the atmosphere. With its cafes, bars, restaurants, food and drinks stands, Siem Reap caters for foodies of all persuasions.
A visit to the old market is a must, even if you're not looking for souvenirs; wandering through the stalls and surrounding shops, the silks, cottons, sarongs, silver and statues are a riot of colour and a feast for the eyes.
In the evening, take a tuktuk ride around the hidden local street food treasures of Siem Reap. If you’re lucky you might find fried crickets that taste like potato chips, which are usually enjoyed with a cold beer; barbecued meat on skewers; Khmer Fried Chicken; green mango served with chilli and salt; ducks eggs; barbecued corn; and durian, the smelly King of all fruit. Continue on to a local restaurant to sample some tasty local delicacies, before finishing at a dessert stall where fruit shakes, fruit with sweetened condensed milk and baked puddings are the specialty.
Enjoy 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.
Bayon and Ta Prohm Temples
This morning is free for you to pursue your interests. 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. Alternatively, spend your morning exploring Siem Reap and perhaps indulge in a traditional Khmer massage.
Late afternoon, get one final insight into the heart of Cambodia with a cooking class with your hosts. A local expert will explain a little about Khmer food culture and superstitions related to food, then help you to cook up a few signature dishes such as amok trey (fish curry), mee kola (vegetarian noodles) and pleah (beef salad). Bid farewell to this delicious "Flavors of Cambodia Tour" over a Cambodian feast that you've helped to create!
Your food adventure through Cambodia concludes this morning. Relax at your hotel until your guide and driver transfer you to the airport for your onward flight. Finish the Flavors of Cambodia Tour with Cambodia Senses.
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One of our top picks in Kampot – and a guest favourite.
Offering an outdoor saltwater pool and views of the mountain, Hotel Five.S is situated in Kampot in the Kampot Province Region, 10 km from Bokor Mountain National Park. Free WiFi is available throughout the property.
The rooms come with a flat-screen TV. Some units have a seating area where you can relax. Views of the pool, garden or city are featured in certain rooms. All rooms include a private bathroom. For your comfort, you will find bathrobes and free toiletries.
There is a 24-hour front desk at the property. Guests enjoy complimentary use of bicycles to explore the surrounding area.
Located in Wat Kor Village, 4 km from Psar Nat shopping area, Battambang Resort features bright and modern rooms with free Wi-Fi and views of a garden or lake. Home to an outdoor pool, restaurant and bar the resort is surrounded by rice fields and provides free private parking.
The Hotel is 4 km from Battambang Railway Station and Battambang Town.
Each air-conditioned room is also equipped with a fan. All rooms have a telephone, hairdryer and fridge. Tea/coffee facilities are also included.
Battambang Resort has a 24-hour front desk. Tour, ticketing and laundry services are available.
Daily breakfast is served at the resort’s restaurant, which features Asian and Western dishes. Choose from a selection of wine and local beer at the bar.
A boutique hotel located in central Siem Reap, Home Indochine D'Angkor provides elegant accommodation just a 7-minute walk to the famous Phsar Chas (Old Market) and Pub Street. Guests enjoy access to the outdoor swimming pool and free WiFi is offered throughout the property.
Home Indochine D'Angkor is situated 9 km from Siem Reap International Airport and a 15-minute drive from Angkor Wat Temple, a world heritage site. It is a 5-minute walk from the hotel to Siem Reap River. The property offers complimentary airport pickup services.
All rooms are air-conditioned and feature a private en suite bathroom, a cable TV and 2 free bottles of mineral water daily. Rooms also have seating areas and offer views of the garden or pool.
Breakfast and fresh juices are served at the restaurant, which also offers local specialities and some Western dishes. There is also a bar on site. Room service is provided on request.