See Cambodia as you’ve never seen it before - an optimistic nation with a complex past, rising above the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge and breaking cycles of poverty. You’ll visit developing and thriving projects dedicated to protecting the environment and wildlife, as well as empowering and improving the lives of those in need.
In Siem Reap, learn about landmine clearance at the APOPO HeroRATs Center, visit rural villages with a local NGO and donate a well for a family to use. Next, delve into the Cardamom Forest to join rangers on anti-poaching patrols. Finally, sail from Sihanoukville to a private island to immerse yourself in marine conservation.
Arriving into Siem Reap, take a road transfer to your accommodation: Bensley Collection - Shinta Mani Siem Reap. Designed by “starchitect” Bill Bensley, this all-villa property is secluded yet centrally located, decked out in instantly-recognizable Bensley quirk. This is also a hotel with a heart, as Shinta Mani runs its own foundation from neighboring property, Shinta Mani Shack, which endeavors to break the cycle of poverty in the region by providing education, healthcare and funding for start-up business projects. Pop in to learn more and make a donation, should you wish.
Once you’re settled in, trip out into the city to visit the APOPO Visitor Center and meet some talented furry friends. The resident HeroRATs here have an incredible sense of smell and are specially trained to sniff out landmines. Cambodia’s landmines, unfortunate consequences of the country’s turbulent past, are still scattered in rural areas and can be difficult to locate, resulting in human and wildlife casualties. Now, these HeroRATS can cover the ground faster and more effectively – plus, they’re pretty cute!
Next, you’ll head to Krousar Thmey, an organization with the objective of making education accessible for deaf and visually impaired children, improving child welfare and encouraging artistic expression. Learn how Krousar Thmey first started with the opening of an orphanage in 1991 and has now grown to support thousands of children across 10 provinces in Cambodia, and was a key player in developing a recognized Cambodian sign language.
In the evening, we recommend tasting innovative Khmer cuisine at one of the city’s great restaurant/social enterprises, such as Marum, Spoons, or Haven (optional - at your own expense, reservations recommended).
No trip to Siem Reap would be complete without a visit to Angkor Wat and you’ll start your day here watching the famous temple silhouetted against a backdrop of breaking dawn colors.
Once you’ve refueled with breakfast (try Cambodian coffee – strong, but delicious), you’ll learn more about Siem Reap, starting with ASPIRE Training & Education. This school and home for poor, homeless and orphaned children provides education for young people aged between five and 16 years old – some of whom had never been to school before they came here. ASPIRE runs solely on donations, volunteers and income from visitors, and welcomes you to see the great work they do for the region’s most vulnerable young people.
Next, you’ll head to Romchek Village, where you’ll meet a local NGO working to alleviate poverty and supporting rural communities with sustainable farming solutions. Learn about life in rural Cambodia away from the tourist hotspots, as well as how this NGO is making a real difference in rural communities.
Finally, you’ll end the day with a special visit to a local family. A water well has been funded and built in your name, provides the family and their immediate neighbors with accessible, clean water. The construction of the well will be completed before your visit, so you’ll be able to witness the immediate impact your donation has brought to the beneficiaries.
In the evening, we highly recommend you catch a performance of the award-winning Phare Circus show (optional - at your own expense). This one-hour spectacle combines art, music, dance, juggling and daring acrobatic tricks. What’s more, Phare is part of a social enterprise that funds education, social support and arts programs for at-risk Cambodian youth.
Today, you’ll mix temple touring with countryside and museum visits, starting with a rural cultural tour. Meander around a village market in the morning, then explore the grounds of historic Wat Svay Romeat pagoda, which dates back to the 11th century. Meet with locals, including a traditional medicine practitioner and artisans making handicrafts, before enjoying a home-cooked lunch with a family. This experience gives you the opportunity to engage meaningfully with a rural community. In return, you’ll have your eyes opened to enduring cultural traditions and the way of life in the Cambodian countryside.
Next, it’s a visit to Banteay Srei, one of the region’s most beautiful temples. Famed for its pink sandstone and intricate carvings, this ancient temple was built in the 10th century, which means it predates its more well-known neighbors, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, by around 200 years.
Later, swap ancient mystery for modern history with a trip to the Cambodia Landmine Museum. The founder of the museum was previously a conscripted child soldier of the Khmer Rouge, but has dedicated his adult life to de-mining the countryside, as well as providing education and support for children affected by landmines.
Finally, end your day watching the sun descend over Banteay Samre, a fortified temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The 12th-century structure is surrounded by a moat and located well away from the crowds of Angkor, making this serene spot a true hidden gem.
In the evening, we recommend walking around one of Siem Reap’s busy night markets for a spot of street food and some souvenir shopping (optional). For unique and high-quality products, head to the Made in Cambodia Market, which showcases locally-made fashion, design, upcycled products, traditional crafts and other artworks.
Leave Siem Reap behind and voyage south into the Cardamom Forest. First, take a quick flight to Phnom Penh (45-55 minutes), then a three-hour road transfer west to the Southern Cardamom National Park and Bensley Collection - Shinta Mani Wild (there is the option to take a direct helicopter transfer for an additional cost).
Shinta Mani Wild takes glamping to the next level, occupying 350 hectares of waterfall-strewn river valley, yet not a single tree was felled in its construction. The camp’s presence deters illegal poaching and logging, employing some former poachers and loggers to patrol the forest and work as staff at the camp, while the property itself is sustainable from back of house supplies to refillable toiletries in the luxury tented accommodation.
Pull up a bar stool at the Landing Zone to take a rest after your journey (or don’t – the alternative way to get to the bar is via a 1,050-foot zipline), followed by dinner at the Waterfall Restaurant. As the name suggests, the dining space overlooks flowing torrents and cascades, while the menu details Khmer-inspired cuisine concocted from locally-sourced ingredients. Now, there’s nothing left to do but fall back into nature, lowering your eyelids to the sounds of trickling river and forest leaves rustling in the breeze.
Shinta Mani Wild has partnered with Wildlife Alliance to run and fund a forest ranger station. Join the ranger patrol by motorcycle and/or on foot as they carry out conservation work, preventing poaching and illegal logging, and removing snares set by hunters.
Continue your forest adventure with activities such as trekking (after all, you have four million acres of land to enjoy), mountain biking and forest foraging. The latter will see you trip into the woods to look for ingredients for dinner. Help the chef fill his basket and learn about the forest’s native edible plants. You’ll enjoy your evening meal all the more for recognizing the ingredients you picked out earlier as they appear on your plate.
Now that you’ve traversed the jungle, continue your experience at Shinta Mani Wild with river navigation. Take a backwater cruise to the upper reaches of an estuary to kayak and bird-spot, then recline on a daybed top deck and dip into a round of sundowners served from the boat’s well-stocked bar. Other kayaking trips are available, including adventurous routes only known to your dedicated Bensley Adventure Butler (subject to seasonal water levels).
Another option is to try your hand at tenkara fishing, a traditional Japanese style of fly fishing that is considered to be both an art and a form of meditation. The long rods and light lines are the perfect fit for holding the fly in place, so you’re sure to hook a prize catch (note that all fishing is strictly catch and release).
It’s time to say goodbye to Shinta Mani Wild, as you make the journey further south to Cambodia’s coast and the seaside of Sihanoukville. The trip to the Koh Rong pier takes around three hours, depending on road conditions and traffic. Upon arrival into Sihanoukville, if you have time to spare before you speedboat transfer, we recommend you stop at Starfish Bakery & Café for refreshments (optional – at your own expense). The Starfish Project provides those living in poverty with humanitarian assistance to gain self-sufficiency and sustainable independence through avenues such as healthcare, housing, business loans and grants, and community work.
Next, you’ll take a shared 45-minute speedboat to your final destination: Song Saa Private Island. A pioneering sustainable resort located in Cambodia’s Koh Rong archipelago, Song Saa is the only all-pool overwater villa private island in the region and the very definition of barefoot luxury.
Constructed using energy-efficient thatched roofing, reclaimed sandstone and recycled timber and driftwood, the Song Saa resort spans the “sweetheart” islands of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, which connect via a footbridge that hovers over Cambodia’s first marine reserve. Peer below to see reef metropolises full of busy sea creatures, including tropical fish, seahorses and turtles.
Unpack, adjust to island time and watch the sunset from the private plunge pool of your overwater villa. Later, dine at the Vista Overwater Restaurant and Lounge, grazing on Western and Cambodian dishes made from fresh, sustainable and locally-sourced ingredients.
Song Saa also has its own foundation, which focuses on conservation and community projects in the region. Start at the Discovery Center to find out more about how Song Saa created and now manages the country’s first dedicated marine reserve, as well as how the foundation supports local people. Then, visit Prek Svay village with the Conservation Manager or Foundation Team to see community projects in action (donations welcome).
After observing and learning about Song Saa’s community efforts, contribute to the foundation’s environmental efforts with activities such as a guided tour of the Koh Bong Nature Reserve, an island clean-up, coconut palm cleaning (watch staff climb and husk coconuts, then discover why the coconut palm is known as a sustainable “tree of life”), or a family-friendly conservation treasure hunt.
*Song Saa Foundation is partnered with Pack for a Purpose, an organization that connects travelers with organizations within a destination, so visitors can bring and donate items needed for local projects, such as basic school and medical supplies. Simply check the Pack for a Purpose website to see which supplies are currently needed by Song Saa, then use your spare luggage space to bring them along to donate.
Make the most of your final full day on Song Saa with morning yoga and meditation at a scenic island spot, then explore above and below the waves with a range of water sports. Complimentary activities include house reef snorkeling (or add a small cost to be accompanied by a marine guide, who can provide some tuition and assistance), paddle boarding, kayaking, paddling a Hobie catamaran, sailing a Laser sailboat and windsurfing.
At an additional cost, there are numerous other water sport options, including snorkeling at Coral Reef Island, scuba diving, bioluminescence tours (nighttime), island hopping, fishing, knee boarding, wakeboarding, water-skiing, banana boats and fun tubing.
Your Cambodian adventure comes to an end, as you check out of Song Saa, take a speedboat transfer back to the mainland and head to Sihanoukville airport ready for your onward flight.
To further combat your carbon footprint, consider offsetting your international flights through a carbon offset program, choosing an environmental cause that speaks to you.
Situated in the cultural heart of the lively town of Siem Reap, the Bensley Collection - Shinta Mani Siem Reap features 10 ultra-luxe villas designed by celebrated architect Bill Bensley to reflect his idea of an idyllic life that is filled with privacy and surrounded by lush gardens. Beneath the cooling shadows of the town’s trees, these intimate compounds offer exceptional comfort in every aspect of a guest’s stay. The softest of beds, baths under stars, and diligent butlers lay the foundation for a rejuvenating experience. The hotel compound also houses a wide array of sleek and stylish dining venues that serve everything from authentic local dishes to tender Wagu steaks. All meals can be delivered to guest’s residences at any hour of the day.
Song Saa Private Island spans the pristine golden beaches and lush rainforest of two islands: Koh Quen and Koh Bong. These islands, locally known as “The Sweethearts” (Song Saa), are joined by a sustainably built footbridge, which protects the islands’ natural reefs and exotic marine life Along with the islands’ bucolic vistas, the resort itself offcrs luxurious amenities, including a yoga center bordering the shoreline, spa and wellness sanctuaries among the rainforest, and all the equipment and expertise necessary for kayaking, snorkeling, and boating. When it comes to dining, guests enjoy a choice of exotic cuisine, locally sourced and prepared to reflect the islands’ unique environs while fusing traditional Khner cooking with Western culinary tradition. Stop by the Driftwood Bar for a casual tapas meal by the beach or for a slightly more formal but equally scenic and relaxing dining experience, enjoy the Vista Bar and Restaurant.
Price is based on double or twin hotel room occupancy and includes accommodation, transfers, car/driver (on some days), English-speaking guide, breakfasts and some lunches during touring. Flights and optional special activities will be quoted separately. Most personal expenses, including dinners, alcoholic beverages, spa treatments and gratuities can be paid on the spot while traveling. Prices may vary depending on season, choice of accommodation and other factors.
With Remote Lands you'll travel with people who have made Asia the solitary focus of their own lifelong adventure. As our guest, you'll discover Asia on a journey that is completely, authentically your own, adapted from our own remarkable experiences and adventures over the years.
With Remote Lands you'll travel with people who have made Asia the solitary focus of their own lifelong adventure. As our guest, in the continent that our north American founders Catherine and Jay have adored and explored for decades, you'll discover Asia on a journey that is completely, authentically your own, adapted from our own remarkable experiences and adventures over the years.
Choose somewhere you’d like to visit, something you’re interested in, and when you’re planning to travel and we’ll suggest sample itineraries to inspire your bespoke journey.
Other than Angkor Wat, the Phare, The Cambodian Circus is the must-see in Siem Reap; few things sum up the old and new of Cambodia quite like the Phare.Read More
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You are invited to Remote Lands’ signature Aman Jet Expeditions, in partnership with our friends at Aman. These are small group journeys designed for people who usually travel independently.