Cambodia: Contemporary Art, Spiritual Traditions, and Hidden Wonders - Atlas Obscura

Cambodia

Cambodia: Contemporary Art, Spiritual Traditions, and Hidden Wonders

Explore the vibrant art, religion, and food culture of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and spend time with the country's leading artists and performers. 

From the bustling capital of Phnom Penh to the seaside town of Kampot, the abandoned colonial mansions on Bokor Mountain to the sandy beaches of Rabbit Island, Cambodia boasts an abundance of sights, tastes, and sounds. On this 11-day adventure, with an optional four-day extension to the astounding Angkor Wat, we'll meet an array of local artists, farmers, chefs, and healers and learn more about both the ancient traditions they are upholding and the unique work they are pioneering to help their country recover from the Khmer Rouge genocide. 

This trip is limited to 12 explorers.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Visual & performing arts: We'll discover the depth and breadth of Cambodia's current art scene, ranging from traditional to contemporary, meeting with the country's most celebrated painters, sculptors, filmmakers, street artists, and performers across the country. 
  • Religion & ritual: We'll meet with practitioners of Buddhism and other spiritual traditions, and spent time with a traditional shaman, learn more about the work to which they've dedicated themselves.
  • Spectacular landscapes: We'll ascend Bokor Mountain, home to an abandoned and beautiful French colonial hill station that has become a canvas for Cambodia's leading street artists. We'll also spend a day relaxing on the scenic beaches of Rabbit Island
  • Khmer foodways: We'll visit and shop at markets, take a cooking class with a Khmer chef, and spend time with a Cambodian fruit farmer, and sample his crops.
  • Angkor Wat: Those who take the optional extension will tour Angkor Wat, the legendary temple complex, and see other wonders nearby.

YOUR MAIN GUIDE

Lauren Iida is originally from Seattle and has been living and working in Cambodia for the last 10 years. She is a cut paper artist, illustrator, educator, and founder and director of 501(c)(3) non-profit, the Antipodes Collective, which creates high quality learning materials for Cambodian children. She founded her art tour company, Two Roads Art Tours to combine her passion for the arts with her love for Cambodia. 

TRIP COST

A $500 deposit is required to secure your spot. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. We have a limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill quickly. The regular trip program will cost $2,925 ($500 deposit plus $2,425 final payment). The five-day extension to Angkor Wat will cost an additional $935.

QUESTIONS?

Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.

Itinerary
Day 1
Arrival in Phnom Penh
  • Arrive today in Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh. You'll be greeted at the airport and transported to our hotel.
  • This evening, we’ll start getting to know each other over a welcome dinner and orient ourselves for the 10 days ahead. We’ll try Khmer food and learn a few helpful phrases in the Khmer language.
Day 2
Street Art & Riverfront Sunset
  • After breakfast at our hotel, we’ll take a street art city tour by tuk tuk. As we wind through the city’s frenetic streets, we’ll view murals and street art from the top artists in Cambodia.
  • We’ll take a relaxing lunch at a local Khmer restaurant, followed by a private film screening and Q&A with the Khmer-French-Canadian filmmaker and street artist FONKi. The film, titled The Roots Remain (see trailer), explores the harrowing experiences of the filmmaker’s family during the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s. We’ll be given a window into how the genocide affected FONKi and his generation of diaspora children, and also how he and other young, talented artists are reviving contemporary culture by returning to their Motherland and enriching Cambodia’s art scene. 
  • We’ll have the chance to explore the screening venue, an art workshop and leading design studio.
  • For a great place to soak in the sunset and a cocktail, we’ll head over to happy hour at the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC). The FCC is housed in a beautiful, French colonial riverfront building with incredible views of the bustling street below and the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers. An important historical site, it was the last stronghold for journalists during the fall of Cambodia to Pol Pot in 1975 and holds a collection of rare wartime photos by Al Rockoff, one of the characters in the famous film, The Killing Fields.
  • Our day will end along the lively riverfront with lots of Western and Khmer dining options, where you can linger into the night, or head in for an early night’s rest.
Day 3
Toul Sleng
  • After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll go on a guided tour of Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. This critical historical site provides necessary insight into the devastating Khmer Rouge genocide, and also creates context for the importance of Cambodia’s recent art revival.
  • We’ll then travel to a local Buddhist pagoda and monastery where we’ll have the opportunity to speak to a monk about traditions and practices of Buddhism in the region, some unique to Cambodia. Afterwards we’ll have lunch at Boat Noodles, a long-established local favorite.  
  • The afternoon will be a chance for rest and relaxation. Be sure to enjoy the hotel’s rooftop pool and bar!
  • This evening, those who are interested will have the option to attend an Apsara dance performance. This performance, which takes place on the grounds of the National Museum, showcases the many traditional styles—and colorful regalia—of Cambodian dance.
Day 4
Off to Kampot
  • After breakfast in Phnom Penh, we’ll travel southwest to Kampot, located on the Preaek Tuek Chhu River and brushing up again the Gulf of Thailand (three-hour drive). After checking into our hotel, we’ll visit the home studio of Nicolas Grey, a unique outsider artist and U.K. national who melds the metaphysical and supernatural with the mundane angst of daily life. Grey's studio is housed inside a 1960s pre-Khmer Rouge apartment packed to the brim with art, oddities and antiques in the center of Kampot. 
  • We’ll finish the day with happy hour on a docked riverboat, taking in views of the sunset over the river and Bokor Mountain.
  • Afterwards, you’ll have the option of attending a weekly contemporary dance performance presented by Epic Arts, an inclusive visual and performing arts non-profit based in Kampot. The performance takes place in a historical building and former 1960s cinema.
Day 5
Art Workshop & Abandoned Hill Station
  • After breakfast at our hotel in Kampot, we’ll meet with a Khmer artist who will lead us through an art-making workshop. We’ll have the opportunity to learn a few simple techniques and produce a small work of art in a laid-back setting—all skill levels welcome!
  • We’ll have lunch at Epic Arts Cafe, which supports Epic Arts, the inclusive visual and performing arts non-profit behind the previous evening’s dance performance.
  • After lunch we will travel by van to the top of Bokor Mountain, once home to a French colonial hill station that included a hotel, church, and casino built as a resort complex for colonial residents in the 1920s. Up atop Bokor, we’ll have the chance to explore these increasingly dilapidated, long-abandoned buildings, such as Bokor Hill Station, some of which are now adorned with beautiful murals by FONKi and other artists. We can also enjoy a short stroll to a waterfall that has become a popular picnicking destination for Khmer families.
  • In the evening, take some time to rest and take dinner on your own.
Day 6
Farming, Cooking, and Healing in Kampot
  • After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll visit a local countryside Khmer home a short drive from the city center. There we’ll meet with the homeowner, who will show us his small fruit farm, home to a wide variety of tropical fruits growing on trees and vines, and give us a chance to taste some of them. He’ll also show us around his traditional wood house and help us learn more about the customs, religious practices, and daily life of Khmers living in rural areas.
  • After the farm visit, we’ll head to the local Kampot market and purchase ingredients for a cooking class. Our cooking instructor, a talented English-speaking Khmer chef, will demonstrate how to prepare several Khmer recipes. We’ll also discuss types of traditional Khmer healing that harness the power of food and medicinal herbs. Afterwards, we’ll enjoy the delicious fruits and labors of our cooking class!
  • In the late afternoon, we’ll briefly visit a striking salt flat area. We’ll also stop in at a shop specializing in the exceptionally high quality black, red, and white pepper that made Kampot famous.
  • This evening, take dinner on your own and rest or explore further.
Day 7
Rabbit Island Relaxation
  • Today, it’s off to Rabbit Island for some rest and relaxation! We’ll start by driving a half-hour from Kampot to Kep, then briefly visit the crab market. There, you can watch women tending to their bamboo crab pots and also buy fresh crab.
  • From there, we’ll take a wooden fishing boat from Kep to Rabbit Island (around 30 minutes on the water). Once on the island, we’ll enjoy the beautiful beach and fresh, locally harvested seafood cooked right on the water’s edge. The water here is clean, warm, and perfect for swimming. The beach is normally quiet on weekdays, with lounge chairs available for rent and fresh coconuts everywhere. Feel free to lounge on the beach, wander the trails winding along the island’s edge, or whatever strikes your fancy. We’ll remain on the island until mid-afternoon, and then return to Kampot the same way we came, followed by a free evening.
McKay Savage McKay Savage
Day 8
Khmer Rituals & Dinner in the Dark
  • In the morning after breakfast, we’ll visit a local medicine man. We’ll learn more about sacred amulets and other adornments, and the role they play in shamanistic rituals commonly practiced throughout contemporary Khmer society.
  • After lunch in Kampot, we’ll depart for Phnom Penh (around 3.5 hours) and check into our hotel.
  • For dinner, we’ll experience the unique dining atmosphere of Dine in the Dark, a no-lights restaurant featuring Khmer and vegetarian menu items. This is a chance to enjoy gastronomy through heightened, non-visual senses. All of the restaurant staff are visually impaired and fluent in English.

 

Day 9
Khmer Magic Music Bus
  • This morning, we’ll have breakfast at the hotel before traveling to the Khmer Magic Music Bus artist sanctuary outside the city. There, we’ll be introduced to the musicians, their ancient traditional instruments, and the mission of the KMMB. We’ll travel with them to a nearby local school and attend a free traditional music concert and brief educational segment alongside 300 students at an underserved elementary school.
  • Enjoy a home-cooked family-style Khmer meal with the artists at the sanctuary followed by a private concert, Q&A, and book signing with Seyma Thon, founder of the KMMB and well-known advocate for the preservation and revival of lost and endangered performing arts in post-genocide Cambodia.
  • In the late afternoon, we’ll meet with Neak Sophal, one of Cambodia’s top female Khmer artists. She’ll show us a brief slideshow of her fascinating photographic and performative work.
  • Take the rest of the evening to have dinner, rest, or explore further on your own.
Day 10
Russian Market & Pich Sopheap
  • After lunch we’ll visit the Russian Market, a local market featuring various textiles, clothes, shoes, hand-woven baskets, ceramics, and antiques. Inside, a local artisan will tell us more about traditional shadow puppet-making using hand-punched leather.
  • We’ll have lunch at Java Creative Cafe and Gallery where curator Dana Langlois will walk us through the current exhibition and discuss her 17-year career working with Khmer artists.
  • In the afternoon, we’ll visit the studio of Pich Sopheap, one of Cambodia’s most internationally acclaimed contemporary artists. At his beautiful home studio just outside the city, he’ll guide us through his process of making large scale sculptures from natural materials including bamboo and beeswax.
  • This evening, we’ll raise glasses to our time together at a final dinner—though if continuing onwards with us to Siem Reap, there’s still more to see!
Day 11
Departure or Rest & Regroup
  • Today is departure day for those not continuing to Siem Reap. If headed to the airport, we’ll arrange you a trusty tuk tuk (or car for late night departures), according to your individual itineraries.
  • For those continuing on to Siem Reap, today is dedicated to resting and regrouping before the next leg of the journey. Your guide is happy to suggest things to do if you’d like to explore more of Phnom Penh.
ND StruplerTaohou
Day 12
Optional Extension to Angkor Wat
  • After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll travel to Siem Reap by van (around 6 hours) with lunch at a local restaurant on the way.
  • Upon arrival, we’ll check into our hotel and regroup after dinner for an optional circus arts performance put on by the French/Cambodian non-profit arts school, Phare Ponleu Selpak.
Day 13
Angkor Wat
  • We’ll have an early breakfast at the hotel (around 7 a.m.), then take our minivan to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. There, during a guided tour throughout the vast Angkor Wat complex, we’ll stop and explore four temples: Angkor Wat (main, big temple), Bayon (Angkor Thom), Terrace of the Elephants,  and Ta Prom (above five hours total). This tour will involve a considerable amount of walking and standing; bring good walking shoes, lightweight clothing that covers your knees and shoulders at all times, and protect yourself from the sun. 
  • We’ll eat lunch at a restaurant at the temples halfway through the tour. In the afternoon, we’ll return to our hotel where we can rest and shower.
  • For those who’d like to join, we’ll meet for happy hour at Miss Wong’s Cocktail Bar in the bustling central area of Siem Reap. Miss Wong’s is a beautifully appointed high-end cocktail bar with small bites.
  • Siem Reap boasts a wide range of shopping options in its many night markets. Take a walk around after dark for shopping, street vendors, vibrant nightlife, and great people watching!
Day 14
Phnom Kulen Mountain
  • After an early breakfast, we’ll travel by van to Phnom Kulen Mountain (around 30 miles). Phnom Kulen is widely considered the birthplace of the Angkor Empire and is still considered a very important holy site for Khmers. We’ll first view the ancient underwater carvings, or “1,000 Lingas,” at Kbal Spean and stroll briefly through the flat wooded path along the river.
  • Then we’ll proceed to the top of the mountain, which boasts a beautiful Buddhist temple built amongst massive boulders and into the rock face of the mountain. There, we’ll have the chance to give offerings to Buddhist monks and nuns, and view the many incredible Buddha statues and shrines throughout the complex.
  • After lunch, we’ll have the opportunity to swim in the waterfall nearby, so bring an extra change of clothes to swim in! Please respect local culture by wearing conservative swimwear, i.e. a t-shirt and shorts instead of a swimsuit.
  • We’ll return to Siem Reap in the late afternoon/early evening.
Day 15
Back to Phnom Penh
  • In the morning after breakfast we’ll check out of our hotel and visit the beautiful home studio of the internationally acclaimed artist couple Svay Sareth and Yim Maline. They’ll speak to us about their individual installation work, durational performance, drawings, and sculptures.
  • After the studio visit we’ll depart back to Phnom Penh (around 6 hours), with a stop for lunch on the way at a local restaurant.
  • In the evening in Phnom Penh, we’ll gather for one last dinner before tomorrow’s departure.
Day 16
Final Farewell & Departure
  • Today is departure day for those who joined for the extension. All guests will be driven to the airport according to their individual flight itineraries by tuk tuk (or car for late departures).
  • Until the next adventure!
The Fine Print

YOUR ATLAS OBSCURA TRIP TO CAMBODIA INCLUDES 

  • All lodging in modern, well-equipped hotels throughout the trip. (Single supplement for a private room is available for $620, or $960 including the Angkor Wat extension; otherwise we’ll work to place singles of the same gender together.)
  • Breakfast daily and either lunch or dinner each day (a total of two meals per day).
  • Transportation throughout the trip, in a private bus, and sometimes in tuk tuks.
  • An experienced guide accompanying you throughout the trip, as well as local guides joining in each city.
  • Admission to all proposed activities, sites, and events.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that Cambodia has to offer!

NOTE ON FLIGHTS

For flights in and out of Phnom Penh International Airport (PNH), we suggest you arrive by 4 p.m. on Wednesday, January 16 and depart anytime in the morning on Saturday, January 26. If taking the Angkor Wat extension, you should plan to depart on Thursday, January 31.

NOTE ON WEATHER & PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

January belongs to Cambodia's dry season, and you can expect local temperatures in the mid-80s°F (high 20s °C). Keep in mind that we’ll be spending lots of time outdoors and moving around. You should feel comfortable walking four to five miles each day and remaining on your feet for long periods of time. The trip includes transport by foot, tuk tuk, private van, and wooden boat.

NOTE ON ITINERARY

Itineraries are subject to change. We expect to do everything listed in the itinerary, though the order may be rearranged based on weather, local contacts, and other factors outside our control.

PAYMENT

You will be charged a non-refundable $500 deposit to hold your space. The final payment of $2,425 will be due by October 1, 2018. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $620 (or $960 if taking the extension) will be included in the final payment.

TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR

  • Flights or other transportation to and from Phnom Penh.
  • Travel insurance (recommended).
  • Food and drink outside of Atlas Obscura offerings, including one meal per day (usually dinner), and any alcoholic beverages.
  • Personal expenses.