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 creative center of Battambang city, 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 spend time with a traditional shaman, learning about the work to which they've dedicated themselves.
  • 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 main trip program will cost $2,980 ($500 deposit plus $2,480 final payment). The optional four-day extension to Angkor Wat will cost an additional $985.

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.
Banner photo: Clay Gilliland
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 have 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 Battambang
  • After breakfast in Phnom Penh, we’ll travel northwest to Battambang. The drive is around six hours, with breaks every one and a half to two hours as needed for bathrooms, stretching, and lunch at a local restaurant on the way. (We'd recommend that sensitive eaters bring some supplemental snacks.)
  • Upon arrival, we'll check into our local hotel and have the chance to shower and relax.
  • Happy hour and/or dinner can be taken on the gorgeous rooftop bar and restaurant with 360-degree views of Battambang city and the surrounding mountains. The city center is a short tuk tuk or walk away and has a small yet lively riverside night market area with food and shopping. 
Romcheik 5
Day 5
Romcheik 5 & Phnom Sampov
  • After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll travel to Romcheik 5 Artspace, home to four of Cambodia’s most highly regarded visual artists, all of whom survived harrowing experiences as child laborers working illegally in Thailand. Chankrim Mil (watercolor), Bor Hak (sculpture/animation/drawing/multimedia), Seyha Hour (acrylic/enamel painter), and Chanpeng Nget (acrylic painter) now live and work together in their home studios at Romcheik 5, a cooperative established several years ago.
  • Romcheik 5 also boasts Cambodia's first contemporary art museum and the largest collection of Cambodian contemporary art in the world. First we’ll tour the cooperative’s multi-story private collection, which features a vast array of 2-D and 3-D works from the resident artists. Then we'll tour the new contemporary art “Countryside Museum,” home to an impressive collection of contemporary pieces from Cambodia’s top artists, both Khmer and foreign.
  • We’ll take some time to rest and enjoy a casual lunch inside the home of one of the resident artists.
  • In the afternoon, one of these artists will then lead us through an informal art-making workshop where we’ll learn a simple technique and produce a small work of art. This is a very relaxed setting: all artistic skill levels are welcome!
  • In the early evening, we’ll invite the artists and their families to join us on an excursion to Phnom Sampov, a mountain where millions of bats depart from a crevice in the cliff face for their nighttime hunt. Crowds of locals and tourists alike gather here each evening—over a cold drink and some local snacks—to watch the giant swarm of bats leave the cave.
  • Feel free to take dinner on your own, either at the hotel or in town, where there are many Western and Khmer restaurants.
Day 6
Chov Theanly & Local Traditions
  • After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll visit the home studio of Chov Theanly, an accomplished and internationally regarded oil painter. Theanly lives and works out of his family’s French colonial-era home on the riverfront in downtown Battambang, and while we’re there, he’ll explain his work and show us samples. Afterwards, he’ll take us to his favorite Buddhist pagoda complex, and share with us Buddhist theory and the influence that traditional paintings have had on his work.
  • Nearby are several restaurants we can choose from for lunch including Japanese, Western, and Khmer.
  • In the afternoon, depending on availability, we’ll either visit a local fortune teller and have our fortunes read, or meet a local medicine man/shaman to learn about sacred amulets and other adornments, and shamanistic rituals commonly practiced throughout contemporary Khmer society.
  • While in the countryside, we’ll visit a traditional Khmer village home and speak to the occupants about their lifestyle, agriculture, and culinary practices. We’ll be able to sample and casually participate in the preparation of some locally foraged foods.
  • This evening there is an optional dinner at Jaan Bai, a fantastic Asian-fusion restaurant and social enterprise in the center of town.
OXLAEY.com
Day 7
Rest, Relaxation & Circus Arts
  • Today is an important rest and relaxation day!
  • Feel free to sleep in, lounge by the giant hotel pool, enjoy a massage at the hotel spa (the best in town!), or wander around the sleepy streets dotted with quaint French-colonial era houses and shopfronts. Your guide can recommend other activities (cooking class, bicycle tour, temples)  if you’ve got enough energy for your own adventure, though we strongly encourage you to use the opportunity to rest and recharge.
  • The evening will feature an optional activity: a circus arts performance under the big top by Phare Ponleu Selpak, on the grounds of their non-profit school. If we have time for a quick happy hour, we can stop by a boutique, pop-up cocktail spot on a lively street corner in the center of town.
McKay Savage
McKay Savage McKay Savage
Day 8
Drive to Phnom Penh & Dinner in the Dark
  • After breakfast, we’ll depart for Phnom Penh (around six hours). When we arrive, we’ll have time to settle 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. All of the restaurant staff are visually impaired and fluent in English, and provide guests with a unique opportunity to enjoy gastronomy through heightened, non-visual senses. 
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 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, 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 (the main, big temple), Bayon (Angkor Thom), Terrace of the Elephants,  and Ta Prom. This tour will involve a considerable amount of walking and standing over the course of about five hours. 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
Farewell & Departure
  • In the morning after breakfast, you can join us for a visit to 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.
  • Our tour ends this morning in Siem Reap. From here, we invite you to extend your stay and explore further on your own, or catch flights home from Siem Reap International Airport (REP).
  • 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 Saturday, October 12 and depart anytime in the morning on Tuesday, October 22. If taking the Angkor Wat extension, you should plan to depart from Siem Reap (REP) on Saturday, October 26.

NOTE ON WEATHER & PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Temperature and humidity in Cambodia in October are more temperate compared to other seasons. You can expect local temperatures in the mid-70s to high 80s°F (24–31°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 over the course of each day and remaining on your feet for long periods of time. The trip includes transport by foot, tuk tuk, and private van.

NOTE ON ITINERARY

Itineraries are subject to change. We expect to do most of what is listed in the itinerary, though order and availability may vary based on weather, local contacts, and other factors outside our control. Due to the unpredictable nature of international travel and the coordination of artists’ schedules, there will likely be slight changes to our schedule as we near our travel dates. Thank you for your understanding!

PAYMENT

You will be charged a non-refundable $500 deposit to hold your space. The final payment of $2,480 will be due by July 12, 2019. The optional Angkor Wat extension is an additional $985. 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 (departing from Siem Reap if taking the extension).
  • Applying for Cambodian visa, if required.
  • Travel insurance (recommended).
  • Food and drink outside of Atlas Obscura offerings, including one meal per day (usually dinner), and any soda or alcoholic beverages.
  • Personal expenses.

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