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Burma & the Irrawaddy River: Bagan to Mandalay 2014

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Pre-trip: Phnom Penh & Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Discover Cambodia’s bustling capital and have an unrivaled opportunity to see one of the world’s most haunting antiquities. Spend two nights exploring the sights and sounds of Phnom Penh. Then spend three nights near the spectacular temple of Angkor Wat (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Set amid lush tropical forests, the temples showcase the creative genius of the Khmer empire, which reached its pinnacle between the ninth and 14th centuries. You’ll have expert guidance to the ancient city of Angkor, which extends for miles around this principal temple, containing hundreds of archaeological sites.

It's Included:
Roundtrip airfare between Bangkok and Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to Bangkok
Accommodations: for 1 night in Bangkok at the Best Western Premier Amaranth or similar, 2 nights in Phnom Penh at the Sunway Hotel or similar, and 3 nights in Siem Reap at the Royal Angkor Resort or similar
13 meals: 6 breakfasts, 4 lunches, and 3 dinners
Included Tours: Phnom Penh, Angkor, Tonle Sap
Exclusive services of an experienced Grand Circle Program Director
All transfers

    Depart the U.S. today on your overnight flight to Bangkok.

  • Land in Bangkok today, where you’ll check into your hotel and stay overnight, awaiting your transfer to Phnom Penh the next day.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    Fly from Bangkok and arrive this afternoon in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, where you’ll check into your hotel and have a chance to unwind after your travels.

    That evening, you’ll take an orientation walk to Wat Phnom, an important Buddhist shrine after which the city of Phnom Penh took its name. According to legend, the shrine was built to house four statues of the Buddha that had floated down the Mekong and washed ashore nearby. The shrine is an important spiritual center for the city’s residents, who flock to it regularly to pay their respects.

    Tonight, dinner is at a local restaurant.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast at the hotel this morning, you’ll visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek to learn about Cambodia’s bloody past under Pol Pot. It is almost inconceivable to confront the nature of true evil here in this gentle land, but the Buddhist memorial at Choeung Ek commemorates the 1.7 million victims of the 1975-79 Pol Pot genocide. This execution site is one of many throughout Cambodia.

    Then you’ll explore the Royal Palace, where King Norodom Sihamoni and former King Norodom Sihanouk live today. The Palace was opened in 1870, and now contains the Royal Residence, the Throne Hall, the Silver Pagoda, and other buildings.

    After an included lunch at a local restaurant, you’ll then further your understanding of this dark time in the country’s history with a visit to the Toul Sleng Prison Museum. Then before returning to the hotel, you'll tour the National Museum’s collection of Khmer art, which displays more than 5,000 objects, including statues and other artifacts from Angkor Wat.

    The balance of the day is at leisure for you to explore as you wish, and dinner is on your own.

  • After breakfast this morning, you’ll board a coach for your trip to Siem Reap, a town within the boundaries of the ancient city of Angkor. You’ll travel through Cambodia’s Kampong Thom Province, stopping en route for lunch at a local restaurant and a visit to the Kampong Kdei Bridge. One of the longest cobblestone bridges in the world, the Kampong Kdei Bridge, also known as the Naga Bridge, was built in the 12th century and is one of the few bridges from the Khmer empire still standing.

    You’ll check in to your hotel, and then take an orientation walk followed by dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Today your Program Director will take you into the heart of ancient Angkor, a holy city that took centuries to build and whose scale is still breathtaking today—it sprawls across an area of roughly six by 16 miles. The Khmer aristocrats who built the temples and monuments here between AD 800-1200 were motivated by their Hindu and Buddhist beliefs.

    You’ll begin at the South Gate of Angkor Thom, the capital city of Khmer rulers. You’ll see the Bayon, widely regarded as the ancient city’s most impressive temple, with its ornate bas-reliefs and elaborate stone faces peering out from its multitude of towers. You’ll also visit Ta Prohm, another Buddhist temple complex that was built in the twelfth century, but has since been partially reclaimed by the surrounding jungle, lending it a somewhat wild and adventurous appearance.

    You’ll stop for an included lunch at a local restaurant before continuing on to explore Angkor Wat (whose name means simply “Angkor’s main temple”) and wait for the sunset, the most opportune moment for seeing this masterpiece of Khmer architecture. Angkor Wat is a large pyramid temple, built between AD 1113 and 1150, surrounded by a great moat 570 feet wide. Note the bas-relief carvings throughout the temple. Who knows what you might feel as you stand in the courtyard of this temple whose towers represent Mount Meru, the center of the universe?

    Tonight, dinner is included at a local restaurant.

  • This morning, join a boat ride on Tonle Sap Lake, where you’ll have a chance to glimpse a bit of the life of Cambodia’s river people. Floating fishing villages sprawl across the lakefront and everything is gliding by on the water—thatched-roof houses on hollow bamboo poles, small markets, jewelry shops, even a beauty parlor floats by. Commerce goes on all across the water—women selling fruits and vegetables from a sampan, a skiff full of firewood, and fishermen selling their catch. The people who live on the water have tied their lives to the lake’s cycles, and are constantly on the move as the water level rises or recedes throughout the year.

    Tonle Sap means “Great Freshwater Lake,” and indeed this is one of the world’s geographical wonders, as well as the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. When the rains begin here in June and July, the Mekong River begins to rise, but instead of flooding its own banks, it begins to push the waters of the Tonle Sap at Phnom Penh northward, reversing the river’s flow. The waters of the Tonle Sap River then flood the lake, increasing its size tenfold and flooding the surrounding forests and fields, leaving behind fertile silt for rice cultivation. In October, after the monsoon season has passed, the lake drains and the river returns to its southern flow. If you are a birder, this is a world-renowned habitat for shorebirds. We end our tour with a visit to a floating village then head back to the hotel for an included lunch.

    You might spend the afternoon on your own. Perhaps you’ll visit one of Siem Reap’s markets. There are two major markets (psah) nearby—Psah Chas (Old Market), and Center Market, which offers numerous souvenir shops and craft stands along the riverside.

    Or, you might join us on an optional tour to visit the ancient temple of Banteay Srei, one of the oldest and most beautifully preserved temple sites in Cambodia. Built in AD 967, Banteay Srei means “Citadel of Women,” and it is recognized as a tribute to the beauty of women. The structures here have been carved in painstaking detail out of sandstone. Amazingly, the detail is as intricate as a woven tapestry, a testament to the craft of the original artisans and to the devoted conservation of generations of Cambodians to this site, set like a gem in a seemingly enchanted forest, about 20 miles from Angkor, it is famous for its delicate carvings, wonderful state of preservation and small size in relation to the other Angkor temples.

    If you join this optional tour, dinner at a local restaurant is included. Otherwise, dinner is on your own this evening.

    • Meals included:

    This morning, you'll depart for the Siem Reap airport and fly back to Bangkok to begin your main trip.