Cambodia's Road Less Traveled connects Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

Not Exactly the "Road to Ruins"

Why fly between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (or vice versa) when you can see the very authentic side of Cambodia that most tourists never get to experience. You will see some spectacular countryside, intriguing villages, and spectacular temples, and maybe even munch on a fried tarantula or two. This trip is available only in conjunction with Purple Dragon Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat programs.

Day One: Crafts Villages, a Monumental Lunch, and a Fried Tarantula Snack

This morning you set out from Phnom Penh for Kampong Cham and Kampong Tom by road. Along the way stop at Potoch Village, one of several "crafts villages" (villages that specialize in the production of a single commodity) on your journey to Siem Reap. Potoch is famous for its silversmiths. The tiny "main street" through the village is lined with workshops and the sound of many hammers at work surrounds you. You will visit the best of the lot to see locally-mined silver is turned into everything from jewelry to elaborate tableware. (Shopping is allowed, but not required.)

If you are hungry for a mid-morning snack, we will also stop at a road-side market in Skun. Here, your guide and driver will no doubt buy a bag of freshly fried tarantulas from the local ladies who proffer plates piled high with these popular treats. Tasting something like soft shell crab, the locals swear by their medicinal powers to cure, among other things, car sickness.

But don't fill up on spiders, grasshoppers and beetles. Your lunch stop in Kampong Cham will be at a simple yet tidy restaurant overlooking the Mekong River. This simple eatery is, by far, the finest Khmer food we have found anywhere in the country. Order a big bottle of ice-cold Angkor Beer and prepare to be dazzled.

After lunch it's on to Wat Nokor Bachey, about ten minutes away. This nearly-pristine 11th century Hindu temple is unusual because of the Buddhist temple later built within the structure. The painted columns and ceiling make it among the most colorful and unusual Buddhist houses of worship in Cambodia.

Next, it's on to Kompong Thom. Along the way you will make a stop at a rubber plantation and another crafts village where just about everyone carves Buddha statues of every size from local stone. This is the perfect place to acquire a treasure for your garden back home.

You overnight at a really lovely French-owned hotel with a pool and a nice restaurant. The rooms are comfortable, but suites are pretty fantastic.

Day Two: Sambor Prey Kuk & Fish Sauce Mansions

Today is a bit more relaxed so you can enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Then you depart for Sambor Prey Kuk.

The countryside is especially gorgeous during "green season" (July through October) when rains paint the landscape in electric greens. Oxen plowing rice paddies, haystacks straight from a Monet painting, charming wooden houses on stilts, motorcycles stacked sky-high with wicker baskets, children chasing chickens or swimming in ponds of blooming lotus--just some of the unforgettable sights in a rural Cambodia little changed from the days when god-Kings ruled its endless horizons.

You meet up with a local guide when you arrive at tree-engulfed ruins of 7th-century Prey Kuk, a monumental city that inspired later rulers to create Angkor. Brick stupas and sandstone doors and lintels emerge from the forest as you walk along pleasant jungle paths. This peaceful Eden is eerily pockmarked by enormous craters from battles with the Khmer Rouge. Remnants of gigantic yoni pedestals hint at the scale of looted phallic pillars that once were bathed in lustral waters by Hindu faithful. The brick carving, though weathered, is superb and unusual, a clear-stepping stone to development of Angkor's amazing stone galleries.

Along the way to Siem Reap you pass through the town of Stoung, where the antique mansions and shop houses of wealthy fish sauce merchants are a beautiful surprise. Just outside Siem Reap stand the less-visited Ruluos Group, three Hindu temples at the center of a former royal capital. They are well worth a visit if time permits and you care to stop and see them.

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INCLUDES: Private car/van, driver and English speaking guide, admission to places visited, overnight hotel accommodation including tax, service and breakfast. Not included: beverages, meals other than breakfast, anything of a purely personal nature. Please buy lunches for your guide.

Where We Shine: Purple Dragon highlights unique and offbeat insights to Cambodian life that most tourists overlook. We use only LGBT- friendly hotels, so couples never suffer embarrassing moments. Your tour is private, which gives you maximum flexibility and the undivided attention of our local guides. Our guests often tell us that the highlight of their holiday was the charming company of our trained guides and their superlative insights into Cambodian culture.