When planning our four-month Asian Adventure, one country or, more specifically, one place was at the top of our list. The ancient city of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
We were tossing up how we would see Cambodia.
Do it ourselves or book a local tour.
We had allocated a seven-day itinerary of Cambodia to explore the wonder of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh. We wanted the experience to be informative and memorable.
Which is why we were surprised with the option we found.
When doing our research, we found a combination of doing it ourselves and having some tours.
We chose an EXO Travel Guide to explore Cambodia.
Why we Chose EXO Travel
When you want to visit the best things to do in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh on your first trip to Cambodia, you want to ensure you have the best experience.
Because we didn’t speak the language, we wanted some ‘hand-holding’ and time by ourselves to explore each city.
We had a few options
- we could either book a tour through a travel agent or
- organize a guide unknown to us when we arrived at each city or
- find an alternative
Exo Travel helped us with airport transfers and personalized tours.
Planning our Itinerary with EXO Travel
Like with any new place we visit, orientation is our priority. And for us, it is usually on foot. But with temperatures 30 plus degrees Celsius, we knew another option might be necessary.
So for Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, our orientation started at the airport, where the local EXO Travel Guide and Driver greeted us.
It was fantastic to have the city’s orientation as we drove to the hotel.
EXO Travel recommended places we may like to visit as part of our planning.
But it was up to us to determine if we required their assistance.
So, for Siem Reap, we chose a day at Angkor Wat and another half-day visiting Tonle Sap Lake. For the rest of our time in Siem Reap, we explored by ourselves. Maura even organised a haircut for herself. Not easy when the hairdresser didn’t speak English.
For Phnom Penh, we decided on a day with EXO Travel to visit the Killing Fields and S21 Prison, plus the Russian Market.
We spent the following two days by ourselves exploring Phnom Penh by ourselves.
Having your guide and driver from EXO Travel made the experience so much more memorable. Unlike previous tours we’d been on, where we had to wait either for someone else in the group to “hurry up” or to visit unrequested shopping stores.
With EXO Travel, we had pre-organised what we wanted to see and on what day of our itinerary.
The guide and driver arriving at pre-determined times agreed with us. This was a perfect arrangement for us.
At all times, the Guides and Drivers were professional.
Organizing a Visa for Cambodia
Our 7-day itinerary of Cambodia
At Siem Reap, Taoune, who was to be our local Exo Travel Guide and Somning, our driver of a very comfortable SUV.
Taoune ensured we were refreshed with hand towels and bottled water after we arrived at the airport. On our way to our hotel for our four-night stay, Taoune provided us with an overview of our stay in Siem Reap.
EXO Travel had booked our stay at La Niche d’Angkor Boutique.
This boutique hotel was a pleasant surprise and a class or two above where we had been staying during our previous tour of Laos.
When entering the garden courtyard, the pool looked inviting in the 40C heat. But the highlight was our room. At last, we had a large bedroom with a clean shower and a massive stone bath to enjoy.
With friendly and pleasant staff, we were happy.
Taoune and Somning picked us up at 8.30 am for the 15min drive to the entrance of Angkor Wat.
EXO Travel had already organized our pre-booked tickets, so we only needed to stand still for one minute for our photo passes.
We didn’t realise that Taoune would be accompanying us to all the temples, giving us insights and history – what a bonus.
The best thing about travelling in a vehicle rather than a tuk-tuk in 40 deg C heat is the air conditioning! Somning, the driver, was on hand each time we returned to the car with a chilled water bottle.
Taoune had also organized a restaurant for lunch and time to ourselves before recommencing our afternoon tour of Angkor Wat.
Visiting Angkor Wat was an exceptional day, especially by having a Taoune show us around.
Taoune’s local knowledge meant we got to use the best spots to take photos. And doing his second job so well – taking pictures of us.
Click here to read more of our An Afternoon in Angkor Wat.
Tonle Sap Lake
When researching Cambodia, we discovered Tonle Sap Lake and the floating village Chong Kneas.
The area is not widely known, but it is one of those must-see places to visit on your Cambodia 7-day itinerary.
To reach the Lake is a car ride of 45 minutes from Siem Reap to the boat dock of Phnom Karom.
While we drove along, Taoune provided us with so much local history and was able to answer our many questions. So we were happy to discover Taoune would accompany us on the boat trip to the Chong Kneas village, once again explaining the daily life of its people.
Click here to read more about Tonle Sap Lake.
Our hotel transfer to the airport for our flight to Phnom Penh was a smooth process. Cambodia Angkor Air flew us on the 30-minute flight to Phnom Penh.
The locals were surprised we were paying for a flight rather than taking the 6-hour bus trip on an average road. They missed our Google memo showing why flying is the better option.
Although some travellers relish the experience of sleeping on a crowded bus on bumpy roads, that was not our desire.
Arriving at Phnom Penh airport, it was great to see another EXO Tourism team, Samith, our guide and Sakonour driver.
The car was comfortable with the all-important air conditioning. We chose Anik Boutique Hotel, and we were pleased to get a room upgrade.
As the hotel was only a year old, the décor was beautiful, and the rooms spacious.
Samith explained our itinerary for the next day to see:
- The Killing Fields
- S21 Prison and
- The Russian Market.
We would then have two days free to explore the Royal Palace and the River Promenade. Samith would return with Sakonour for our airport transfer in a couple of days.
And just like Taoune, Samith gave us his business card in case we needed further information or helped with anything while we were here.
The Killing Fields
The EXO Travel team picked us up at 8.30 am to take us to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (The Killing Fields), the Russian Market and the infamous S-21 Prison.
You can click here to read more about Phnom Penh.
The Killing Fields is situated on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, a 30-minute drive.
A visit here was a very sobering experience as we learned more about the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge on their people. Samith had very personal experiences. He related to us about the impact it had on his family.
Approximately 1.7 million (21% of the country’s population) were killed by the regime between 1975 and 1979; other estimates put the death toll between 2-3 million.
The Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum is also known as the S-21 Prison in Phnom Penh. The former high school buildings became a prison under Khmer Rouge. Of the 14,000 people who passed through S-21 Prison, only seven survived.
This article gives a more in-depth background of S-21.
We decided to view the museum independently, as each building had a detailed history with photos.
The Russian Market is situated on St 155 and opens early from 6 am. We did venture inside to explore the various stalls and what was on offer. You will find plenty of souvenirs and labels at bargain prices. And if you are feeling a bit peckish, there are plenty of food stalls to entice you to eat.
Click here to read more about our time in Phnom Penh.
Farewell to another EXO Travel Team
Samith and Sakonour arrived a couple of days later at the hotel to accompany us to the airport.
It was great to see them both again. We got chatting about the must-sees and things to do we found in Phnom Penh. Samith could answer more of our questions as we drove to the airport.
Our experience with EXO Travel for our 7-day itinerary of Cambodia was exceptional.
Other Places of Interest to Visit in Cambodia
The beaches of Cambodia are becoming more widely known among travellers.
You may like to extend your 7-day itinerary of Cambodia to include Sihanoukville. We know we will see next time we visit.
And for more information on Cambodia, check out this website Tourism Cambodia – including Visa requirements.