insider's Cambodia Photo tour
Cambodia has long been the stuff of legend. There was the incredible Khmer Empire which was the apex of all civilization during the 800 – 1200 AD period, and then there was the modern dark side – the brutal two year reign of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970’s. The legacy of the ancient empire can be experienced in many parts of the country, including remote jungle clad temples, monasteries and lost cities well beyond the most famous – Angkor Wat.
But Cambodia is much more than just Angkor Wat, and for photographers it offers a rich and fascinating array of subject matter. It’s an extraordinary place to visit and photograph, and no one on the planet is better suited to help you capture it than Cambodia’s own Kimleng Sang.
I have been leading photo trips in my homeland for over a decade now, with hundreds of very positive reviews that share a frequent theme – my deep knowledge, warm and personable nature, and willingness to go the extra mile for that next unique image opportunity. I understand very well what international photographers are looking for, and at the same time has many an unexpected surprise up his sleeve! My network of friends all over the country provide me with the latest local happenings, as well as the type of access that would be impossible for foreigners to get on their own.
We begin and end the photo tour in Phnom Penh, one of the most intriguing cities in Southeast Asia. From there we head into the heart of rural Cambodia, where villages often stand near ancient city ruins and magnificent lost kingdoms half draped in jungle. This road trip to Siem Reap is in some ways like traveling through time, rediscovering these rarely visited places like archaeologists with cameras. Of course exploring ancient history for otherworldly image ops is only part of the story. Other photo opportunities include the myriad looms of Silk Island, towering brick kiln interiors, endless rice paddies studded with coconut palms, ancient mountain top temples with endless views, exotic markets selling snakefish and deep fried tarantulas, children bathing the family buffalo, graceful Apsara dancers, floating villages, centuries old teakwood monasteries, the bamboo train of Battambang, and of course, Angkor Wat & Environs.
Even if you have been to Angkor Wat before, you haven’t been with us! We are well versed at working around the crowds to get you clean photo opportunities. (Check out this article for tips on how we manage this). Furthermore, many of the most beautiful jungle clad ruins are found well beyond the tourist zones, and often we find ourselves alone to shoot – sometimes with young monks – until our heart’s content.
Highlights-Insider's Cambodia Photo Tour
Day 1 – Phnom Penh – Welcome to Cambodia!
The program starts today at 3 pm with orientation meeting at the hotel. After that we go out onto the fascinating streets of legendary Phnom Penh. We’ll shoot near the lively riverfront this afternoon. The Royal Palace is here, along with the National Museum to use as exotic backdrops. There’s also a local Khmer street market, street vendors, monks and ceremonies, and sampans on the Tonle Sap. Also on the riverfront is the Foreign Correspondents Club where we’ll go for adult beverages and your Welcome Dinner dinner with a view. – Overnight Phnom Penh
Day 2 – Phnom Penh – Phnom Chiso – Market Streets and a Stairway to Heaven
Early this morning we move toward the center of town and Kimleng’s favorite Khmer street market. Tons of interesting shots to be made of vendors and their sometimes bizarre products. Wander into the adjacent alleys as well to see how the locals greet the day. Cambodians are remarkably friendly, and street shooting here is a lot of fun. You are free to shoot on your own, or stick with Kimleng.
After lunch and a rest back at the hotel, we head for the stunning views from the monastery and ruins atop Phnom Chiso Mountain, with photo stops along the way. The trip is well worth the 600 steps! However, if anyone is not feeling up to it, you are free to do your own thing. Another possibility is an Apsara School visit, where young girls train in the art of sacred Khmer dance. Do to irregular scheduling however, this will necessarily be decided much closer to next November. – Overnight Phnom Penh
Day 3 – Phnom Penh – Silk Island – Kampong Thom – Spiders & Silk
We check out this morning and head for Silk Island, about an hour’s drive and a short ferry ride away. Silk Island is so dubbed because nearly every house has a silk loom or two, and produces fine silk textiles. There is plenty here for the creative photographer to capture some ‘silk loom action shots’, and village life in general. We spend about an hour on the island before setting out for the small provincial town of Kampong Thom on the Steung Saen River. There are a couple of – let’s say “exotic’ things to photograph on the way, including fried tarantula vendors! Mmmm, good stuff. We’ll also check out some brick kilns with their giant vent stacks, which can make for some great interior angles. Once in town we’ll check into our nice little hotel and take a rest for a couple of hours. Around 4 Kimleng will lead you to his favorite places to photograph. – Overnight Kampong Thom
Day 4 – Kampong Thom – Prasat Kampong Svay – Dueling Kingdoms and a Delightful Village Homestay
Today begins the time travel! Long before the Angkor era, the Chenla Kingdom controlled most of present day Cambodia and parts of Laos. The forest has claimed most of the rarely visited capitol city of Sambor Prei Kuk, the best parts of which we will check out this morning. Later we continue on to the more remote and mysterious temples of Bakan. This is another striking location rarely visited except by local people and Buddhist monks. Bakan is of the Angkorian era, and this is a very interesting and potentially rewarding place to photograph. We will have lunch near here and get in some cultural photography as well, which of course is greatly enhanced by the presence and friendly access afforded by Kimleng. One of the trip’s main ‘getting cultural’ highlights comes this evening in the village of Kampong Svay, where we take comfort in the well kept home of a charming Khmer family. – Overnight Village Homestay
Day 5 – Prasat Kampong Svay - Saem – Khmer Village Morning and a Temple in the Clouds
After a tasty traditional Khmer breakfast, we say goodbye to our wonderful host family and hit the road for the village of Saem. Hotel check in, lunch and rest before we get high – to the top of a 525 meter cliff! Preah Vehear is UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site that commands views across the border into Thailand that are positively exhilarating. After a late afternoon of photography ending after sunset, we return to Saem for dinner. Overnight Saem
Day 6 – Saem - Siem Reap – Time Traveling with Cameras
This early morning we again move forward in time and style, to photograph another off the beaten path location, the 10th century Khmer capitol ruins of Ko Ker. The most impressive and photogenic of the temples is the pyramid-like Prasat Thom. The mood, setting and light is like stepping back in time. It’s a large area, so feel free to wander on your own and soak in the ambiance. Sometimes we get so lost in our photography that we don’t take the time to deeply appreciate the privilege of this timeless experience. From Ko Ker we move to an extraordinary setting where temple ruins are strangled by tree roots. Here there are no tourists or barriers or anyone except us and some local novice monks. It’s a very memorable shoot and we really work the scene here.
Then it’s on toward Siem Reap via the jungle clad “blue print” for Angkor Wat, Beng Melea. This is largely unrestored and while there will be tourists, there are many spots they do not venture that have beguiling “mood” angles, as if you were the first discoverers. We arrive in Siem Reap late afternoon to have dinner and rest up for our first big day at Angkor tomorrow. -Overnight Siem Reap
Day 7 – Siem Reap – Angkor Thom – Morning Temples, Elephants, Bayon Water Blessings, Backstage Passes!
A chance to sleep in a little this morning as the legendary Ta Prohm doesn’t allow visitors until 7:30 am. We will be among the first of the relatively few to enter early, which is a must to get a chance at some tourist free photos. From there we move to Ta Nei, and Banteay Kdey. After a leisurely lunch and rest, the afternoon features the best of Angkor Thom – the Bayon and the Terrace of the Elephants being the most well known. Then we get cultural with monastic water blessing for Khmers which is fun to photograph. And you are welcome too, so feel free to join in! Special shoot tonight backstage with Apsara dancers as they prepare for the show, plus we can shoot the show! Overnight Siem Reap
Day 8 – Siem Reap – Legendary Sunrise, Big Roots, Heavenly Dancers, Hidden Ruins, and a Khmer Circus
We hate to give away our “secret”, but we will trust you! While all the tourists are gathered in position and waiting for an hour for the sun to rise, we will be photographing the starry night hanging above Angkor Wat. Please see the slideshow for a gorgeous example of what it looks like. And then the sunrise!
While the light is still good and where there are no others yet, we high tail it to the best unsung temple in the area, which boasts unobstructed giant tree roots swallowing large sections of the stone structures. Then we go to another quiet temple to photograph a lovely young Apsara “goddess” as she would have appeared in ritual dance before the ancient Angkorian kings.
Lunch break and off the beaten path we go to a remote temple monastery complex where we rendezvous with some Buddhist monks in orange robes. This evening is a special dinner show, the Khmer style Phare Circus, with VIP seating! – Overnight Siem Reap
Day 9 – Siem Reap – A Beautiful Banteay, Sacred Mountain Waterfall & a Floating Village Sunset
This morning we will travel approximately 40km to the delicately carved pink sandstone temple of Banteay Srey, which enjoys beautiful light early in the day. Later we will continue to the sacred Kulen Mountain waterfall, Thousand Lingas carved into the river bed and have the opportunity to see a giant Reclining Buddha in the nearby pagoda. – Overnight Siem Reap.
Day 10 – Siem Reap – Battambang –Ancient Monastic Complex Meets Caves of Bones and Bats!
Early departure this morning to catch the sun as it rises over vast paddy fields studded with coconut palms. Photo stops as opportunities reveal themselves as we head for the remote monastic temple complex of Banteay Chmar. It was built in the late 12th century by King Yayavaraman VII who dedicated to his son who was killed in a great battle against the Champa Kingdom. Stone carvings here depict various b
attles of that war. A “Banteay” is a city, and indeed the complex is the size of a small one! Later we stop by Banteay Meanchey, before arriving in Battambang for lunch and a rest.
About 2:30 it’s off to nearby Phnom Sampav and two fascinating, if morbid caves. The first is called the “Killing Cave”, where the Khmer Rouge went about their genocidal business; the second is the Bat Cave, where millions of strange little winged rats hang upside down and contemplate the evening ahead. It’s really quite an extraordinary thing see in person. – Overnight Battambang
Day 11 – Battambang –Morning Fish Market, Teakwood Monastery, Rice Paddies & a Bamboo Railway
A remarkable morning fish market surrounds you with Khmer life in the authentic and hones your ‘art of seeing’. And pressing your shutter release in time! From the market we move on to Ek Phnom and its beautiful, centuries old teakwood monastery complete with friendly Buddhist monks. It’s a lot of fun to shoot around here, and we’ll spend the rest of the morning doing so. Lunch and rest break back in Battambang.In the afternoon we head to the old Battambang Railway Station, complete with very old rail cars. Continuing with the train theme – with rice paddies and locals around harvest time in the middle – we find ourselves riding the lightest little trains in the world, the Bamboo Express. There’s a great little village to explore at the end of the line, which among other things includes an old but working rice mill. Kimleng loves photographing with the people here, and we’re sure you will too! – Overnight Battambang
Day 12 – Battambang – Kampong Chnang – Udong - Phnom Penh
Our final full shooting day of this Cambodia photo tour adventure hits the road after breakfast for the renowned pottery village of Kampong Chnang. Here we’ll photograph the artisans as they ply their centuries old craft in and around numerous giant kilns. We have lunch here. On the way back to Phnom Penh we stop by Udong to visit a beautiful old teakwood monastery and its resident monks. We arrive back where the Kimleng Sang Tour began in the mid-afternoon to relax and freshen up at the hotel before a glorious Farewell Dinner at our favorite restaurant in a city where it’s extremely hard to pick just one! – Overnight Phnom Penh.
Day 13 – Phnom Penh - Departure Day – More Morning Streets? and a Fond Farewell
For anyone staying on or with afternoon flights, Kimleng will be around for anyone interested in an early morning street shoot and or more image review. Otherwise you will be driven to the airport at your appointed hour and given a fond farewell. Trust us when we tell you, you will miss this place, its incredible dynastic history, and most of all, its warm and friendly people! Chum reap lua everyone, and thanks so much for joining us in luminous Cambodia!
Note: In Phnom Penh we don’t visit some of the most famous tourist sites, like the Killing Fields or Tuol Sleng, but only because they are not particularly good for photography. If interested, consider arriving in Phnom Penh early and/or extending after the tour. It’s an intriguing city anywhere you go, and especially fantastic for street photography. Very budget friendly as well. It’s easy to get around, but if you would like us to supply a good guide and driver, we’d be more than happy to.
$ Tour Price
Thirteen days: from $4414/guest
Minimun guests: 2 people.
Maximun guests: 8 people.
Price included: Ac car transport, accommodation, meals from dinner Day 1 through breakfast Day 13, all entrance fee, private boat for floating village, drinking water, hot black coffee, hot tea, private tuitor and guide services.
(An option additional guests available)
Price excluded: International airfare, Extra drinks, Personal purchases.
Note: During the tour we’ll over one night with local family.