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Thailand and Cambodia

| Words by Rachel McCombie | ,

See the best of Thailand and Cambodia with this 17-day itinerary, which starts in Phnom Penh and finishes in Chiang Mai.

Spend two-and-a-half weeks travelling through Cambodia and Thailand and you’ll discover ancient relics and modern cities, moving memorials and memorable meals. Want to take this trip yourself? Book your Cambodia and Thailand Revealed tour today.

Days 1-2: Phnom Penh

The National Museum in Phnom Penh is home to the largest collection of Khmer art in the world.

Start your tour by hopping on a cyclo and travelling to two of Phnom Penh’s best-known landmarks, the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Learn about Cambodia’s history and culture with a wander around the National Museum, home to the largest collection of Khmer art in the world, as well as countless archaeological artefacts. Learn about Phnom Penh’s dark history by visiting Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields - a chilling reminder of the brutality suffered by the people of Cambodia at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime. An end-of-the-day exploration of Phnom Penh’s central market will give you a flavour of how the country has bounced back with a taste of local life.

Days 3: Kampong Thom

It’s time to head out of Phnom Penh into the countryside, travelling north through paddy fields tended by farmers with oxen, using methods little changed for centuries. As well as stopping to watch some traditional weaving at a silk farm, you’ll also be able to sample delectable fresh fruits at a local market. If you’re feeling culinarily adventurous, you could even try a Cambodian delicacy - fried tarantula. Today is also the day to acquaint yourself with one of Cambodia’s archaeological sites: Sambour Prei Kuk, whose ancient ruins - over a hundred temples - pre-date those of Angkor.

Days 4-6: Tonle Sap Lake and Siem Reap

Seeing the sun rise over the incredible Angkor Wat is an unforgettable experience.

Take a boat ride on a little-visited part of Tonle Sap Lake before travelling to Siem Reap, the town that will act as a base for your exploration of the ruins of Angkor. Angkor Wat is the most famous of this remarkable complex of intricately carved temples. For maximum drama, an early (pre-dawn) start is worth it; you’ll see the sun rise over this astonishing site, a real ‘bucket list’ experience. After breakfast, head to Angkor Thom for a monk blessing ceremony and then explore Ta Prohm - a fascinating late 12th/early 13th century temple with trees growing out of it.

Next, head to the temples of Boeng Mealea and Banteay Srei temples, which are more remote but reward the eager traveller. Before your time in this area is up, look round the landmine museum to learn about the lingering effects of war on local communities, and pay a visit to a village that specialises in the preparation of palm sugar.

Day 7-8: Bangkok

A cruise on the Thonburi klongs reveals stilt houses and floating kitchens.

From Siem Reap, board a flight to Bangkok and explore this energetic city on foot and by boat. A boat cruise lets you experience the wooden stilt houses and floating kitchens of the Thonburi klongs (canals), while back on dry land, a walking tour introduces you to some of Bangkok’s major sights, such as the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. If you find yourself with free time on your hands, the food and shopping in Bangkok are some of the best in Asia.

Days 9-11: Amphawa, Kanchanaburi and River Kwai

The railway cutting created by Allied POWs is a poignant reminder of the area’s history.

Leave behind the bustle of Bangkok and head to Amphawa, breaking your journey at the Mahachai fresh seafood market and a salt farm. Once you’ve settled into your hotel, you can explore the town’s floating markets, stilt houses and vintage cafes at your leisure, keeping your energy levels up with delicious local produce such as ‘boat noodles’, rice porridge and grilled fresh squid. In the evening, take a boat trip to witness the spectacular sight of thousands of fireflies.

Next day, continue your journey by visiting the Thai-Burma Museum and crossing the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai - the one whose story is told in the Alec Guinness film. Stop overnight in a thatched chalet by the River Kwai, deep in the jungle, and next day visit Hellfire Pass, the railway cutting created by Allied prisoners of war. Visiting this poignant site, it’s impossible not to reflect on the gravity of the area’s history.

Days 12-13: Sukhothai

The 70 square kilometres of the Sukhothai Historical Park are best explored by bicycle.

Your travels now take you to Sukhothai. Stop for lunch at Uthai Thani, then visit Phitsanulok, Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat and Sergeant Major Thawee Folk Museum - the latter a lesser-known museum housing a fascinating array of objects from rural life. If you have time, call in at a Buddha casting factory; otherwise, head to Sukhothai Historical Park for a bike ride around the UNESCO-protected ruins of a 13th century city. At Sukhothai, you can also try your hand at cotton weaving and ceramic painting, and take part in a cookery class to learn the art of preparing local cuisine.

Days 14-17: Chiang Mai

A visit to the Lampang elephant Hospital near Chiang Mai is a rewarding experience.

En route to Chiang Mai from Sukhothai, visit the temples at Si Satchanalai and call in at the community-run Ban Na Ton Chan, which produces and markets its own textiles. Also en route is the Lampang Elephant Hospital, which will be another rewarding stop. Spend the remainder of your trip discovering Chiang Mai and its environs, including gaining an insight into rural life at Mae Klang Luang and admiring the gorgeous views from the hilltop temple of Doi Suthep.