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Itineraries, Tours & Retreats

Whether it’s a whisper about a new restaurant or up-and-coming chef, a locals-only street food stall or hard-to-find bar, nothing beats insider advice and local knowledge — particularly when it’s specialised.

As travel and food writers living in Siem Reap, we are destination experts with our fingers on the pulse. Much of our time is dedicated to experiencing everything Cambodia has to offer and writing about them, from tours and temples to boutiques and bars. Whether it’s a just-opened hotel or a new travel company, we’ve probably tested it out.

This means that you don’t have to waste time scrolling through pages on Trip Advisor or burying your head in a guidebook. You can simply focus on enjoying your time here.

It also means you can be assured, whether we’re creating itineraries, tours or retreats, they’re going to be memorable. They’ll be packed with insider experiences, local spots and outstanding options when it comes to things to see, do and learn, and places to eat, drink, and shop. They’re going to be Grantourismo in style, reflecting our passion for the slow, local and experiential.

BESPOKE ITINERARIES & EXPERIENCES

We can create bespoke itineraries and experiences to match your interests, passions and preferences. Choose from the themed itineraries Lara has been offering or request something new. Each itinerary is completely different to the next, crafted according to your taste, style of travel, duration of your stay, and budget.

Inside Siem Reap

An introduction to the destination beyond the temples, the Inside Siem Reap itinerary can still include Angkor Wat and other must-see archaeological sites. However, it will also reveals the spots that Siem Reap insiders — locals and expats — know and love, taking you to lesser-visited ruins and off the beaten track attractions. When you’re not scrambling temples, we like to encourage you to experience local markets, hidden restaurants, secret boutiques, offbeat art spaces, laneway cafés, backstreet bars, alternative tours, village strolls, and more.

Savour Siem Reap

A culinary focused experience of Temple Town, the Savour Siem Reap itineraries were first created for chefs and restaurateur friends visiting Cambodia. Aimed at food-lovers, they can take in ‘aromatic’ local markets, including the organic farmer’s market, delicious (and safe) street food spots, outstanding restaurants, rustic local eateries, the best food tours and cooking lessons, cocktail classes, and shops and stalls selling edible souvenirs and covetable items for the kitchen. Siem Reap may not be known as a gastronomic destination, but there’s plenty to sate foodies and we relish giving visitors a taste of the tantalising place beyond the temples.

Shop Siem Reap

The Shop Siem Reap itineraries will have you filling your bags with Cambodian crafts, hand-woven textiles, handmade jewellery, recycled accessories, couture fashion, vintage one-offs, and original art and design objects. You can visit artisans practicing traditional techniques handed down through generations, workshops of skilled crafts-people, ateliers of European-trained fashion designers, and the studios of creative cutting edge young artists. Many of these beautiful things are produced at NGO-ran workshops by disadvantaged Cambodians, such as former street children, land-mine survivors, and people with disabilities who otherwise wouldn’t have skills or a job. By buying their products you’re helping create jobs and lift Cambodia out of poverty, while getting to take home meaningful gifts and souvenirs.

Sip Siem Reap

This new experience was created in response to client demand, after a few too many one-hour chats about itineraries turned into hours-long bar hops, when clients asked to check out more locals watering holes. This is for people who want to venture to the drinking spots beyond Pub Street where expats and locals like to sip. We’re sub-titling it a ‘Cocktail (Bar) Crawl for Adults’ because you’ll pay for your own drinks and can drink whatever you please. We’re not fans of the highly structured bar tours where you down pre-arranged drinks and there’s no time to linger at spots you might take a liking to. Instead, we’ll hop between specially selected places on the night that match your interests. We won’t follow a set itinerary and if a bar isn’t to your taste or it isn’t happening when we drop by we’ll simply move on.

Local Siem Reap

This is another new Grantourismo style itinerary which focuses only on the local spots that Cambodians and expats know and love. While crafted according to your interests, these itineraries will really mix things up. You might find yourself in a neighbourhood that you’d never stumble upon as a tourist, experiencing something quintessentially local that you’d never envisage doing on holiday, ending up eating at a street food stall or sipping something at a cafe or bar that only locals or expats frequent. This is an itinerary for the more intrepid, time-rich travellers, who are willing to take a risk; the kind of travellers for whom interacting with other people and getting an insight into their lives is more important than ticking off sights.

Slow Siem Reap

The last of our new Grantourismo style itineraries has been created with the slow traveller in mind. This is another itinerary that won’t suit time-poor tourists or people who want to see and do everything and tick off all the major sights. Once again, while crafted to match your interests, this itinerary also mixes things up. It’s best-suited for people whose idea of a holiday is to do very little at all but that doesn’t mean lying by the hotel swimming pool. Think more along the lines of an early morning breakfast at an empty archaeological ruin, a slow bike ride through sleepy villages, pastries and coffee at the organic farmer’s market, a leisurely amble along the riverside, a sunset picnic overlooking the moat of a certain stupendous temple with the locals.

WHAT YOU ARE GETTING WHEN YOU BOOK

When you book a bespoke itinerary with us, you’re getting:

  • a one-off handcrafted itinerary that has been curated especially for you, based on your particular interests. You can use this detailed trip planning document to book tours, activities, restaurants, and so on, or for an additional fee we can do this. 
  • trip planning advice and recommendations, and introductions if needed;
  • an orientation by tuk tuk shortly after you arrive, including hotel pick-up and drop-off, a trundle to a lovely local part of Siem Reap that few tourists get to, and a casual meeting over drinks at our favourite café/bar to discuss your itinerary, introduce you to Siem Reap and Cambodia, sort out any loose ends, and you get a chance to pick my brain. The idea is that you hit the ground running and not waste any time; and
  • ongoing advice, support and assistance if needed.

Lara currently offers bespoke itineraries for Inside Siem Reap; Savour Siem Reap; Shop Siem Reap; Sip Siem Reap; Local Siem Reap; and Slow Siem Reap.

When you book a bespoke experience with us, you’re getting:

  • a one-off handcrafted itinerary that has been curated especially for you, based on your particular interests, as described above;
  • hotel pick-up and drop-off by tuk tuk; and
  • a guided experience for part or all of your itinerary depending upon the duration.

Lara currently offers bespoke experiences for Shop Siem Reap; Sip Siem Reap; and Local Siem Reap only.

A few things to note:

  • No two itineraries or experiences are alike. What you are getting is a detail trip planning document that is very personal, that has been curated especially for you to match your travel style, interests, preferences, passions, and budget.
  • You can follow the itinerary to the letter or you can pick and choose from the recommendations made. How much you actually end up doing is entirely up to you.
  • Particular activities and attractions have been scheduled based on our insider knowledge and experience living here and take into consideration the best times of day to do things.
  • You will have everything you need in the one document and when it hasn’t been provided there will be a link to click through to obtain those details.

Note: as proponents of responsible and sustainable travel, wherever possible we try to recommend and use Cambodian guides and Cambodia based travel companies. This is because we don’t believe that foreigners should be taking guiding jobs away from locals in a country as impoverished as Cambodia. We only use foreign guides when there’s a need for the specialised knowledge that, say, an archaeologist or historian could provide, and we cannot locate a Cambodian specialist in that field.

HOW TO BOOK

We’re in the process of establishing a dedicated travel business, which will run from a different site, where you can make direct bookings. Until that is up and running, here’s how you can book:
1. Email Lara directly at laradunston@mac.com to make enquiries and book itineraries and experiences.
2. Once you’re booked in, payment can be made via PayPal, Western Union or bank transfer. Lara will provide details upon request.
3. Once payment has been received, Lara will email you a list of questions to ascertain your travel style, interests, preferences, budget, etc, and use this to create the first draft itinerary.
4. After you provide feedback, that information will be used to finalise the itinerary.
5. Once you receive the final detailed document with links and contact information, you can use that to make your bookings or undertake your own self-guided experiences. If you require Lara to make bookings and plan your entire trip, that will be at an additional cost.

Note: Lara stopped offering bookings via Vayable as that site is no longer able to pay Asian-based insiders via PayPal.

TRIP PLANNING

This is an extension of the itinerary service described above. Instead of suggesting drivers and guides, recommending restaurants, and giving you options for tours that you can then organise yourself, Lara can book the driver and guide, reserve your restaurant tables, and make introductions to fast-track your trip planning. Lara will then stay in contact with you throughout your stay, touching base to make sure things are going well, and offering alternative options in case of bad weather or a change of plans. There is an additional fee for this service. Note that we are currently establishing a travel business and will soon be able to book all your experiences. In the meantime, we will direct you to the travel companies we have used and love in Siem Reap and beyond.

FIXING

If you’re heading Siem Reap, other places in Cambodia, or Southeast Asian destinations we have lived in, worked in and know intimately, such as Bangkok, Hanoi and Hoi An, and you need someone to make introductions and arrangements for your trip or project, Lara also works as a fixer from time to time. Her extensive experience as a filmmaker especially equips her for advising creative productions.

SPECIALISED TOURS

Travel Writing And Photography Tours

In May 2015, we hosted our first culinary travel writing and photography tour in Cambodia with Backyard Travel. We’ll be holding a Vietnam tour with Backyard Travel in late 2016. In the meantime, we’re hoping to offer two tours in Cambodia in partnership with a Siem Reap-based travel company: another culinary travel writing and photography tour with a food focus, and a travel writing and photography tour. More details coming very soon, however, do email us if you’d like further information or to express an interest in joining this tour.

Culinary Tours

We also offer bespoke culinary tours, crafted with chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, and foodies in mind. See Savour Siem Reap above for the sort of thing you can expect. Tours can be anything from one day to a month long. If you’re a chef who wants to experience the breadth of Cambodian cuisine, from street food to fine dining, or someone who wants to learn to cook the food, we can create a delicious tour of Siem Reap or Cambodia for you. Do get in touch and we can discuss the details.

CREATIVE RETREATS

As we learnt with our tour in May 2015, as wonderful as they can be, tours can also be exhausting due to the pace and time spent travelling, and we know from experience that tiredness is not conducive to writing. For aspiring writers who prefer to stay in one place and stay focused on the writing and photography, we’ll be offering travel and food writing retreats in 2016 based out of Siem Reap’s Maison Polanka and River Garden boutique hotels. Click through to learn more about our May and October 2016 culinary travel writing and photography retreats.

These will incorporate many of the enriching experiences from our tours, however, the pace will be slower, there will be longer periods set aside for writing and photography, and we will be based in one place, the lovely Maison Polanka and River Garden boutique hotels on the banks of Siem Reap River. Email if you’d like more information or to express an interest in attending a retreat.

Reviews for Lara’s Bespoke Itineraries & Experiences

“My partner and I have always spoken to each other about the joy of travelling to places where we have friends living. There is something wonderful about having them introduce you to that side that you only get to know from being there for an extended period and that you rarely see in your limited time as a traveller. We didn’t have any friends in Siem Reap that we could call on but we have certainly come away from our trip feeling like we did. Lara is not only an amazing wealth of knowledge about the city and surrounds, she also showed us a side of Siem Reap you couldn’t hope to discover on your own. As a major added bonus, Lara is a really lovely person; someone who immediately puts you at ease, like you’ve maybe already met before. On top of that, she really genuinely cares that you have your best possible travel experience. During our travels she checked in with us and helped us refine our itinerary as we went, which for us was invaluable because she quickly understood what interests us and was able to give us more of what we love. Lara is passionate about Cambodia and she knows the place, I would highly recommend her to anyone wanting to scratch below the surface in this fantastic place, she is worth every cent. There are many hidden gems in Cambodia and Lara is certainly one of them.” Peter L., Australia.

“As a repeat visitor to Siem Reap, I had more than just temples on my mind for my latest visit. We wanted to enjoy some nightlife, try some truly fantastic Khmer cocktails and get a real feel for the energy of the city. Taking Lara’s tour was like visiting with an old friend who also just so happens to be a Siem Reap insider — she filled us in on expat life in Cambodia, introduced us to local movers and shakers, and brought us to hidden gems we never would have found on our own. It was the highlight of our weekend — and that’s not just the hand-crafted Khmer cocktails talking.” Alex (AKA Alex in Wanderland), Thailand

“Lara is brilliant! She provided me with a detailed bespoke itinerary that she added to and adapted to as I needed. She has a very broad and in depth knowledge of all things culinary in Siem Reap as well as any other activities that you may care to pursue while visiting this wonderful city. Lara genuinely cares about you as a client. She checked in with me regularly to see if everything was going well and was ready to offer alternative solutions or advice about any aspect of my trip and followed up with arranging bookings or reservations as needed. Lara contributed enormously to making my holiday in Siem Reap very, very special.” Sally E., Australia

“Lara’s unique and vast knowledge of Cambodia puts her in the perfect position to create a bespoke itinerary for visitors to Siem Reap. The focus on authentic experiences (an overused term but in this case apt) helps the visitor to understand a little more about this wonderful country. I only wish we had more time to follow all of Lara’s recommendations.” Victoria (AKA Singapore Foodie), Singapore.

“I want to thank you so much for making my holiday so great. One of the best I’ve had. I haven’t really liked travelling solo much in the past but I didn’t feel like I was solo having you there. I did everything I wanted to, and things I didn’t know I could because of your help.” Chef Lauren, Australia.

“Sincere thanks for all that you’ve done for us. Incredible. Words cannot describe how much we enjoyed the tour and talking to you! The wealth of information and your charm, the afternoon and evening just flew by. Dinner at Sugar Palm was great, we had a blast and the food was amazing. Our day was great, we took your advice to do the tour early and it was the best decision. Guide was solid too. Hope to see you again and thank you for the glorious recommendations. Again, sincere thanks for everything and we can’t say enough how great everything turned out.” Riccarda, Fabio & Lavinia, Germany.

“Lara, thank you for introducing us to Siem Reap and embracing us with your keen reassurance and insight, making sure we saw, tasted, heard, touched, glimpsed, felt, interacted, and grooved with all this place has to offer! What a terrific, enthusiastic, insightful night!!!! Lara, your role in connecting us to a place and people we could not do in such a short time is appreciated- thank you. Your gift was an introduction to a place in time that is Siem Reap, leaving us at the door you opened, with curiosity and a little less apprehension! Thanks for readying us to discover this amazing part of the world! Okun!” Lisa & John, Australia.

“Lara’s advice and guidance were invaluable and we had such a wonderful time. Lara helped make our trip to Siem Reap extra special and we can’t thank her enough. She helped us with restaurant reservations, finding the best guides, tuk tuk drivers and shops. Her local knowledge was extensive to say the least. She was also incredibly friendly and charming. My husband and I will definitely recommend this to anyone!” Kara & Dan, Indonesia.

“Lara Dunston is knowledgeable in every respect… from temples to bars, restaurants to tuk tuks and everything in between, Lara knows Siem Reap. We’ve come to rely on her expertise elsewhere in South East Asia as well. We’ve been traveling in Vietnam for the past three weeks and her guidance has been invaluable, especially when it comes to food. From street to haute, Lara’s suggestions have been superb. Again, we can’t thank you enough Lara.” Andy and Betsy, USA.

“Lara is a well-traveled resource. She has really experienced the cities she’s visited and loves to share that knowledge with others. She even went so far as to make recommendations for my next stops. Her passion for crafting unique experiences for others was very evident. She really knows her stuff and tries to tailor her suggestions to what interests you most. I enjoyed meeting Lara and appreciated all the great ideas she shared. I’d say the one drawback is that Lara is in demand and thus has a pretty tight schedule so you’ll have to be a bit flexible in working with her. Thank you, Lara, for making my trip to Siem Reap even better. Your advice in Battambang was also wonderful! You have a lovely spirit and your passion in helping others was great to experience!” Katrina, USA.

“I really really really loved my birthday night, and you played a major role on it! Thank you so much for being such a great host, we really felt welcomed in Siem Reap also, thanks to you!” Inês, Timor-Leste.

“Hi Lara, on behalf of the guys we thank you so much for your insight to Siem Reap. Even though we didn’t get to try everything you listed, we enjoyed the ones we tried, and it exceeded our expectations. Thank you again and hopefully we will see you in Cambodia again.” Manny, Korea.

“Lara is a wealth of knowledge! Having spent time living in and writing about Siem Reap, she’s able to offer the best advice on where to eat, shop and visit. She was able to craft a shopping tour suited perfectly to my interests, and I even got to meet the designers and craftspeople responsible for the beautiful items I was buying. What’s more, Lara took me to ethical shops and workshops, where the quality of the goods was high and the workers were well looked after. Thank you, Lara!” Emily, Australia.

“I was put in touch with Lara through mutual friends, and she provided lots of options for my trip before we met. It meant that I was able to adjust quickly and avoid any newcomer’s mistakes. Throughout the trip she stayed in constant contact and continued to provide suggestions based on my location and the weather. Most of all she approaches people on as clients but as potential friends, and that’s what we are now.” Nicholas, Singapore.

“My wife and I, along with a friend of mine decided to visit Siem Reap but we knew nothing about the town other than the famous Angkor Wat temples. So I started researching online for information and hit the jackpot!! when we found the gorgeous Lara D! Lara took care of everything for us, she crafted an extensive twelve page bespoke itinerary for our entire visit, which included everything from temples to floating village tours, excellent galleries, cafés, restaurants & bars that most tourist are not even aware off! We had some incredible Cambodian cuisine at these restaurants, which also turned out to be some of the best food we had in our 14 day travel through south east Asia! In the evenings, after long day of visiting temples we went to these super cool bars that she had recommended in our itinerary, to our delight we found out that most of the patrons at these bars were expats living and working in Siem Reap and tourist like us who had the inside track thanks to Lara! Pretty much all these places knew Lara or aware of her and they welcomed us as personal friends of Lara D! We loved it. One evening Lara came out with us to celebrate, even though having prior engagement, she put her own private evening plans on hold just to take us out to some of the best cafés & bars in Siem Reap. It goes without saying we had an incredible time that night, but more interestingly, we realized that we wouldn’t have been able to find these hidden gems without Lara period. And after few days of visiting the temple ruins, we decided to go shopping which was completely hassle free because in our itinerary Lara had included names of boutique stores to shop, we brought back some of our best souvenirs from these places. Furthermore, at the beginning of our trip Lara had recommended a tuktuk driver for our entire stay in Siem Reap. The tuktuk driver was superb, not only was he trustworthy but took an incredibly good care of us, he stayed with us from sunrise to sunset and beyond well into the night. Having our own private driver saved us from the hassle of having to negotiate fare everyday with random tuktuk drivers. I used to think that just reading through lonely planet book of a city or going through tripadvisor recommendations one can make a solid travel plans, Lara shattered that thought. Now I know how important it is to have professional travel guide when visiting any place for the first time and especially when you visit Siem Reap. So if you plan on visiting Siem Reap contact Lara and she will take care of everything and anything you can ask for, she is really that good. We couldn’t have ask for anything more from Lara, her magic kept us rolling through Siem Reap without any trouble, inconvenience or stress, she put all her energy and drive to craft an itinerary which revealed us Siem Reap that no guide book, tripadvisor or travel websites can match. It speaks volume of Lara’s talent as a professional travel writer. Simply put, she is the best professional guide, travel & food writer in Siem Reap. If you decide to visit this incredible place in Cambodia, then let Lara be your eyes & ears to reveal this magical place for you. Lara, thank you for everything you have done for us, we couldn’t have enjoyed Siem Reap the way we did without your itinerary and personal guidance. We will be back in Siem Reap as long as you are there!!!” Souvik, USA.

Some testimonials from our May 2015 Culinary Travel Writing & Photography Tour

“Thanks so much for a wonderful tour. This has been an extraordinary experience.” Gale, USA.

“I felt that the trip really let me experience a full spectrum of life in Cambodia… I think about our trip often. And in a very positive way. Today I stumbled upon a Thai festival which generated a lot of memories. Thanks to you and Terry for an incredible experience.” Kimberley, USA.

“We’ve finally had a chance to settle in and marinate over the ten days we spent with you both in Cambodia. I can’t believe how much we accomplished! You both were the reason we signed up for the experience, and we are so grateful that we did. There was many an occasion through our time together where mum, Farida and I realised that these were things that we simply could not have done on our own. I’m realising that my notes and photos are falling severely short of piecing together the extensive story you had woven for us in Cambodia, we did so much! From meeting chefs to getting special seats at the circus or getting a tour of the local market by Mr Kim Nou (my favourite!) or Mr O’s tour (also another favourite!), these were all possibly only because of the relationships you both have nurtured over time. Thank you for being so generous by sharing the people and knowledge that were critical for us to get a deeper understanding of the country. But most importantly, for being the most caring and concerned guides we’ve ever had! On behalf of Farida and mum, thank you for giving us such a memorable experience and for sharing all your insights. A big biryani thank you dinner awaits you at our table. Big hugs and many thank you’s for all the chneng! food experiences we had.” Arva and Farida (of Frying Pan Adventures), and Nafeesa, Dubai.