We’re excited to finally announce dates and prices for our 10-day Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat – in May and October 2016. We’re offering more experiences this year, and Retreats as well as Tours.


Following on from our well-received culinary travel writing and photography tour in May 2015, we’re hosting a Cambodia culinary travel writing and photography retreat over ten days and nights from 22-31 May 2016, and again in September-October this year. Dates coming soon!

If you’re coming to Grantourismo for the first time, we’re prolific Siem Reap-based food and travel writers and Terence is a well-regarded photographer concentrating on people, places and plates. We’ve been writing since the late ’80s and our work has been published in Australian Gourmet Traveller, Delicious, Feast, National Geographic Traveller, Wanderlust, The Guardian, CNN, The Independent, and a long list of other publications.

We’ve written widely on Cambodia and Cambodian food and are currently working on a Cambodian cookbook, which partly explains why Terence spends many an evening on the mortar and pestle pounding kroeungs. I craft bespoke ‘Savour Siem Reap’ food focused itineraries and my clients have included some of the world’s best chefs and restaurateurs.

Our Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat

Our 10-day Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat will be based in riverside Siem Reap, our home and the departure point for UNESCO World Heritage listed Angkor Wat and the Angkor Archaeological Park, and will include a 3-day trip to charming Battambang and excursions into the bucolic countryside and villages surrounding both cities.

The focus of our Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat will be on honing your writing and photography skills while immersing you in Cambodian food and dispelling myths about one of Asia’s most misunderstood and under-appreciated cuisines; introducing you to the people who cook it, sell it and produce the ingredients that go into making it; and giving you a taste of the rich culture and history of Cambodia. So, yes, there will also be temples involved!

This is what you can expect from our 10-day 2016 Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat…

What’s new for 2016?

Our 2015 culinary travel writing and photography tour was, to quote our participants, “incredible”, “an extraordinary experience”, “a wonderful tour”, and “a memorable experience”. (Some testimonials are below.) However, if you asked, they’d probably admit that it was so jam-packed that it left us all exhausted by the end.

For our 2016 Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat we’ve trimmed back the tours and worked hard to craft an enriching itinerary with a better balance of culinary experiences, writing and photography workshops, and cultural excursions, punctuated with downtime for writing, reflection, relaxation, and a bit of pampering. Hence the change from ‘tour’ to ‘retreat’.

We’ll spend less time on the road this year and more time eating, cooking, writing, and making photos, as we endeavour to take you to the heart, soul and stomach of Cambodia, its culture, people, and food. That means we won’t be taking you to remote Banteay Chhmar, as much as everyone loved it last year, however, we’re still taking you to the culinary paradise that is Battambang.

Last May we hit the ground running. This year we’re easing you into things, starting with a full day of bite-sized writing and photography workshops in the shady grounds of our serene home for the week, Maison Polanka. Workshops, which are optional, will be punctuated by swims, massages, and good food and wine.

Our first outing? Forget the 4.30am start for sunrise at Angkor Wat. We’ll do a leisurely late afternoon scramble via the less-used back entrance, followed by a moat-side picnic with the locals, on the lawn overlooking the temple, as we savour sunset. You’ll see sunrise a few days later, once you’re over your jet lag.

In last year’s feedback, participants said the encounters we arranged with locals were special, and one of the real highlights of the tour, so there will be even more of those. Our retreat co-hosts, guides and special guests include local chefs, cooks, foodies, farmers, artisanal producers, and a cookbook author.

2016 Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat Highlights

While we’ve stream-lined the itinerary of this year’s Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat and punctuated the schedule with more downtime, we’ve retained most of the things the 2015 participants told us they loved. These are the tantalising experiences from last trip that we have in store for you this year:

  • excursions to the enchanting temples of Angkor Archaeological Park, including sunrise at majestic Angkor Wat, a visit to Bayon temple, where the walls provide an introduction to Cambodian cuisine, and trips to more atmospheric off the beaten track temples, such as Beng Mealea and Banteay Srei
  • Cambodian breakfasts at Angkor at spots where only locals eat
  • a fun Khmer language lesson on basic greetings and food-focused vocabulary
  • exclusive experience: private cooking class and leisurely lunch at the beautiful home of one of Siem Reap’s most notable chefs, Cambodian-Kiwi Kethana Dunnett of Sugar Palm, who has consulted to Gordon Ramsay and Luke Nguyen
  • memorable meals at Cambodia’s finest restaurants, including Cuisine Wat Damnak, Sugar Palm and Marum, as well as our favourite local family-owned eateries and food stalls
  • tuk tuk excursions to Siem Reap villages to observe traditional rice noodle-making and palm sugar production, and to sample local specialties, such as kralan, a sticky rice and coconut snack barbecued in bamboo over a smoky fire
  • a Siem Reap street food tour led by a Cambodian cook to lively neighbourhood markets and a locals-only ‘eat street’, including a Cambodian-style picnic dinner
  • excursions into Battambang’s bucolic countryside to observe cottage industries where artisanal producer families make rice paper, rice noodles, rice spirits, and prahok (fermented fish), as they have always done; our journeys will be punctuated by stops at farms, pagodas, temples, and a Muslim fishing village
  • a morning market tour with a Cambodian foodie in Battambang, including tastings of tropical fruits, herbs, snacks and drinks
  • exclusive experience: time with the last traditional dessert-maker in a village once famous for producing this treat, observing her painstaking preparation of this delicate sweet that begins before dawn each day
  • a meal at Battambang’s Jaan Bai, the social enterprise restaurant supported by Thai cuisine expert and one of Asia’s best chefs, David Thompson, and Australian restaurateur John Fink, owner of Quay restaurant, among others
  • time to amble delightful Battambang and its sleepy streets lined with colonial shophouses, art galleries, and a Chinese temple
  • a coffee stop at award-winning Kinyei cafe in Battambang
  • an introduction to traditional Khmer desserts and tastings with a Cambodian chef
  • a fun rice-wine tasting and Khmer cocktail making lesson
  • an interactive village walk followed by sunset cocktails and canapés overlooking idyllic rice fields dotted with buffalo
  • an entertaining night at Siem Reap’s quirky Phare Cambodian Circus

New for 2016

  • a special private soiree and welcome dinner in the poolside sala at Maison Polanka
  • introduction to Cambodian breakfast soups/noodles with a local cook in a traditional, rustic kitchen
  • behind-the-scenes restaurant tour and the chance to interview Cambodian chef Luu Meng at Malis restaurant
  • behind-the-scenes tour of an NGO-ran training restaurant for disadvantaged young people
  • behind-the-scenes visit to an NGO-ran pastry school and cafe training young women for professional pastry kitchens
  • temple, village and countryside excursions with Siem Reap-based Beyond Unique Escapes, a responsible travel company that supports the Husk NGO

Optional experiences in 2016

  • yoga, massages and spa treatments
  • a post-retreat ‘Made in Cambodia’ tour focused on artisanal crafts, art, fashion, and design
  • special rates for post-retreat temple tours, excursions and accommodation for those who wish to stay on

Writing and Photography Workshops

We appreciate that some people are just coming to do our Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat for the food, and that’s perfectly fine. If you’d like to skip the workshop time and use it for reading and relaxing, that’s great. Or if you’d like to use it to do your own writing and photography in private, which might want to share with the group on the final day (or not), that’s entirely up to you.

If you are planning to join us for the Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat workshops, here’s what to expect:

  • we’ll kick off the retreat with a full day of punchy, bite-sized lessons and workshops on various aspects of writing and photography so you’re equipped with the skills you need and have established goals for the retreat. Experienced writers/photographers might want to skip these and we can discuss what you can do instead.
  • some participants will be more interested in writing, others in photography, and some will be keen to work on both, so we’ve structured the retreat to allow you to choose which sessions to attend. When you’re not learning, you have free time to reflect, write and shoot, swim, stroll or cycle the riverside, or enjoy a massage or spa treatment.
  • writing workshops will cover topics such as idea and story development, interviewing skills, note taking, observational writing, research, narrative structure, editing, pitching publications, blogging, and more.
  • photography workshops will tackle everything from the use of natural light and depth of field, aperture and f-stops to lenses for food photography, planning the coverage necessary to tell stories, and photographing people.
  • during the retreat, we’ll assign practical, achievable, self-directed tasks based around the places we’re going, the activities you’re experiencing, and the things we’re seeing. Again, you can choose to do these or not, but if you do you should have enough material by the end of the retreat to form into a story or inspire a series of stories.
  • at the end of the retreat there’ll be a full day with time for private writing and/or shooting, one-on-one consultations with Terence and myself, and at the end of that day, workshopping with the group in a relaxed environment (with a glass of wine in hand).
  • if you choose to join all the workshops, you will leave the retreat with a strong story idea and images that you can pitch to editors, and plenty of material that you can craft into one or more engaging stories.
  • throughout the retreat you’ll get a chance to pick our brains about life and work as a freelance writer and photographer team, getting published, the state of the industries (print and online), and the opportunities that many writers and bloggers are overlooking.
  • we’ll end the retreat with that casual workshop over sunset drinks and canapés before our final celebratory dinner.

Testimonials from our May 2015 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. 

Who should attend our Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat?

  • Food/travel writers/bloggers, especially those of you who are keen to develop your writing and photography skills; are looking for inspiration and guidance in a supportive and collaborative environment; are eager to spend time with people who share the same interests, challenges and passions; or who simply relish the chance to craft stories in a stimulating place such as Cambodia.
  • Writers, photographers, creatives, particularly those who might work in a different field but would like to try their hand at food/travel writing and/or photography. Perhaps you are a writer/blogger keen to work on your photography techniques or a photographer eager to develop writing skills.
  • Food/travel lovers/professionals who would love to experience Cambodia and its cuisine and culinary culture at a deeper level and through the eyes and mouths of locals. Perhaps you just want to come along to cook and eat. Workshops and assignments are optional; you can use that time to relax, swim or have a massage.

A note for solo women travellers: we often get asked if Cambodia, and specifically Siem Reap, is safe for women travellers. Aside from the fact that you’ll be escorted by us and our guides and drivers, even if you’re alone in your downtime, exploring the town, you’ll have nothing to worry about. Click through to the link to learn how Cambodia compares safety-wise to other countries in the world and you’ll find out that Cambodia is one of the safest countries in Asia and is in fact safer than neighbouring Thailand.

We can cater for all of you, just let us know your interests when you sign up.

Your Accommodation

This year, with less time travelling, you’ll have more time to enjoy your heavenly lodgings and their fine food, lush gardens and alluring swimming pools. All three are intimate independently-owned boutique properties with traditional timber architecture, tropical gardens fragrant with frangipanis, and inviting palm-shaded swimming pools.

We’ve intentionally chosen small tranquil lodgings in peaceful, local neighbourhoods, far removed from the tourist chaos, to give you quiet places to reflect and write, as well as an insight into everyday life.

Something of a secret, Maison Polanka is a block from Siem Reap River, while River Garden is slap-bang on the riverbank. Both are a few minutes’ walk from neighbourhood markets and while you can easily stroll the shady riverside to the colonial heart of Siem Reap, tuk tuks will be on hand for the 5-minute trundle. Complimentary bicycles are also available.

In Battambang, Maisons Wat Kor is located on a shady lane opposite the river in diminutive Wat Kor village, a 10-minute tuk tuk ride from the historic centre. Bicycles are also available.

All have spacious, comfortable rooms with en-suite bathrooms, air-conditioning, ceiling fans, fridges, and free Wi-Fi. Each room has either a writing desk inside or table and chairs or seats outside for writing. Delicious daily breakfasts are included. At Maison Polanka, complimentary afternoon tea is provided for in-house guests.

A Note on Pricing

Some of you told us last year that you wanted to join us on our Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat but the cost was prohibitive. This year we’re offering more choice and flexibility and a variety of packages at different price points based on the property, room category and configuration.

Maison Polanka

In Siem Reap, luxurious Maison Polanka will be our main base for the retreat. This is where our welcome drinks and dinner, writing and photography workshops, and some culinary experiences will take place. Meals, workshops and events will be held in the breezy poolside sala, surrounded by lush gardens, which serves as the restaurant and bar. There is an additional comfy alfresco lounge that can be used for reading and writing and the sprawling lawns are ideal for reflective ambles. The property is comprised of two traditional Cambodian houses, decorated with the owners’ collection of art, antiques, collectibles, and vintage furniture.

River Garden

Nearby River Garden is a lovely 3-star boutique property on the banks of Siem Reap river. Set within a jungle of a garden, it has 11 rooms, most of which are set in two Khmer timber houses, formerly the home and studio of French artist Michel Delacroix. River Garden runs the city’s first and finest Street Food Tour and Cooks in Tuk Tuks cooking experience and has a terrific restaurant overlooking the pool, and a petite café and patisserie with river views; both are inspiring spots to write. 

Maisons Wat Kor

In colonial Battambang, we will all stay at gorgeous Maisons Wat Kor in riverside Wat Kor village, a 2km tuk tuk ride from town. Maisons Wat Kor has a saltwater swimming pool, sala and hammocks overlooking a small lake, fruit trees, and an organic herb and vegetable garden. There’s a small restaurant, La Terrasse de Lotus, where some of Battambang’s finest Khmer cuisine is served, cooked with produce from the hotel garden and local markets. Massages are available upon request.

Our Hosts

Last year, our tour participants told us that they valued the opportunities we gave them to engage with locals, both Cambodians and expats. The owners of the hotels we’ve chosen are as passionate about food as we are and have a deep knowledge of Cambodian cuisine.

Maison Polanka’s owners French-Cambodian Nathalie Saphon Ridel and husband Jean-Pierre Martial are credited with the revival of traditional arts and crafts following the Khmer Rouge era. Nathalie works closely with artisans and designers, developing exquisite products for her boutiques Galerie Cambodge and Khmer Attitude and for 11 years has Chaired the Board of the NGO Osmose. Nathalie comes from a family of proud cooks. There are only a handful of good Cambodian cookbooks and her aunts wrote two of them: Cooking the Cambodian Way by Narin Jameson and The Elephant Walk Cookbook by Longteine de Monteiro. The food at Maison Polanka is based on old family recipes passed down through generations.

River Garden owner, Australian Deb Saunders, has lived in Siem Reap for nine years and has been cooking professionally for 40 years. Deb graduated from culinary school with distinctions when she completed her Applied Science in Food and Food Service from Melbourne’s prestigious RMIT. She ran her own catering company, Culinary Wizardry, for 15 years and during her long career has done everything from food styling to teaching cooking in her own commercial kitchen. Deb has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Cambodian cuisine and ingredients, crafting the culinary experiences that are ran by River Garden’s Cambodian cooks.

In Battambang our host is Maisons Wat Kor’s owner, Cambodian Kim Nou, who is an enthusiastic cook with a deep knowledge of Khmer cuisine and local produce and ingredients, Kim Nou is partly to blame for our obsession with Cambodian and Khmer cuisine and has served as our adviser as we’ve developed our own knowledge over the years. Kim Nou expertly leads our street food and market walk in Battambang, which participants last year said was a highlight of our tour. He recently hosted the Jolie-Pitt family who were in Battambang filming Angelina Jolie’s film Then They Killed My Father.

More about Lara and Terence

So what equips us to host our Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat? We began writing professionally way back in 1987, and Terence, who studied photography at university and worked in book publishing for almost a decade, started shooting books soon after. You’ll find a full list of the publications our stories have appeared in on our bio page. I’ve also written and assessed film scripts, had a teen fiction novel published by HarperCollins, and edited an Asian travel magazine.

I’ve taught writing (and filmmaking and film/media studies) at a vocational, industry and tertiary level, while Terence has taught photography (and design, multimedia, digital editing). Between us we have a handful of relevant qualifications, including three Masters degrees and an incomplete PhD. As an academic, I wrote two degrees, dozens of courses, supervised hundreds of creative projects, and ran thousands of evaluations and assessments. All that means is that I know what it takes to inspire, teach, coach, nurture, and support writers through the creative process from concept to completion.

The Practical Details

Here’s what else you need to know about our 10-day/night Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat, including dates, prices, inclusions, and exclusions:

  • dates – from 22-31 May (checking out 1st June) for 10 days and nights (October dates coming soon)
  • group – this is a small group tour with a maximum of 14 people so the experience is intimate and everyone gets attention when it comes to one-on-one consultations and workshopping
  • inclusions – the retreat price includes 10 nights accommodation and daily breakfasts, 9 lunches and 9 dinners, all tuition, writing and photography workshops, one-on-one consultation time, tours, excursions, activities, experiences, classes, transport, guides, and some entry fees, as specified in the itinerary
  • exclusions – the retreat price does not include flights, visas, insurance, airport transfers (US$7 each way), Angkor Archaeological Park temple passes (US$40 for seven days), and hotel incidentals eg. laundry, mini-bar, calls, room service, etc
  • prices – our 10-day retreat packages with all inclusions start from US$2,150 per person based upon two sharing to US$3,270 for a solo traveller. And there are a wide range of prices in between. Click through below to complete the enquiry form to see all prices and obtain the itinerary.
  • booking – a non-refundable deposit of US$500 will be required to make your booking. We’d like to close bookings by 12 April or when all places are filled, whichever comes first. Discounts are offered for all bookings.
  • insurance – Insurance for this trip is compulsory and proof of purchase required one week before you travel. Insurance is easily purchased online or through an agent; some credit cards provide insurance cover. We highly recommend World Nomads. Their online process is simple, plus we love their philanthropic programme, which some community projects around the globe.
  • flights/arrival/departure – we recommend you fly into Siem Reap. You can also travel overland to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh, Thailand or Laos. Email if you’d like assistance with planning a longer Cambodia/Asia trip.
  • visas – these are easily obtained; some Asian nationalities do not require visas, while most other nationalities can get visas upon arrival or buy them online in advance. We’ll provide visa information upon booking.
  • accommodation – our base in Siem Reap will be stylish Maison Polanka, where our welcome drinks/dinner, writing and photography workshops, and some culinary experiences will be held; our second home will be lovely River Garden nearby. Our Battambang accommodation will be at Maisons Wat Kor. We’ve personally selected these properties because we’ve stayed in them and love them. Lots more details on these above.
  • meals – breakfast will be included at all properties. Nine lunches and nine dinners will be provided, along with loads of snacks and tastings. Maison Polanka provides complimentary afternoon tea for in-house guests. Water will be provided in your room and on all tours. Alcohol will be included for several meals, as indicated on the itinerary. For other meals you will need to purchase your own drinks. Full details in the itinerary.
  • transport – tuk tuks for short distances, air-conditioned vehicles for long distances. Tuk tuks will be provided for transport between Maison Polanka and River Garden for scheduled activities. Complimentary bicycles will also be available for you to ride. Airport transfers (US$7 each way) are not included, as indicated above, and are super-easy to organise at the airport.
  • guides – temple and village tours will be with our Siem Reap-based travel partner, Beyond Unique Escapes. Full details in the itinerary.

Making an enquiry or booking

Click through to this short enquiry form to see the full range of prices for our 10-day retreat. Submit the form and we will send you an itinerary, price list, and booking and payment information. To book your place, a US$500 deposit is required. All bookings will close on 30 April.

Please get in touch if you have any questions about our Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat, if you are a food/travel blogger and would like to be part of our affiliate programme, or if you’d like to write about the retreat and need a media release and hi-res images.


Next Retreats and Tours

Next up: the 10-day Travel and Food Writing and Photography Retreat (1-10 Oct) and a 9-day Cambodia Culinary Tour (23-31 Oct) in October 2016. Following requests from readers, we are also setting dates for another Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat and Cambodia Culinary Tour in November 2016 and again in May 2017, as well as intensive 3-day monsoon writing and photography retreats in September. Dates coming soon!

Making an Enquiry or Booking

To make a booking or learn more email us at info@grantourismotravels.com for a full itinerary, price list, and payment information. To book your place, a US$500 deposit is required.

Media and Blogger Affiliate Programme

If you are a food/travel blogger and would like to be part of our affiliate programme to sell spots on our Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat or Cambodia Culinary Tour or you need a media release and hi-res images, please email us on the address above.

Sponsors and Candidates

We are offering one sponsored spot to young Cambodians on our Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat and Cambodia Culinary Tours. If you’d like to nominate a Cambodian candidate for these or future retreats and tours, or you’re a business or individual who’d like to sponsor a place, please email us on the same address above.

Want More of an Idea as to What to Expect?

For more of an idea of what to expect on our Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat, read the updated testmonials, click through to salivate over these mouthwatering images from our previous culinary travel writing and photography tours. Check out our Instagram feed for images from the experiences. Also see our dedicated Siem Reap Retreats and Tours website with more information.

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