Last month we told you about EAT LEARN LOVE CAMBODIA, a culinary travel writing and photography tour that we’re hosting with Asia-based Backyard Travel, starting in Siem Reap on 22 May 2015 for 8 days and nights. We finally have more details for you.
Please forgive the delay. We’ve been taking our time to carefully craft a very special itinerary for you that is crammed with delicious activities and enriching experiences. Now that everything is locked in we want to share some of the highlights, along with the tour price and inclusions.
There’s a lot of information in my first post on EAT LEARN LOVE CAMBODIA, our culinary travel writing and photography tour, which I won’t repeat here, and there are even more details on the Backyard Travel site, where you can enquire about and book the tour.
For now, here are the highlights of our culinary travel writing and photography tour in Cambodia and what you can expect to do if you join us in May:
Stay in atmospheric, Cambodian-style boutique accommodation
You’ll stay at our favourite, small, luxury boutique hotels, including five nights at beautiful Sala Lodges in Siem Reap (above), a little village of painstakingly-restored antique Khmer timber houses that the hotel owners rescued from around Cambodia and reassembled in lush gardens of lemongrass, rice and palms. In Battambang, we’ll spend two nights at the lovely family-owned Maisons Wat Kor, located in a tranquil village on the edge of town, where teak houses built in a traditional Khmer style with wooden verandas overlook tropical gardens. Both properties are intimate, have stunning swimming pools, serve fine food, and ooze character and charm.
Experience a traditional family homestay in a remote rural village
As delightful as the boutique hotels are, we’ve also arranged for you to experience the real thing – an overnight family home-stay in traditional timber Khmer houses in a village located by remote Banteay Chhmar, one of Cambodia’s most mysterious and enigmatic yet rarely visited temple sites. Here you’ll get a chance to closely observe and participate in village life. We’ll enjoy a picnic lunch at the temples, an ox cart ride through the rice paddies, a rustic local meal for dinner, traditional music performed by villagers, and see silk woven on old looms.
Sample authentic street food and savour refined Cambodian cuisine
While scrumptious daily breakfasts are provided at each hotel you’ll also eat typical breakfasts with the locals at soups stalls, morning markets and neighbourhood eateries. We’ll graze on tasty snacks on street food tours in Siem Reap and Battambang led by a Cambodian cook and a Cambodian foodie respectively, and dine on refined Cambodian, Khmer and Pan-Asian cuisine at some of the country’s best restaurants, including Cuisine Wat Damnak, Chanrey Tree, Sugar Palm, Marum, and Jaan Bai. You’ll also enjoy rustic home-style cooking at Banteay Chhmar.
Discover the secrets of cooking Cambodian and Khmer cuisine
Cambodian and Khmer cuisines (there is a difference) are much maligned and misunderstood and restaurateurs who pass off crowd-pleasing, toned-down Thai-Cambodian fusion dishes as their own are partly to blame – along with unadventurous tourists unwilling to try the pungent, bitter and sour flavours of Khmer food. On tours of lively local markets you’ll learn about the local produce, herbs, spices, roots, pastes, and other ingredients – everything from kroeung to prahok. You’ll meet the chefs of the restaurants where we dine, such as groundbreaking Joannès Rivière of Cuisine Wat Damnak, undoubtedly Cambodia’s best restaurant, and you’ll get lessons in cooking Khmer cuisine at the beautiful country home of Kiwi-Cambodian chef Kethana Dunnett (Sugar Palm), who consulted to Gordon Ramsay and Luke Nguyen when they produced TV series here. You’ll see noodles hand-pulled at a Chinese dumpling and noodle joint and Khmer desserts made in a village home as well as a Khmer dessert café.
Learn to make Khmer cocktails, taste rice spirits and try Battambang wine
In a village home outside Battambang you’ll see how traditional rice spirit is distilled, while on the road to Banan Temple we’ll stop at Cambodia’s only commercial winery to try their red wine and ginger juice. You’ll get to do a tasting of premium rice spirits that have been infused with local herbs and spices at the smart tasting rooms at Sombai in Siem Reap, where their beautiful hand-painted bottles have become a must-buy souvenir, and after learn how to use Cambodian herbs, roots and spices to make Khmer cocktails during a fun class in which you also get to invent a cocktail of your own. (Note: ‘mocktails’ can also be made).
Visit cottage industries to see artisanal producers practicing their culinary crafts
During visits to the tiny workshops and ‘factories’ of artisanal families operating out of their village homes, you’ll learn firsthand how Cambodians continue to make traditional rice paper, rice noodles, rice spirit, desserts, and Cambodia’s famous fermented fish paste prahok, using the techniques of their ancestors. You’ll also gain an appreciation for the fragility of these traditions – some may be lost with the next generation. A dessert maker we’ll visit is the last woman left making the labour-intensive sweets she produces in a village once famous for the coconut and palm sugar treats.
Engage with locals in villages and experience life in the countryside
On a stroll through the rice paddies outside Siem Reap we’ll visit village homes and interact with locals to learn about the challenges of rural life while on breezy tuk tuk tours into the bucolic countryside around Battambang, we’ll see seasonal produce growing, farmers toiling their land, and families fishing on the river. We’ll chat to locals foraging for the herbs used in Cambodia’s beloved soups and to villagers selling the produce they’ve grown and specialties they’ve made by the side of the road. These include fish paste and chillies grilled in banana leaves and sticky rice and black bean in bamboo barbecued over smoky fires. You’ll hurtle through the lush rice fields on an exhilarating ride on the ‘Bamboo Train’ outside Battambang.
Explore spectacular Khmer Empire temples including stupendous Angkor Wat
You’ll savour the sunrise over spectacular Angkor Wat (a must-do experience!) and after amble around this sublime 12th-century temple that symbolises Mount Meru, the centre of the Hindu universe, and dedicated to Vishnu. We’ll wander the enormous temple city of Angkor Thom, established by King Jayavarman II as the capital until the 17th-century; examine the intricate bas-reliefs at The Bayon, famous its serene smiling face towers, to learn about the culinary traditions of the Khmer Empire; and scramble around Ta Prohm, where the roots of a silk-cotton tree and strangler fig have taken over the temple. Along the way, you’ll learn about the rich Khmer Empire history from our Cambodian Backyard Travel Guide.
Discover remote, romantic, rarely-visited archaeological sites
We’ll get out to the pretty, pink, 10th-century temple Banteay Srei, 20kms from Angkor, which is covered in exquisite carvings and decorative details in superb condition, as well as romantic, moss-dappled 12th century Beng Mealea, 40kms east of Angkor, which, while in a dilapidated state of ruin is one of the most atmospheric temples, shaded by towering silk-cotton trees and strangler figs. We’ll also visit the 9th-century Roluos group of three temples, 12kms from Siem Reap on the site of the early capital of Hariharalya, where the highlight is the lovely pyramid temple of Bakong, dedicated to Shiva, and encircled by a wide moat. We’ll also drive 100km northwest of Siem Reap to the mysterious Banteay Chhmar, a vast ruinous temple, larger than Angkor Wat that few people visit due to its remote location near the Thai border. In Battambang, we’ll also visit two tiny but alluring temples.
Learn about the compelling history, culture and arts of Cambodia
No, it’s not all about food and temples! Through carefully chosen experiences, you’ll learn about everything from the brutal Khmer Rouge period that took power in 1975 on a visit to the Landmine Museum, which provides support and schooling to landmine victims, and contemporary Cambodian culture and arts, during a performance of the Phare Cambodian circus, which combines circus tricks and acrobatics with traditional and modern theatre, music, dance, and more, to tell stories of Cambodian life.
Develop your culinary travel writing and photography skills
The experiences above have been designed to inspire as much as serve as material for your writing. The trip will be punctuated by short, punchy, bite-sized lessons on techniques to develop your food and travel writing skills, whether you’re a beginner, amateur writer with more serious aspirations, food/travel blogger, established storyteller, or photographer or creative wanting to develop their writing. I’ll set small, manageable writing tasks based upon the experiences that can easily be completed each day. Combine them at the end and you’ll have the makings of a first draft story. We do appreciate you’re on holidays, so it’s up to you whether you complete them during the tour. If you do, we’ll set aside workshop time on the final day. After the trip you can email me your story for feedback if you like. While the focus is on writing, Terence will join us to offer tips and advice on temple, portrait and food photography. There will also be time to pick our brains on what it’s like to be a full-time professional writer-photographer team.
Enjoy some downtime: refreshing swims, fish spas, indulgent massages and sunset drinks
There will be a few early starts so we can catch some sunrises – early morning is when the temples are at their best and there are fewer crowds – and days will be hot and humid. Therefore, we’ve scheduled downtime for resting, writing, and refreshing dips in the pool, and if you’re out in the middle of the day it will probably be for lunch. There’ll also be some time at your own leisure, including a couple of meals, and we’re happy to make suggestions as to where you can eat, as well as other things you can do, from pamper yourself with a massage or treatment to delight in a ticklish fish spa. We’ve also scheduled a few sunsets over the rice fields that can be savoured with a drink in hand.
Our Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Tour in a nutshell
- destination – Cambodia: arrive in Siem Reap (5 nights), visit Banteay Chhmar (1 night) and Battambang (2 nights), before departing from Siem Reap.
- dates – from Friday 22 May 2015 for 8 days/nights until Saturday 30 May.
- size – this is a small group tour with space for 12 people maximum, as we want to ensure this is an intimate experience.
- price – US$1998 / AUD 2,449 per person, based upon two people sharing, however, there’s a single supplement if you’d like a room on your own; please let us know soon.
- inclusions – airport transfers, transport (air-conditioned vehicles for longer trips; tuk tuks for short excursions), boutique accommodation, almost all meals, all activities and experiences in the itinerary, English-speaking Cambodian guides, entrance fees, and writing and photography tuition and support.
- excluded – flights, visas ($30 obtained either in advance or upon arrival depending on nationality), travel insurance, personal expenses, tips.
If you have any questions about our culinary travel writing and photography tour then feel free to ask in the comments below or visit the Backyard Travel site to make enquiries or book the tour.
We hope to see you in Siem Reap!
Our Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Tour has been featured in:
AFAR magazine, USA
The Independent newspaper, UK
LA Times, USA
Silverkris, the Singapore Airlines magazine
The National newspaper, United Arab Emirates
Wanderlust magazine, UK
BK Asia City
THIS RETREAT WAS HELD IN MAY 2015.
UPDATED: JULY 2016
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 Travel and Food 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 email@example.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 or if you’d like to write about our Cambodia Culinary Tour and 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 Travel and Food Writing and Photography Retreat and Cambodia Culinary Tour. 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?
Click through to salivate over the 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.