Welcome to Cambodia! You will arrive into Phnom Penh and begin your journey in the Kingdom of Wonder.
Join this incredibly unique service adventure in Cambodia. Travel through the Tonle Sap waterways on the Rustic Pathways riverboat, completing community service projects in a floating village and spending time with your homestay family. Journey through Battambang province’s fertile rice fields, take a trip on a bamboo train and hike up to hill-top temples. Learn about Cambodia’s ancient and modern history as you tour the genocide museums in Phnom Penh and explore the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.
Relax and prepare for a world-class trip on Singapore Airlines. Prior to your departure, you will have received your pre-departure packet, which will include your Rustic t-shirts, flight information, and important contact information. Once you arrive at your international departure city, our Airport Coordinator will help you get checked in to your international flight. Here you’ll meet your Flight Leader, who will escort you all the way to Singapore! From Singapore, you’ll hop on another short flight with your group members and a Flight Leader to Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder! Our Flight Leaders are most often schoolteachers or good friends of our organization who happily fill this role for us each year. Once you’re checked in, feel free to relax and get acquainted with your new friends before boarding your flight to Southeast Asia!
Today is lost as you cross the International Date Line. Not to worry, though – you’ll get it back when you return.
Welcome to Phnom Penh! As you exit airport customs, your Rustic Pathways Program Leaders will be waiting just outside in the arrival area. Climb into a private van to the hotel, enjoying your first glimpse of Cambodia’s capital. Nestled on the banks of three great Southeast Asian rivers–the Mekong, Tonle Sap, and Bassac rivers—the frenetic streets of Phnom Penh provide a fascinating window into Cambodian culture. According to legend, this vibrant city was founded by a nun, Lady Penh, in the 14th century and became the country’s capital some 100 years later. From its power as a prominent market hub for European traders and eventual French colonization, to Khmer independence, to domination by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, Phnom Penh has seen its fair share of turbulence and unrest. As you ride through the motorcycle-choked streets and catch glimpses of busy marketplaces, know that you are witnessing a new era of growth and change for this beautiful and special country. Freshen up and head out to explore the city and try your first taste of delicious Cambodian food. Your Program Leaders will also hold an orientation so that you can get a real grasp of what you’ll be seeing and experiencing in the next two weeks.
Over the next two days, you will get a full tour of Cambodia’s busy capital. Your first destination is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school that was used as a torture and interrogation prison under the Khmer Rouge. The building has now been converted into a museum to educate visitors about the genocide that occurred here. Visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek where you walk through the quiet and peaceful fields that were once the site of mass killings and burials during the genocide. While difficult to process at times, these sites are important landmarks in Cambodian history and allow you to put the contemporary Cambodia in perspective. Head to famous Russian market and do a little shopping before exploring the grounds of the extravagant Royal Palace. Cool off with a sunset cruise out to Koh Dach Island, known for its silk farms and handmade goods and visit an amazing city landmark, Olympic Stadium, to see where all of the locals congregate after work to get some exercise.
Today, pass through rural Cambodia as you journey up to Battambang and make a stop in a village known throughout all of Cambodia for their clay pots. Sample some interesting insects along the way and continue onward. Once you arrive, settle into this less touristy city for the next two nights. Fill your days here with by visiting a hill-top temple, riding on a traditional bamboo train and witnessing over a million bats vacate their cave at sunset in search for their daily food.
After breakfast, hit the local market to buy food, supplies, and service materials for your time on the water. Begin your next adventure as you hop aboard the Rustic Pathways Boat and make your way to the floating villages of rural Cambodia. As you cruise up the river during the morning hours, you will witness a whole new way of life. Families cook their morning meal aboard their floating houses and set out nets to reel in the day’s catch. School children, dressed in white shirts and blue shorts wave excitedly as they begin their day. The scenic boat trip will give you some time to relax, and get to know the members of your group. Throughout your journey you will be spending time in two communities called Bak Preah and Prek Toal. Your nightly accommodations will consist of traditional floating village homestays. Settle in with your accommodating host family before heading out to explore the village. Life here is simple but the people are incredibly hospitable and will share everything they can with you.
During your time in Prek Toal, students will be assisting with our Housing Improvement initiative, which was designed in partnership with the local community and seeks to construct and upgrade homes in need of repair.
Hop off of the boat on Monday afternoon and check into your hotel in Siem Reap where you can grab a hot shower! Refreshed and relaxed, it’s time to go out on the town!
Today, head to the beautiful, refreshing, and historically important Phnom Kulen mountain and waterfall, which are set amid more of the ruins of the Angkor civilization. This scenic mountain isn’t just a great place to swim and enjoy nature—it is also the birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire that developed Angkor Wat. King Jayavarman II proclaimed independence here and the walls are full of ancient rock carvings. This is an amazing place to visit and learn from after a full two weeks of immersion to Cambodian culture. Tonight head back into town where you will visit Phare, The Cambodian Circus. This inspiring acrobat show is performed by students from Phare Ponleu Selpak, an organization that educates disadvantaged youth through the power of the arts. It is truly a sight to see and something you will remember from your time here in Cambodia.
Set out in the early morning to see the amazing architecture of Angkor Wat, the largest religious complex in the world. Grab a good spot and get your camera ready for this incredible once-in-a-lifetime view! As you enter the complex to explore the structure, check out the intricate carvings of Angkor’s historical battle scenes. If you’re brave enough to climb the steep steps, the view atop the highest tower is well worth it! Travel next to see the huge, carved faces of Bayon. After lunch, make your way to the shady and cool tree temple, Ta Prohm. Massive trees have grown up through these ruins making for a spectacular site. Tonight, you will be treated to a delicious Khmer dinner and spend some time browsing the night market. Be sure to make a shopping list for all of the souvenirs for your loved ones back home!
After two incredible and eye-opening weeks, it’s time to say goodbye to the Kingdom of Wonder and journey onward. For students connecting to another program in Southeast Asia, you will say goodbye to your group in the morning as you head to the airport to begin your next adventure. If you are departing for the U.S., soak up some last bits of culture and shop for souvenirs today. This afternoon you’ll head to Siem Reap International Airport where you will meet up with your Flight Leader to begin the journey home. Cambodia will miss you! Som Lee-hai!
If you are flying back to the U.S., you’ll arrive back in the states on this day, as you’ll have time zone changes in the middle. Many of our students choose to connect to other programs in our Asian destinations. All students on our group flights arrive home on Fridays, regardless of whether they return to JFK or LAX.
Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity.
The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.
“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.
“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.
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We will wind through the narrow passageways on our very own boat! On this program you will find yourself sitting on a traditional wooden boat with a top deck perfect for watching the sunset. The boat is entirely for Rustic Pathways students and staff and is equipped with awesome amenities. Our very own Boat Captain and First Mate, Hun and Rah, can teach you how the locals fish, you can have a dance party playing some tunes on our stereo system, and even try your hand at whipping up some fruit shakes for everyone to enjoy!
Yes! Villages surround the Tonle Sap Lake (the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia!) and tributaries, which are all unique in their own way. Some villages are entirely floating with houses sat atop bamboo. Some families tie their houses to trees so as not to float away! You can find everything from schools, general stores, and even tailors all floating on the water. Other villages have houses and buildings set on top of very high stilts. During the rainy reason the water almost reaches to the top of the stilts, but during the dry season, there is no water and the houses are surrounded by land.
Rustic Pathways works with local leaders and organizations to identify and prioritize the needs of each community. You can expect to lend a helping hand with the most pressing need of the communities at the time of your visit.
On this trip you will be working at two different project sites. The first is Kampong Cham where you’ll be working with our partner organization, Buddhism for Social Development Action, or BSDA. Here you will help to improve the facilities or teach English lessons and games.
During your time in Prek Toal, the floating village where you will be spending 4 nights, you can expect to experience an array of service from repairing homes or teaching English at the local primary school.
If you embark on this trip, you will get to experience all of the styles of accommodation that Cambodia provides. Students will be staying in nice hotel accommodations in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap where there will be access to western amenities such as air conditioning and hot water.
In Kampong Cham, students will be staying at our base house, which is nestled in a small local village. Here students will have a mattress pad on the floor with a mosquito net.
While in the floating villages you will live in a traditional homestay. There will be two floating homestay houses (students are separated by gender), with basic living accommodations. This is an authentic experience where there may not be running water or western-style toilets. Don’t worry; your guides will be sure to teach you the dos and don’ts of village life. Bucket showers (super refreshing!) and squat toilets will be part of your daily life and you can expect to sleep on a mattress pads with a mosquito net. It’s early to bed in the floating villages but also early to rise as the sound of the boat engines start up bright and early!
Neak jong reeun Khmer aut? —-Do you want to learn Khmer?
While in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, many people speak English to a certain degree, but during your time in the Kampong Cham and the Floating Villages, you will be encouraged to learn as much Khmer as possible. It can be a lot of fun practicing phrases you learn, and your local guides will be able to help with translation too! People will be as interested in hearing about your culture as you are in theirs and cross-cultural communication will be one of the most important aspects of your trip.
Traditional Khmer food of course! Cambodia is home to many great cuisines due in part to French colonial influence, and you will get a chance to try these out when in major cities. However, you will be encouraged to eat local food as much as possible, after all, you are in Cambodia! Lok-lak, amok, pra-hok— sound familiar? These are some of the most well known dishes in Cambodia. Be sure to tell one of your local Program Leaders that you want to try pra-hok, which will give them a laugh for sure. Is it common for Cambodians to eat rice with every meal- even for breakfast, unless they’re having some yummy noodle soup! Some dishes you can expect are: rice based dishes (especially fried rice, pronounced bai cha in Khmer), noodle soups, grilled pork, stir fried vegetables, various fish dishes, and tons of fresh fruit! Coconuts are plentiful in Kampong Chang so get ready to crack some open and enjoy the refreshing coconut juice with your meals! Our staff will oversee the preparation and cooking while completing the homestay portion of this trip and can even teach you how to make some of their favorite dishes. We will make every effort to accommodate vegetarian and other special dietary needs as best we can, but please be aware that students with seafood or nut allergies cannot be accommodated.
Students will have access to clean, safe drinking water (pronounced duk) on this trip at all times. Water in faucets can be used to brush your teeth but is not for drinking. Don’t forget to bring your reusable water bottle so you can stay hydrated!
Get ready to sweat! Cambodia has a tropical climate and it’s going to be rainy season while you are here. It’s hot and humid in the day and a little cooler in the mountains at night. Daily downpours are short and are very much looked forward to as they offer a brief break from the heat of the day. What does that mean for you? Clothes that have synthetic fibers are great because they dry fast (much faster than cotton)! Ponchos can easily be purchased in-country.
Students will be participating in a variety of outdoor activities as well as community service projects. You can expect to swim at a waterfall and work on construction projects so you will need to feel comfortable participating in these activities.
When you join us on this incredible journey we want you to have an as immersive experience as possible and soak it all in. To do that you are encouraged to “unplug” and take a break from technology and engage with the life on the ground in Cambodia. Leave the lands of social media behind and focus on being present in the moment—don’t worry, it will still be there when you return—we promise!
You will have access to internet in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap but not during your time in the villages.
What should families at home do in case of emergency? You will be given the phone number to our 24/7 emergency line which is kept open for true emergencies only. One of our awesome staff members in the U.S. will be in charge of this line, and they will pass any necessary information to us on the ground in Cambodia.
Cleanliness is a big part of Asian culture so we keep as clean as we can while traveling. We will have access to laundry facilities at the beginning and end of this program which usually cost around $1/kilogram. Feel free to buy some laundry soap at the local market and learn how to wash your clothes by hand like many Cambodians do during your time in the village!
Malaria is present throughout the country of Cambodia. Mosquitos tend to pop up whenever the rain starts, and at night. Please bring 2 bottles of mosquito repellant with the proper amount of DEET (at least 30% DEET is recommended). Packing a lightweight long sleeve shirt and pants to wear at night for extra protections is also a great idea! Students will be provided mosquito nets when completing their homestays. Be sure to consult with a travel doctor or your family physician regarding additional precautions to take.
International SOS provides the most up to date recommendations regarding Cambodia. Since we do not know your child’s medical history, we recommend you reference International SOS’ website or the CDC website at: http://www.cdc.gov for more information. We also suggest consulting with your local travel doctor prior to your travels for further information.
Part of traveling internationally is learning how to be responsible for your belongings. All students are responsible for carrying their own personal spending money. On average, most students require a minimum of $100-$150 USD per week for incidental expenses (including laundry, any extra snacks, souvenirs, etc.). The night markets in Siem Reap have an amazing variety of crafts, clothing, and unbelievable souvenirs. Shopping there is a real treat, so budget more if you’re a big time shopper and less if you’re a bring-home-only-the-memories kind of traveler.
ATMs are widely available in Cambodia, and students are encouraged to bring ATM cards to limit the risk of theft as they travel. We suggest bringing $200 USD in cash and then using an ATM if you need additional money. Don’t forget to call your financial institution beforehand to let them know you’ll be traveling out of the country and ask about any additional fees!
Students traveling on this program via JFK will have a travel time of approximately 28 hours, and students traveling via LAX will have a travel time of approximately 30 hours (this includes layovers). Don’t worry- the trip will fly by as you pass the time meeting your new friends! Singapore Airlines features some great movies on the plane and is rumored to hand out ice cream during mealtime!
Believe us when we say that you are not going to be ready to go home after two weeks! Time will fly and you’ll feel like your journey is just beginning as you board the plane home. The long flight over to Southeast Asia is the hardest part; once you’re here, why not make the most of it and build an incredible summer?
This trip connects seamlessly with other programs throughout Southeast Asia. Connecting is a great idea if your travel plans allow for it!
A school backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips.
A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack are ideal. Wheeled bags are not suitable for this program.
(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)
Welcome to Cambodia! You will arrive into Phnom Penh and begin your journey in the Kingdom of Wonder.
Last day on land for a bit! Prepare for your time in the floating villages by buying supplies in the local market.
Spend the next week experiencing life on the water as you learn about the unique communities on the waterways of the Tonle Sap Lake from your host family. Assist with our housing project and work to construct a floating home for a family in need.
Explore the ruins of incredible Angkor Wat–a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest religious structure in the world!