It sounds like a cliché to speak about “a trip of a lifetime”. So many travel ads make this claim. But in Irene’s and my experience (which we certainly can boast a lot of), we DID take our “trip of a lifetime” on the Regent Voyager from Bangkok to Mumbai in April 2013, with a pre-trip to Cambodia and a post-trip in India.
The planning for this trip took over one year to complete. We booked our air on Delta, using Amex miles, for Business Class seats on the first day the itineraries opened up, 10 months before the actual departure. The cruise was a 17-day sailing from Bangkok to Mumbai on the most luxurious Regent ship, the Seven Seas Voyager. Irene and I were assigned the fortunate “task” of hosting for Ensemble Travel, acting as onboard representatives for guests who booked with any Ensemble Travel agency in the US or Canada.
We had always wanted to explore Siem Reap Cambodia and the magnificent temples, most especially Angkor Wat. The timing of this cruise permitted us to do just that prior to the voyage. We utilized the services of Trails of Indochina, the On Location supplier for Ensemble Travel. We could not have been happier with our choice. From the Concierge Services at each airport in Bangkok and Siem Reap, to the terrific hotels, to the private car, driver and guides throughout, each experience turned out perfectly.
Our hotel was exquisite
We stayed at the Sukhothai Hotel in Bangkok, a virtual jewel and an oasis of beauty and tranquility in a city of crazy traffic, hustle and bustle.
We arrived in Bangkok very early in the morning and met with our guide in the early afternoon to begin our exploration. We had been to Bangkok before and decided to explore sights we had not seen before beginning with a visit to the Vimanmek Mansion, the largest teakwood mansion in the world. It was dramatically beautiful and very interesting. Second stop was the Thai-style house of Jim Thompson, the legendary American businessman who came to Thailand at the end of World War II and rediscovered the Thai silk industry. His house is now a museum filled with fascinating Asian antiques and historical memorabilia.
The following morning we took a short flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. A representative of Trails of Indochina met us and quickly took us through immigration and customs to our hotel, the Sofitel Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort. It is a stunning property with lush gardens and a magnificent swimming pool. (Unfortunately, the temperature was in the high nineties every day, and the pool water was more like a hot-tub than a swimming pool.) We lucked out and were able to get a large suite, which turned out to be the same one that Angelina Jolie shared with her children, so my latest claim to fame is sleeping in the same bed as Angelina Jolie!
After a quick lunch, we were off with our private guide and driver to our first visit to the temples of Siem Reap. We visited the picturesque temple Ta Prohm, overgrown with fig trees that gave it a haunting and exotic atmosphere. These incredible roots have grown and entwined with the temple’s huge stone blocks (since the 12th century ), resulting in feeling like we were in a “forgotten city”. We then went on to another temple complex, Angkor Thom, with its beautifully crafted central towers and outlines of human heads etched deeply in the stone.
Angkor Wat did not disappoint…
The following day, we departed our hotel early in the morning, to beat the crowds and the heat to visit the crown jewel of all temples, Angkor Wat. We were not disappointed. The vastness of the 12th century temple complex seemed at first overwhelming. But as we examined the site with our expert guide, we grew to appreciate this best-preserved temple with its fascinating decorative flourishes and extensive bas-reliefs. Irene and I climbed to the top of the complex. Climbing up turned out OK, but climbing down with its very steep staircases, was very challenging.Late that afternoon, we left our hotel for a short drive to Tonle Sap Lake. There we boarded our private Sarus, a traditional wooden boat, and embarked on an adventure to discover the floating villages on the lake. The images of life along the lake were fascinating. The lake was very shallow and a few times, the captain had to get into the muddy water and literally pull the boat to deeper water. At day’s end, we were rewarded with a stunning sunset. The following morning we drove about 1½ hours from Siem Reap through the Cambodian countryside to a temple complex called Beng Mealea, a sprawling temple constructed in a distinctly Angkor Wat style in the early 12th century. Today the temple is largely overrun by vegetation and the stone walls are crumbling, but it all adds to its charm in a unique way. We then headed to Banteay Srei. We had heard about this complex from friends in the travel business and were told not to miss it. The advice was right-on. The red-stone temple is one of Angkor’s most significant structures, walls are decorated with elaborate carvings, which have been preserved remarkably well. It was quite hot when we left Banteay Srei for a simple but delicious lunch in a traditional wooden house. After lunch we headed back to the Sofitel for a needed rest.
That night we were invited to have dinner with a sales executive of the Raffles Hotel in Siem Reap. This traditional, luxury hotel with its beautiful pool and grounds turned out to be a wonderful ending to a fabulous three days in Cambodia, three days Irene and I will never forget.
The following morning we flew back to Bangkok and were met at the airport with a representative and driver from Trails of Indochina and off we went for the 1½ hour drive to the port to board the Regent Seven Seas Voyager for the next part of our Southeast Asian adventure.