Read time – 4 minutes
Join Kristin Henning and her husband Tom Bartel of ‘Travel Past 50’ as they recount their Tailor Made tour of Cambodia with Exodus.
Readers of Travel Past 50 know we are independent travellers. We usually rely on our own experience, sense of adventure, and healthy curiosity – not to mention our advanced age (er, maturity) – to jump confidently into new travel destinations.
You’ll also know we love making exceptions to the rule. We’ve specifically partnered with Exodus Travels on a couple of our ‘deviations’ from travelling on our own, knowing Exodus understands the independent spirit, which is why we excited to team up on a Tailormade tour of Cambodia. (Our first experience with Exodus was a wonderful self-guided bike tour in Brittany, France. Read our story about biking in Brittany here.)
We returned to Exodus when we knew we’d need assistance visiting such a massive site as Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The World Heritage Site not only covers a large area of 155 square miles but references several hundred years of history. Since we’re equally lacking in medieval Asian history as in Khmer language, it wasn’t hard to admit we needed guidance.
Fortunately, we made arrangements with Exodus for our Tailormade tour, working with specialist Carla Siqueiros, who made sure we maximized our two-day stay in Siem Reap. Here’s why we’re keen on this custom-created tour service.
Reasons to book a Tailormade Tour with Exodus
1. Set up your tour exactly when you want, and just for the people you want.
OK, not that we’re inflexible, but we wanted a guide exactly when we wanted a guide. Due to other travel plans and flights arranged on our own before we ever contacted Exodus, we were seeking a personal tour just for the two of us–on two specific days.
2. Be assured of a reliable, licensed guide and driver. No guesswork.
Not only did we trust our guide would find us at our hotel the first morning, but our hotel (which we’d booked ourselves) had already heard from our guide and confirmed the pick-up time with reception. (Oops, it was going to be even earlier than we thought.)
As soon as we met our guide, Mr. Meas Sokhom, the first morning, he went over the checklist to make sure we were prepared for the day: photo IDs to purchase Angkor Wat passes, water, hats, sunscreen, bug repellent. Ok, I had to run back to our room for bug stuff. Check. Tom remembered a headlamp, too, which came in handy as we navigated in the dark to a perfect sunrise photo perch. We’d never have found that place the first day without our private guide.
3. Plan a tour specifically catered to your interests.
While we were making arrangements for our Tailormade Cambodia tour with Exodus, we had a few requests but also wanted to hear recommendations from Carla.
We wanted – and got – a tour that was designed for best photo opportunities, that included some biking, and that covered both popular and lesser-known temples in the complex. They suggested, and we appreciated, arranging two early mornings for two chances to capture the sunrise at Angkor Wat. And one surprise stop was right up our alley: a visit to the Banteay Srey Butterfly Center.
Booking our Tailormade tour involved a satisfactory back and forth communication, and the tour suited us perfectly. I have no doubt that if we’d said we wanted to end up in a swimming pool each day, shop the night market, and drink everywhere Angelina Jolie drank when filming there, they would have gladly arranged that, too.
4. Your tour can be adjusted for last-minute changes.
When we first booked the tour, I didn’t know I’d be bitten by a dog in Hanoi and would be visiting Siem Reap on antibiotics and with stitches in my leg (that was all before meeting up with Exodus).
Our interest in biking was waning (we were not adjusted to the heat, either). Dear Sokhom was wonderful dealing with our doubts. Thanks to him, we kept our appointments with the bikes, but just shortened the route to suit our dubious physical state.
The little bike route from Angkor Wat to Angkor Thom made a big difference in our experience, including photo stops at a bridge and close-up looks at parts of Angkor Thom we’d not have otherwise seen. We loved the peaceful ride through the woods to a deserted temple.
5. Get to know your guide’s personal story.
Of course, you want a guide who can help interpret such a complex site as Angkor Wat. Sokhom was able to provide that historical overview, especially touching on the changing political powers and the evolving religious practices reflected in the architecture we were seeing. (Over time, Angkor temples honoured both Hindu and Buddhist religions.)
Like most Siem Reap natives, Sokhom feels connected to the long line of villagers who have guarded the site for centuries.
But best of all, we made a friend in Sokhom. As we breakfasted together, we learned about his personal story, and that made all the difference in our Siem Reap experience. Sokhom related stories of his brother and mother, both lost in the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge.
He talked about the hardships under Pol Pot, of forced military service, and of the general attitude today of Cambodians toward the U.S. and their own government.
According to him and other Cambodians we spoke with, they are, in short, more critical of their former rulers than of the U.S. Learning about recent history in Cambodia from Sokhom was an unexpected highlight of our visit to Angkor Wat.
6. Get local recommendations outside of the tour itinerary.
Our Tailormade tour of Cambodia gave us the chance to get to know our guide and thanks to that, and to his listening to what we were interested in, we received some personal recommendations for restaurants and shopping.
We could also get answers to our questions (we always have a lot) about how the town is handling the burgeoning tourism, what the plans are for a new airport and related infrastructure, and what the hopes and challenges are for local families.
And that, as far as we’re concerned, is the whole point of travelling: to get to know the daily concerns of the people who live there.
Kristin Henning and her husband Tom Bartel have travelled to over 70 countries on six continents. They publish their photos, stories, and travel tips at TravelPast50.com. Read more about their Angkor Wat tour here.
Take a look at our tours of Cambodia below.