Discover Cambodia: Lavender Jeep Style
Lavender Jeep has tours to explore the most important areas of Siem Reap, Cambodia
By Kayla McMillan
Adventure around Siem Reap, Cambodia Jeep-style with Lavender Jeep Tours!
You'll be supporting local women who want to join the workforce in rural Cambodia but have faced obstacles.
This touring company creates an adventure through the major sites in Cambodia including floating villages, temples, and the countryside.
Lavender Jeeps has designed a custom tour to help visitors discover the Land of Peace and Prosperity on a one-of-a-kind experience.
Lavender Jeeps describes its mission in three parts: To provide tourists with exciting tours of the greater Siem Reap area, to empower women, and to support the next generation of Cambodian’s. Here’s how they do just that.
Jobs for Women
Lavender Jeep is unique in that it creates jobs for Cambodian women by allowing them to earn a living wage and support their families. Cambodia has created a “code of conduct” for women that dictates how they act and what they do better known as Chbab Srey.
Lavender Jeep has chosen instead to challenge these standards by creating opportunities for independent, income earning women who deserve equal status. In this way, they are supporting women’s rights, making empowerment a core part of their mission.
They do this by choosing to train and employ women from backgrounds that are traditionally stigmatized in Cambodia. This may include single mothers, families with large debt loads, women who did not finish school, etc.
Lavender Jeep has made it clear that they do not “discriminate based on color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, age or marital status.”
Lavender Jeep is the only tour company in Siem Reap structured as a cooperative; they actually donate 70% of its profits to the Bridge of Life School, a non-profit organization providing free educational courses. This money funds the various programming including English, computer skills, and sewing classes for women and children in the countryside.
A cooperative is a private business organization that is owned and controlled by the people who use its services. Cooperatives are usually formed by individuals that coordinate together to achieve their business goals.
These tours are driven by M151 A2 American manufactured Jeeps, which are not available in most countries but remain present in Cambodia due to its recent past. While the company explains they don’t know the exact history of the vehicles, they are confident that it was manufactured in 1975.
These particular models were most likely used by Americans during the end of the Vietnam War, which they abandoned when Viet Cong took power. The Jeeps create an exciting and practical way to get around the unpaved countryside roads.
How did they end up in Cambodia?
In 1979, Khmer Rouge defectors, with the help of the Vietnamese government, retook Phnom Penh to end the reign of the Khmer Rouge. It’s believed that these Jeeps may have come over during that offensive.
However, it’s more likely that they came over between 1979-1990 during the civil war between the remaining Khmer Rouge holdouts and Vietnam backed Cambodian government. The Jeeps would have then gone inactive after the UNTAC period and been used for civilian purposes.
Lavender Jeep has designed three special tours that take their visitors to all the major sites, including Angkor Wat and the floating villages. In addition, they give visitors a local and cultural experience on each tour.
The Angkor Wat Experience
Duration: 4-5 hours
Included: Hotel pick-up and drop-off/transportation via Jeep/cold water
On this trip, visitors will have the chance to see the most important temples in the area including Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, home of the Bayona and Terrace of the Elephants.
The tour also visits Ta Prohm, famous for its overgrown trees. Lavender Jeeps begins its tour with a hotel pick-up for its explorers.
While the roads around these temples are paved, the Jeep tour will take a slightly longer way, allowing the Jeeps to take on dirt roads along the river.
During this drive, you will be able to visit local workshops including stonemasons, wood shops, and traditional incense makers.
Lavender Jeep suggests this trip for guests that have limited time but would like a different way to experience the temples.
This tour allows you to experience the Jeep, try out dirt roads, and see all the major temples. $90/Jeep
A Day in Banteay Srey
Duration: 7 Hours
Included: Hotel pick-up and drop-off/ transportation via Jeep/cold water, local snacks and lunch
This is Lavender Jeeps’ favorite drive: Leaving Siem Reap to see the true Cambodian countryside. After passing through rice paddies you’ll arrive at Phnom Bok, mountain home to ancient temple ruins.
On your way to the next destination, Banteay Srey, you’ll visit local artisans and family businesses making traditional sculptures, noodles, hyacinth mats, and other products.
Banteay Srey is famous for its temple, unique pink stone, and preserved statues. The tour will then have lunch at Sreyneang’s family home located near the temple. On the way back you’ll visit a rural pagoda for an optional blessing from monks.
The company suggests this tour for those looking to see Cambodia most Khmer’s experience every day. See the countryside and local artisans and crafts. In addition, you'll be able to see both Phnom Bok and the Banteay Srey temple which are critically important to the Angkor Empire.
Finally, you’ll be able to enjoy a delicious Khmer lunch at a local home and get to know people in an intimate way. $125/Jeep
Floating Village + Countryside
Duration: 6-7 Hours
Included: Hotel pick-up and drop-off/ transportation via Jeep/boat tickets and ride/ water and lunch
Siem Reap is home to the Tonle Sap lake, a UNESCO biosphere reserve known for its floating villages where residents live and earn their living from the lake. Guests will take the Jeep through the countryside to Kompong Phluk Floating Village.
On the way, you’ll have the chance to try local snacks, visit a large pagoda, and experience a rural market. After arriving in Kompong Phluk, guests will move from the Jeep to a boat through the floating village.
This is a great chance to see an incredible sunset over the floating villages. This is a great “day in the life” tour, allowing you to see life in the countryside as well as the Tonle Sap lake and impressive floating villages. Lavender Jeeps says that this is the perfect trip for foodies as well; there’s many street eats on the way. $150/Jeep
Check Out This Interview With Lavender Jeep's Booking Coordinator, Paren Rouen!
What makes Lavender Jeep unique?
We think Lavender Jeep is unique in a few ways - first, we travel in an A2 Military Jeep leftover from the war. This is not a normal mode of transportation nor something most people can experience back home. However, it is perfect for the countryside as Cambodia has a lot of back roads. In addition, it is the only tour in Siem Reap structured as a profit-sharing cooperative.
Our drivers are not employees but partners and receive 30% of profits of the trips they conduct. We are also one of only a few tour companies using tourism dollars to provide education in rural communities. Finally, and most importantly, we have a social mission with our tours - to empower women through meaningful employment and change gender stereotypes in Cambodia.
There are still very traditional and defined roles for how women should act. We want to change that by showing women can be independent, earn their own living, and do the same jobs as men. We hope, when responsible tourists review various tour options, they will consider joining us and making an impact in so many important ways.
What kind of experience will people take on during their jeep trip?
We have a couple of set itineraries we have created to help guests. Our most popular tour is to Banteay Srey. It’s a really good introduction to life in the countryside and how more than 70% of Cambodians live and earn a living. We are also lucky because Sreyneang, one of our drivers, comes from Banteay Srey.
She knows a lot of interesting locations that are off-the-beaten-path and she has family and friends who we will visit along the way. We think this will make it a more intimate and authentic tour. Another option is seeing the Tonle Sap lake. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and home to thousands of fisherman who live in floating villages.
Mida, one of our members, is from Kompong Khleang, the largest and least visited floating village in Cambodia. She has a lot of insight into life on the lake as she grew up in a family of fisherman. We get to see her family home, school, and other interesting sights during this experience.
What is the pricing like?
We price the tour by the Jeep which can seat up to 3 passengers. The set itineraries cost anywhere from $90 - 150 USD per day with the later including tickets. We are also happy to design an experience if you have particular interests or places to want to see. Unfortunately, we don’t have a join-in group tour at this time.
Is this excursion good for children?
Yes, we feel it is a fun activity for children and have loved hosting families. The Jeep itself is a unique way to get around. It has old fashioned gadgets and is something most children have watched in movies but never seen in real life. We also make a lot of stops at countryside locations - local bakeries, noodle makers, traditional incense, sugar palm factories, artisans, stone masons, and more.
These experiences can be fun for children as it’s less history and more visual and hands-on. This keeps children engaged. We don’t recommend the tour for toddlers, however.
Can you explain a little bit about how a cooperative works?
Sure. The way it works is that when a tour is booked a driver is assigned. After the tour, we go through the expenses (petrol, cold water, lunch, etc.) and set aside a small reserve (for maintenance and marketing). We can then estimate profits. The guide will receive 30% of it and Bridge of Life School will receive 70% of it. So, for example, on a Banteay Srey tour, the guide will usually earn around $25 USD.
While that doesn’t seem like a lot, it is three times what the average Cambodian in the city makes per day. It is six times more than what an average Cambodian living in the countryside makes. It is also double what tuk-tuk and Camry driver make who do the same routes.
To find out more about Lavender Jeep Tours, check out www.lavenderjeepsiemreap.com.
Kayla McMillan is a travel journalist from New Jersey. She hopes to integrate her passions for writing and photography throughout her travels.