Captain's Choice private jet tour: How to visit the world's iconic sights by private jet

Leaving the hullabaloo of gate 33 at Sydney Airport's international terminal, we board flight ARN831. Our private plane.

With muted beige tones and business class-style seats throughout, there is so much space, my suitcase, which didn't make it into the hold, is strapped into 16C. Maybe it was British Prime Minister David Cameron's seat or Mick Jagger's, on the Rolling Stones' interrupted Australian tour, although the music veteran apparently likes the front rows. It could have been Manchester United player Wayne Rooney's spot.

They, like the passengers on this trip, live in a rarefied world where travel is made easy, doors open to special events in extraordinary places and flight routes are set by the hirer not the airline.

Our Boeing 767 began this journey in London and over 22 days takes in some of the world's magnificent sites, including the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico, Iguazu Falls on the Argentine-Brazil border, Easter Island with its mysterious stone figures and the Taj Mahal in Agra.

On day 14, I'm on board for the leg from Sydney to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to visit the biggest religious complex on earth.

It's a money-can't-buy experience … well, it can, but this 22-day adventure is full of once-in-a-lifetime events.

During the nine-hour daytime flight we're served lunch and dinner with French champagne and the best Australian wines. Coconut milk infused chicken with a hint of lemongrass and medium rare fillet steak are choices, served on good china, glassware and white linen tablecloths.

Arrival is a walk through an airport with the four tour escorts smoothing the way and our bags appear at Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor, our destination.

You could get used to this.

"I like the challenge of making everyone's life easy," tour manager Richard Moras says.


A veteran at leading these journeys, he has seen a change in customers over recent years. "They used to be mostly retired but we are getting younger guests and quite a few CEOs, who want to see a lot in a short time and everything is taken care of."

People like Marc, who works in finance, and his wife, Anja, aged 32, the youngest on this tour. "I knew the age group would be higher than mine," she says. "But it's great fun, good conversation, we have seen so many things and and they take care of everything. It's perfect really."

The Luxembourg couple's travelling friends are aged up to 83 and, as the tour begins and ends in London, most are British. There are also six Swedes ("we said to our husbands, 'not golf again', and we're all loving this"), two 30-something Americans on a late honeymoon, a Slovakian and Australians Colin and Di. This lively pair brings a touch of Aussie good humour to the mix. They flew to Britain for the trip and after it will take a barge through France. They chose the tour after they "saw it on a TV cooking program".

At 5.30am next day, we gather in the cool, still-dark morning to see sunrise over the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. It's a magical sight as the distinctive conical shaped roofline emerges from the darkness and, eventually, its reflection appears in the surrounding moat.

We walk through the temples with a guide and learn about a time, 800 years ago, when this megacity of temples, roadways, great reservoirs, canals and neighbourhoods was home to one million people.

We climb flights of stone steps, marvel at thousands of carvings depicting everything from battles to food gathering, and try to imagine what the city looked like at its zenith. The stone structures were created to honour the gods. Everyone else, including the king, had to settle for thatched buildings, long since lost.

Each day of the trip offers multiple options and while some people choose to stay by the pool, there is more than a touch of FOMO (fear of missing out) among the group. "I can rest when I get home," says Ann who nursed her mother for many years and is now living the dream of visiting multiple famous sites across the world. "I've wanted to visit these places all my life."

In the afternoon, I take a hot air balloon for an aerial view of the ancient 400-square-kilometre site and join the group visiting Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm Temple, Tomb Raider movie locations. To date, $US10 million has been spent on its restoration but giant tentacles of fig tree roots still grip the buildings, once reputedly cloaked in solid gold.

"I wish I'd made a note of every 'wow' since we started … it would fill a notebook," says Sue from London.

Martin, from Scotland, has a wow moment later that day when those of us visiting a modern Cambodian restaurant travel there by tuk-tuk through Siem Reap's busy lanes. "Oh, this is great," he says. "I'd only ever heard about them on the cricket commentary before: 'Oh, he's out … get the tuk-tuk fired up'."

All meals are included on the tour and, for some, lunch at Jonah's north of Sydney with travel by seaplane was the highlight. For others, it was opera in the same city. Yet more, said three-hat Quay, across Sydney Cove, was high on the list of top memories.

But it's not all five star, cut-off-from-it-all.

In Rio de Janeiro, many walked through the favela and on day two in Cambodia, I join the coach tour to the floating village of Kampong Khleang. Except it isn't floating. Stilted timber houses with thatch or corrugated roofs, stand on dirt streets and barefoot children run through clouds of dust. Beneath each house fish dry on racks and men repair nets and small cages for prawn catching. When the rains come, the houses will sit in 11 metres of water.

We have lunch in a timber village house overlooking the river.

The evening – after a rest and swim – could not be a greater contrast. The itinerary gives nothing away with its simple, "special dinner" description.

When we alight from the bus, it's pitch black. Slowly, my eyes adjust to the sight of burning torches. Not a few but an avenue of flames, burning two apiece on poles set either side of a four-metre-wide gravel path. In the distance, maybe 200 metres ahead, there is a burst of red lights.

As we begin to walk, musicians play traditional Cambodian drums and flutes. Men in masks move in the shadows and children dance.

The red lights turn out to be floodlights, highlighting the ornate, carved entrance to a Hindu temple in the Angkor complex, built in the mid-12th century. Its high sandstone walls are similarly bathed in artificial light.

In this most improbable of places, fine red and chilled white wines are served, canapes offered and people stand and chatter at high cocktail tables as if in downtown Melbourne or Sydney.

But it's never this humid nor quite so fantastical in either city.

Drinks over, the women and children, dressed in wrap dresses of vivid coloured silk and ornate gold headdresses, step aside and the global adventurers climb a few stone steps and enter the ruins of Banteay Samre.

Less popular, but one of the best preserved temples in Angkor, this triumph of sandstone construction and carving is tonight's outdoor dining room. To get there, we walk through the ruins, which are illuminated by fire, electricity and candles. Men and women in traditional dress guard the path.

On a a raised platform, dances and ritualistic fighting are performed. Traditional Cambodian music plays and the air is filled with the perfume of tiny white flowers scattered along the large dining tables.

Lighting comes from a multitude of candles as spicy green mango salad and smoked fish are served with spring rolls and deep-fried taro purses.

Next is the celebrated Cambodian soup korkor, with scallop dumplings, then a smooth coconut drink served in a shell. For the main course, there is rich braised lobster, barbecued suckling duck, stir-fried vegetables and the local staple, fish amok, rich with garlic, soy and shallots.

It's a money-can't-buy experience … well, it can, but this 22-day adventure is full of once-in-a-lifetime events. And compared with spending $43,000 for a one-way flight in a suite from New York to Abu Dhabi, I know which I would choose.

Early on my fourth day I say goodbye to my new friends as ARN831 sets course for the Taj Mahal, then the Serengeti in Africa. I feel a twinge of separation anxiety.

The tour's resident doctor Claudia Lee – a Sydney GP – warns about the syndrome with advice to be kind to yourself, meet friends and re-live it through photographs.

I do all of the above but can only begin to imagine the effect after 22 days of global trekking. Would it stop me going? Are you kidding?

Take a photo tour of the some of the world's iconic sites from the journey in the gallery above.




There are three Captain's Choice "Journeys by Private Jet" in 2016. Just announced, they are: Equatorial Explorer, August 23-September 13; Ultimate South America, September 15-October 6; Icons of Asia and Africa, October 20-November 7.

The cost is all inclusive and includes travel by private plane, top hotels, all meals including some of the world's great restaurants, entrance fees and a host of impossible-to-buy experiences. It costs from $47,500 a person, twin share (Icons of Africa and Asia). Book before September 18 for a $2500 saving a person.

Captain's Choice will hold "Journeys by Private Jet" information sessions in August and itineraries will be discussed. Phone 1300 176 681, email


Highlights include a helicopter flight over Iguazu Falls; the Hiram Bingham luxury train to Machu Picchu and a balloon flight over the Serengeti.

The writer was a guest of Captain's Choice.

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