Some people say Siem Reap isn’t for kids. But what better playground can a kid find?
Our thoughts about visiting Ankor Wat began a few years before we lived in Asia. I had seen incredible pictures at sunrise of these fantastic temples which, at the time, seemed like a world away.
Fast forward to the day we arrived with our kids and baggage in Changi (Singapore) airport and landed in our hotel. A moment of panic. And then I made that fatefull travel list-Ankor Wat at the top.
Ankor Wat wasn’t our first Asian travel destination, but it could have been. People were discouraging, but they shouldn’t have been. Turns out, Siem Reap is an easy to navigate low-cost city that is small enough to see in 2-3 days and tourist friendly enough for healthy (and comfortable) family eating.
Our trip to Ankor Wat was incredible. I hope you can enjoy our itinerary to enjoy it as much as we did!
Day one: Arrive in Siem Reap. As you can see, my husband and I go back and forth between touristy resorts and more ‘local’ accommodation. For Siem Reap we opted for ‘local. I’m glad we did. While the cleanliness and service were certainly not five start, I loved the location, the noises, the local flavor-and couldn’t beat the $30 a night funky room! We were also on a very local street which meant we got more opportunities to interact with locals-which we love! The boys got haircuts at a local salon and we shopped for toys at nearby stores. We avoided anything that wears on the body, because, truth be told, most of the shop looked presued! Though they insisted it was new.
This was one of our most memorable trips
When we landed at the airport our kids were thrilled to learn that Tuk Tuks are the way of travel here. Everything is pretty close to each other, so hopping in a tuk tuk was easy and very kid friendly. We even used it as a bribe from time to time as needed.
We grabbed a tuk tuk at the airport-actually two as one carried one adult and luggage and the other the rest of us.
We arrived in the late afternoon and settled into our hotel. We immediately booked a tuk tuk for a sunrise tour of Ankor Wat. Most hotels will show you the set prices (which most drivers follow) and the tour lasts about 4-5 hours. We chose to buy a three day pass as we planned to visit 2-3 times rather than stay an entire day. We feel it was a good choice. If you are the type to visit for just a few short hours, no need for a three day pass. But since it was the main reason we had come to visit, we felt like the three day pass allowed us to come and go for shorter amount of time which worked out well (though in the end, we spent WAY more time there than we imagined.
For this tour, we opted to leave the toddlers at the hotel with a babysitter-we had brought our nanny with us this one time. Since I thought the kids would not enjoy the temples at all, we figured it was worth it. In the end, our nanny was helpful for the sunrise tour, though we could have brought our kids.
We did, of course, appreciate having our beloved nanny as that meant kids were well rested in spite of our adventure needs. Had they been a bit older and could handle less sleep, it would have been find to bring them.
Obviously, the focus of Siem Reap is Ankor Wat and it did not dissapoint! It’s hard to imagine what miles of temples looks like and I didn’t imagine how much fun and beautiful it could be. I was very insistent that we arrive for the sunrise tour, both because of the beauty and because we know how hot the afternoon sun can be. I’m so glad we did it! It’s true that it can crowded, but here are a couple of tips:
- Our guide helped us find a couple of temples that were close to the main Ankor Wat temple and quiet. It was so dark and quiet it was spooky and beautiful-a once in a lifetime experience.
- As the rays began to peak through the sky, we did not focus on pictures. Instead, we explored the temple. It was silent, empty and cool-the perfect way to enjoy.
- Most of those fabulous pictures are taken with high end cameras. While we have some nice pictures, we were watching others with professional high end cameras and they got the ‘money’ shot.
- Many days do not have beautiful sunrise-as was the case on the day we visited. Again, it was worth it because exploring temples in the cool dark silence was amazing!!
Once we finished touring the main temple, our tuk tuk driver took us to some other smaller temples, which were each incredible and inspiring to roam. We couldn’t stop taking pictures and marveling at the ruins and the growth that has sprung up around them.
We were back home at 11 and took a good long rest.
That afternoon we went to the War Museum Cambodia which was a sobering and powerful experience. The museum was put together by soon locals who collected artifacts from the decades civil war that occured in Cambodia. The tour guides are all survivors-so be ready for that experience. They spoke English quite clearly and shared with us incredible stories about life, death, and war that felt like a moving tribute to those who were lost in the fighting. It also gave a content to the state of the country and the thousands of maimed and orphaned people you see in the streets.
For the kids, they there were lots of bullets, guns and airplanes to keep them occupied and engaged during the tour.
That evening, we went to peace cafe for dinner. A delicious vegetarian place in a beautiful setting.
On this day, we reserved a car to take us to the floating boathouses and fishing villages called Floating village of Kampong Khleang in Tonle Sap Lake. We had read online about it being ‘touristy’ and fake, though on our trip we didn’t see one other tourist and there was nothing ‘fake’ about our visit. Perhaps because we had the kids with us, the villagers were very welcoming to us, showing us how they dried the fish and got it ready to see in the market. The boat ride to the floating villages allowed us to see rural Cambodia life up close which we all loved. And our kids are always happy when speeding through local rivers! (total tour: about 6 hours.)
We returned from the tour to take a swim in the pool and head out to the downtown area of Siem Reap. While this area certainly caters to tourist, there were delicious foods to try (snake on a stick anyone?) and the kids had a blast. We got dinner, bought a few souvenirs, even got a in a quick massage.
For dinner we ate at: Banlle Vegetarian Restaurant which was a gorgeous place with delicious food!
On day three we spend some time in the morning walking around our local streets. We bought breakfast, allowed our kids to choose a toy at the local shop (with hilariously fake branded items) and even took them for a haircut at a local shop-the highlight of their morning.
Because the kids felt left out of ‘the temples’ as they called them, we make a plan to head back to Ankor Wat about about 2:30 when the sun was a little less intense and bring them along. We planned to go for an hour or two but ended up staying until the guards pushed us out for closing! We couldn’t believe how many amazing temples there were to see, and as we drove more, we stopped at many beautiful spots-including a lake for sunset. The kids were singing and climbing around having a blast. While the temples are similar, each on has it’s own uniqueness and the kids loved it!
For that evening, we had purchased tickets to the Phare circus-an acclaimed show that is sold out most nights. We had been warned about not waiting until the last minute, so we purchased our tickets ahead of time, and indeed, it was sold out on the night we attended.
We enjoyed the circus, though it wasn’t the quite the hype we hype we had heard. I would encourage you to see it if it fits your schedule, and particularly because there is not much to do after dark in the city. It was a more sophisticated experience, so we left the little ones at home but brought our 4 year old (it’s appropriate for any child that can sit quietly for the duration of the show.)
Our last day we spend on local outings-what we would call ‘touristy’ things. We visited a silk farm-a true tourist trap which the kids really enjoyed, and spent more time downtown filling up on ice cream, pedicures and massages.
We loved Siem Reap. The vibe, the people, the ease, the authenticity was