Siem Reap is the historical treasure trove of Southeast Asia, with its mystical ruins overgrown by jungle. Visiting is like stepping back in time and history Indiana Jones style – rediscovering a lost world. In fact, it is such a mystical place that Tomb Raider was filmed at the magical Ta Prohm. Cambodia with kids certainly makes for a memorable family adventure holiday, but that doesn't mean it has to be hard. Just plan around difficulties and everyone will have the best family holiday.
This is a fascinating historical and cultural destination for children and adults alike. Even children too young to understand the real significance of the area will enjoy running among the temple ruins and exploring the sites. Siem Reap is a little gem that allows parents to take children on a fun but educational adventure while allowing adults to cross another one off the bucket list.
There are many ancient sites to visit, but by far the most impressive is Ta Prohm. Giant tree roots have torn apart the ruins of this ancient city making it a perfect playground for little imaginations to run wild. This is like walking through a city overtaken by nature and it is an experience you rarely find anywhere else.
Also magnificent is the multi-faceted Bayon at Angkor Thom. Here, stone profiles gaze serenely down at you. The entrance to the South Gate will impress with its rows of squat stone warriors. Inside provides a labyrinth of beautiful animated statues, carvings and building profiles that will charm adults and kids.
A trip to Beng Mealea, more remote from the town of Siem Reap, is worthwhile to see a wild and unpreserved temple where no restoration has been carried out. To get there you travel the narrow, windy roads of the countryside seeing funny sights which are so normal to Cambodians. Horse and carts, motorbikes pulling trailers loaded with wood, charcoal or animals, live pigs tied to the back of motorbikes, open-cabbed trucks and taxi vans with passengers on their roof.
And of course the most famous temple is the World Heritage listed Angkor Wat, which is a must-see (although we suspect will be less memorable for the little ones).
After sighting all the temples in their glory, it's worth taking an hour or two to visit local sculptor Dy Preung who has created a little museum in his backyard (east side of the river, Wat Bo, Siem Reap, Cambodia). Inside he has created a mini Angkor Wat and a few of the other temples famous ruins such as Banteay Srei, all to scale. It's good etiquette to offer a nominal donation for the pleasure of visiting the miniatures and admiring the artisan's skill.
In addition to the ruins, you should budget to spend an afternoon on a river cruise watching life on the Mekong Delta pass you by. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the world of the locals but it does require sitting still and the boats are quite basic, so is an activity best reserved for older children.
For more ideas on other non-temple related activities for kids in Siem Reap, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
Street food is generally not safe to eat. While there are some local restaurants that are fine for adults, they are probably not safe for children. Generally Western-catering facilities (including the higher end hotels) are fine if you avoid fresh fruits and vegetables (stick to cooked foods). Alternatively, bring your own (especially infant formula).
If you really don't want to miss the local cuisine, Khmer Kitchen Restaurant, which once was just a little hole in the wall, has earned a reputation for good local food catered to a tourist's palate.
Temple viewing is best done at dawn and dusk which fits ideally with the routine of young kids who need chill out rest time. The middle of the day can get extremely hot in Siem Reap, so those hours are best spent within the hotel around the pool.
The temples and the busy streets of the very rustic Siem Reap are not stroller-friendly, so this destination is best travelled with extremely young babies in strapped-on carriers or otherwise children who are prepared to walk.
Basic first world amenities can be difficult to come by so if in doubt, pack it in your suitcase. For instance, contact lens solution can be hard to find, so any special medications, creams or other necessities should be brought with you. [For more tips on travelling with kids to developing countries, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Cambodia. Only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
Happily Siem Reap is home to several well-established, clean accommodation options from the more homely to the luxurious and chic. Villa Kiara has a pool and all the suites come with a small private garden for quiet afternoons outdoors.To read about 8-year-old Cooper who travelled to Siem Reap in a wheelchair, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
To read about housebuilding and other fund-raising trips to Cambodia, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
With contributions by Iona Levinson