The Obvious – Visit the Temples
Anyone and everyone who is arriving in Siem Reap will, of course, visit Angkor Wat. And it’s a must. However, it is tiring, and it takes time. Here are the wrinkles I learned.
If you try to do all of Angkor Wat in one day, you will miss lots and won’t gain much except heat exhaustion. To visit the complex of temples with kids, allow three days, but note that after three days of templing, you and the children will be templed-out! If you try and make these three consecutive days, they may even rebel before you have done the round. So the trick is to make a three-day itinerary, but spread those three days over a week or so and do other things in between.
The organisation that manages the site seems to understand this concept. They sell three-day passes which are valid for ten days so you can arrange your time with breaks. If you are a true glutton for temples, you can also get a seven-day pass which is valid for a month, but for myself, I wouldn’t want to do that. I think I would never want to see another temple again ever. The same goes for a one-day ticket – it would be too intense by far.
So having settled on three days, but spread over a more extended period, here is how we did it and it worked pretty well:
Day one – small loop
Day two (actually our day 5) – big loop
Day three (actually our day 7) – all the temples we missed on the first two days
More things to keep you alive and sane when visiting Angkor Wat with kids:
It’s too far to walk. Choose a good tuk-tuk driver on the first day and agree to meet him again on successive days. We found one who spoke some English and who didn’t wander off and leave us. As an alternative, you can rent a bike, but the selection of kid’s bikes is not so good.
If your children are under 12, entry for them is free if you have their passports with you as proof of age. So don’t forget to bring them with you.
After each session of temple-trekking, we spent the rest of the day lazing around by the swimming pool or doing Yoga (see below). Temple visiting in the heat can be exhausting.
Temples on the small loop
- Angkor Wat
- Angkor Thom
- Bayon Temple
- Baphuon Temple
- Terrace of Elephants
- King of Lepers
- Thommanon Temple
- Ta Prohm
Temples on the big loop
- Preah Khan
- Neak Pean
- Ta Som
- East Mebon Temple
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Phare – The Cambodian Circus
I have never enjoyed the circus, so I never planned to visit one in Cambodia. But we did, and it was one of the best things to see in Siem Reap with kids.
Phare, The Cambodian Circus is both a theatre and an acrobatic show. Every season offers two different shows. We saw a show called Socha – the story of one of the circus’ founders, of her memories and nightmares of Khmer Rouge. The performance included a fantastic display of acrobatics and painting. At one point, a performer shot arrows from a bow with her feet while standing on her hands. We were all in awe, and even now, we can hardly believe our own memories.
The Circus was set up as a social enterprise in the belief that art itself was a positive way forward for those suffering the trauma and after-effects of the Cambodian war. Profits from tickets, food and souvenirs support free education and training for the artists.
Nightly 8:00 pm performances all year-round
Additional 5:00 pm performances: November to March on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays also nightly during Christmas, New Year and Lunar New Year holidays.
Ticket: $18-$38 depending on seating for adults and $10-$18 for children (5-11). Under 5s go free.
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Visit Pub Street
Even with kids, Pub Street is still a place you should visit. Named for its bars and cheap drinks, Pub street is also where you can sample exotic foods, many of which sprang from the existential needs of those starving from the war. Come here as we did to try deep-fried tarantula, snake or scorpion. We couldn’t bring ourselves to taste some even juicer treats such as worms and insect larvae.
Visit Angkor Night Market
The Night Market is not far from Pub Street. Its the perfect place to try cheap (regular) Cambodian food, and have a foot massage while watching a documentary about Angkor Wat.
As an alternative to a foot massage, you can opt for dipping your feet into a bowl of fish to experience the peculiar sensation of being nibbled and tickled. My girls thought this was a great giggle. I prefer the feel of human hands.
Artisans Angkor – Angkor Silk Farm
Artisans Angkor is another social enterprise which aims to help Cambodians to earn a living while cultivating local craftsmanship. Artisans Angkor has a shop with crafts in Siem Reap and a Silk Farm 20 minutes away from the city.
Angkor Silk Farm was probably the single thing my kids enjoyed most in Siem Reap. It’s educational, and it’s free. On the farm tour, you can learn about the process of creating silk – starting from the silkworm and ending up on looms, weaving beautiful scarfs.
You can get to the farm anytime by tuk-tuk – The return journey, including having the driver wait for you shouldn’t cost more than $15. The other option is taking a free bus which goes from the shop in Siem Reap to the farm twice a day (9:30 am and 1.30pm). You need to book a place in a bus in advance either by phone +85512 222 404 or by email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Senteurs d’Angkoris a souvenir craft shop in central Siem Reap which offers a free tuk-tuk ride to their workshop 10 minutes away, where you can see how they make crafts – mostly boxes from palmwood, soaps etc. A tour around the studio takes around 15 minutes. Compared with the Silk Farm we didnt find this so interesting, but it is well worth a visit. ‘The goods on sale are all 100% hand made. The soaps especially smell gorgeous and are packed in lovely boxes.
Angkor National Museum
This one is a must-visit. I would suggest you do this before going to the Temples as it is a well-put-together set of background information, especially a movie introducing the history of the Khmer Empire. Angkor National Museum has eight galleries, and to see all of them would take most of the day.
We skimmed it in two hours, which felt about right. No doubt we missed a lot, but we felt well-primed and not overwhelmed. Photography is not allowed inside the museum.
Angkor National Museum – Opening Hours
1 Apr – 30 Sep 08.30 – 18.00; 1 Oct – 31 Mar 08.30 – 18.3
Admission prices in USD
ISIC Cardholding Students and children 6-11 $6
Children under six free.
We visited Long Neck tribes in Thailand and we loved it.
Visit the HeroRATs
APOPO is a non-profit organisation that imports and trains giant pouched rats from Tanzania to detect landmines. Unfortunately, Cambodia still has many mines left from the war and, most casualties of unexploded landmines are children.
APOPO’s HeroRATs have a wonderful sense of smell, and they detect mines by sniffing out the explosives. The rats are too light to set off the fuses. You can watch this movie to learn more.
The tour around APOPO takes around 45-60 minutes (including a video presentation and rat show) We were fascinated by the demonstration of an actual clearing of a “mine” area. Although we were assured that all the devices in the show are certified safe, we still found ourselves cringing. The show was impressive and scary.
Book in advance on the Apopo website or by email or phone +855 8159 9237
Regular opening hours are Monday to Saturday from 8.30am to 5.30pm
Entrance to APOPO costs $5 and the money goes towards training more rats.
Cambodia Remnant War Museum – Siem Reap
Cambodia suffered from civil war from 1967 to 1975, then war with Vietnam and control by the Khmer Rouge dragged on until the mid-1990s. The Khmer Rouge in the 1970s was renowned for its brutality against civilians, including the genocide of more than 20% of the Cambodian population, and the impact still creates an emotional impression forty years on. Our guide had been a teenage soldier during the time of the Khmer Rouge. The Museum doesn’t have much to show, but if you get a good guide, the impression is powerful.
The War Museum is close to Apopo. If you have to choose between the two, we would recommend APOPO, especially with children.
Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre
We seem to have found Butterfly farms in almost every place we visited in South East Asia. However, many we see, they are always a pleasure for us.
Entry to the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre includes a guided tour lasting about 20 minutes, and here you can learn about the butterflies and their lifecycle.
Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre (BBC) is located approx 25km north of Siem Reap
It is on the road to the Bantey Srey Temple and the Landmine Museum
Opening hours: Every day from 9:00 am till 5:00 pm
Entrance: $4 for adults and $2 for kids.
A great way to explore the jungle in the green canopy above the temples is to go for the adventure of Ziplining. The ziplines and associated walkways are in the Angkor Park, but you can get a pass here which give you access to the ziplines only (not the temples) The Zipline has numerous awards for the quality of experience and its eco-friendly management.
There are various options with and without quad biking. For the ziplining only, the choice is between Gold and Silver passes.
Silver pass cost $65 per adult and gold one cost $99. Kids under 12 are 10% cheaper in both cases.
The Gold pass gives access to about twice the number of ziplines and twice the canopy time.
For more information, the website is here:
Recharge your Batteries at a Yoga Class
Siem Reap is intense. With the wonder of the temples and all the cultural spinoffs from the war and genocide, I needed some way to escape. I signed up for a week-long Yoga course on a terrace overlooking Pub Street. This was the ideal end to my day. The girls joined in, (or sometimes they would read a book, (they had exams coming up).
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How to get Siem Reap
There is an international airport here which connects Siem Reap with whole Asia.
We took a train from Bangkok to the Cambodian border and then we took a bus from the border to Siem Reap.
Cambodia has a good network of buses, but the roads are in bad condition. Having travelled by bus both night and day, I recommend using sleeping buses where possible. If you are asleep, potholes and delays don’t seem to matter so much. We travelled on the sleeping but from Siem Reap to Shikhanuville.
Money in Cambodia
Cambodia has its own currency – Cambodian Riel (4,000 to the US Dollar) But most prices, especially for foreigners, are quoted in USD. If you withdraw money from ATM you can also withdraw USD.