Kids are back at school, time to plan the next vacation! So what’s it going to be?
If you’re a temple-hoping kind of parent, Cambodia should be in your top 5 all time destinations. It can be a little intimidating with kids as there are more than 70 temples in the Angkor complex and more is yet to come. You simply have to manage YOUR expectations. It is not going to be enjoyable if your children are just whining about getting back to the hotel and jumping in the pool. Limit yourself to one or two temples per day and break it up in smaller chunks with other fun (i.e. non-temple) stuff. Involving the children in the choice of the temples is a good idea. Kids like to be involved in planning the day; you may give them a choice among a few options to get them engaged.
In Siem Reap, we have a short list of “must-sees”: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom (Bayon), Ta Phrom, Preah Kahn, Banteay Srei. We also have a little extra, if you are ready for a longer drive (one hour each way) but more privacy and wilderness: Ben Mealea. It’s also the on-site location of the movie “Two Brothers” which you should try to watch with the kids before the trip. Keep in mind that you are not the only one with this “short list”. Many tour buses have the same itinerary and they are on a tight schedule. You need to plan your visit to avoid the crowds as much as you can. Very early morning and late afternoon are the best time to go. If you and the little ones can handle the heat of midday with plenty of water, that could also be a good option.
Beyond the choice of temple, our real secret for keeping the kids happy and engaged is our “cast of characters” from the Khmer mythology that are seen throughout the temples. We shared stories about these mythical creatures with the kids and managed to get them excited about visiting the temples. You will be amazed what difference a little background can make when it’s a good story. With respect to good stories and movies, in addition to Two Brothers, Lara Croft, Tomb Raiders was partially filmed in the temple of Ta Phrom.
1. The Garuda
Part-human part-eagle, the garuda is the king of the bird and the mount of Vishnu, one of the three main Hindu gods. Although related, the garudas and the nagas are mortal enemies. Once your kids identify the guarudas, they will see them everywhere. The ones above are in the Angkor Thom complex. There is a gorgeous pair in Preah Kahn.
2. The Nagas
A multi-headed snake, the naga is the serpent-god of the water. The number of head depends on the naga but it’s always an odd number. See if the kids can find, five, seven and nine-headed nagas. This five-headed naga above was found in Beng Mealea.
3. The lions – protector of the temples and facing the four cardinal points.
4. The Kala
The characteristics of the Kala are its bulging eyes and the leaves and foliage coming out of its mouth. You can generally only see its upper-jaw.
6. The Makaras
Part-sea creature with the face of a lion, these water monsters are generally represented with giant jaws and spitting nagas on corners of the pediments. Sometimes, the makaras are spitting guarudas. They are supposed to be scary. What do you think? See if you can find both kinds: with the nagas and guarudas coming out of their mouth.
5. Devatas and apsaras
OK, so we need to be clear here. Devatas and apsaras are NOT to be confused. The devatas are the divine creatures, serious and beautiful, while the apsaras are the dancing celestial nymphs. After one day of visiting temples your children will enjoy distinguishing the two and showing you around. They might also correct the guides who may not be all that particular about such details.
For non-temple activities, we recommend:
- a visit to the waterfalls of Phnom Kulen with its carved stones. The waterfall is a good drive away from Siem Reap and can be easily combined with Banteay Srei temple for a balanced full day.
- a day or half-day tour on Tonle Sap lake to visit floating villages – a must.
- although we have not personally tried, we have read nice things about some pottery workshop for kids. Let us know if you have good experiences to share.
We’d love to hear your stories in the comment section below, we are always on the lookout for new ideas 🙂