With the holiday season approaching and people making plans for the winter break, I decided to gather my “intel” about some of the destinations for which we have a Leap & Hop. Every week, I will focus on one destination and provide some tips gathered from my own family’s experience or trusted sources who travel the way we like to travel with our kids.
Let’s start with Cambodia and, more specifically Siem Reap with kids. As much as we hate to admit it, kids can get bored in temples and that’s one of the reasons families can be somewhat reluctant to take their children to Cambodia. The common phrases associated with Cambodia are: “hard for kids”, “not kid-friendly”, “too many temples” and finally, “kids will get bored”. Our experience is totally different. We traveled to Cambodia with another family and a total of 5 kids aged 2 to 7 and it was a fantastic trip for everyone. I already wrote my recipe for making a trip to the Angkor temple complex stimulating and fun for kids so I won’t repeat myself. You can check the post – Cambodia with kids – Temple “Cast of Characters”. I will just say this: it’s hard to find a kid who doesn’t enjoy a good game of I-spy or a scavenger hunt. It’s all in the book.
In this post, I’m going to list 7 things that both kids and parents can enjoy together.
1. I-Spy in Angkor Wat
I know, I said that kids might get restless in temples, but I guarantee that they won’t be bored in Angkor Wat if they have an I-Spy game that will keep them busy for an hour of more. Parents who are not into I-Spy games themselves, will have all the time in the world to admire the bas-reliefs and the Khmer architecture without the need to bribe/beg their kids for another 30 minutes of sightseeing. Angkor Wat is a must, but there are countless other temples in the area. Don’t overdo it with the kids, pick your temples carefully and don’t plan on seeing more than one or two per day to keep it fun and “fresh” for everyone. After the giant I-spy game, your kids may have learnt a few things about Hindu mythical creatures and Khmer mythology; they might be inclined to share their discoveries with you in other temples.
2. Floating Village on Lake Tonle Sap – Kampong Khleang or Kampong Phluk?
Life on the lake is an eye-opener for any foreign tourist in the Siem Reap area. There are three places that you can explore on the lake. Chong Khneas, Kampong Phluk and Kampong Khleang. Chong Khneas seems to be a total rip off. It’s the closest to Siem Reap and according to the reviews has turned into a fake, artificial show for tourists. Moving right along, we went to Kampong Phluk which is a little further away. Today the reviews are mixed but we loved it. We went a few years ago and it seems that the whole area has gone through a tourism boom so you need to watch for scams. Better to see with your hotel or guide for a personalised visit. The village the furthest away is Kampong Khleang. Regardless of where you end up, you won’t be the only ones there. All options are pricey, relative to other activities in Cambodia (up to USD30 per person), so you have to decide whether it’s worth your money. We would do it again in a heartbeat: the kids were wide-eyed the entire time. It was so interesting for us to see how life is organised on the water: houses, school, farm (they have farm animals on floating barges). The drive there is also part of the experience: countryside, rice fields, little villages. Totally worth it for us.
Keep in mind that the water level of the lake changes with the seasons and it’s obviously more impressive when the water is high. Check with your hotel.
3. Exploring temples buried in the jungle – Banteay Chhmar
As Cambodia becomes more and more popular with tourists, it can get crowded. As much as you try to imagine how the first explorers felt when they stumbled across the ruins of temples buried in the jungle, it’s not easy when surrounded by a hundred other people with selfie sticks. Ta Phrom and Preah Khan are beautiful examples of temples that were kept relatively buried, but it’s a controlled environment with a lot of maintenance, restoration work and, of course, quite a few people. The further you travel from Siem Reap, the emptier the temples. In our book, we include Beng Mealea as an example of a temple that has kept this wildness. I very much recommend a visit to Beng Mealea, especially in the early hours. When you make your plan, keep in mind that it’s more than one hour drive from Siem Reap. If you feel even more adventurous, I’ve recently been told of another jewel quite a distance away from Siem Reap and that’s the temple I intend to take my kids to the next time we visit Cambodia – soon. It’s called Banteay Chhmar and looks just stunning: hidden in the jungle and barely visited by tourists. There, you will get the real “Indiana Jones” experience you are looking for. We better run before everyone hears about it.
4. Swimming in Phnom Kulen
Phnom Kulen is a natural park 50 km north of Siem Reap. Interest things to do there include jumping in natural pools under waterfalls and checking out the beautiful submerged carvings. Like every site around Siem Reap, try to avoid going on a weekend, and the earlier you go in the day, the better.
5. Cambodia Landmine Museum
Parents need to decide how much exposure to the horrors of the war they want to give their kids. It’s a question of age, of course, but it’s hard to understand Cambodia without knowing anything of its recent past. The civil war has left deep scars that are still visible today. In our book, we’ve decided to talk about the Khmer Rouge and the war crimes perpetrated less than 50 years ago. The book is for kids so we chose not to go into gory details but we can’t ignore history. A visit to the Cambodia Landmine Museum in Siem Reap can be just the place for the kids to get an idea of what the country has gone through. The fact that the museum is also a place where kids who have been directly impacted by landmines get an education helps.
6. Fish Pedicure
I think we can all agree that a pedicure is not really a kid-thing. Now, throw in some dead-skin-eating-fish in a tank and ask your kids to put their feet in. It’s weird, a little scary, and it tickles like crazy. Doesn’t that check all the boxes for kid-fun? Our kids thought so.
7. Grilled bugs and critters for diner
In the night market in Siem Reap there is a whole section designed for people who are into critter-food. A perfect place for a dare or an adventurous family. Our kids tried the grilled scorpions and lived to tell the tale. Your options also include fried cockroaches, fried grasshoppers and spiders. Take your pick!
Other activities that will delight children are the Phare Circus and cooking classes for the whole family.
If you’re already in Cambodia and are looking for the book, you can find it in the boutique of Amansara.