When we announced our Cambodia travel plans to friends a few months ago we were invariably met with two shocked responses: “but don’t you think 7 days will be too much?” and “And you’re taking your kids there?” It’s been a fun trip and perhaps to the shock of our friends the children have enjoyed themselves. For others considering Siem Reap as a family vacation or travel stop, here are five things to do with kids in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap has an abundance of restaurants that run the gambit from extremely cheap to moderately expensive and although they vary similarly in quality, you’re guaranteed to find something the children will enjoy. Here are our top three picks for dining with children.
Hard Rock Cafe Angkor, Kings Road, Street 7 Makara : Hard Rock Cafe Angkor serves the usual Hard Rock fare. It was also one of the few places we ate that had a dedicated children’s menu with more than one or two options. HRC Angkor also has one of the most substantial vegetarian menus I have seen whilst travelling. The restaurant features live music every night and the band take requests from a list that is shared at each table. Our 5 and 3 year old could have watched them for hours. HardRock.com/Angkor
The Sugar Palm, Taphul Road: Great for traditional Cambodian food with a contemporary twist, The Sugar Palm is also well known for its inclusion in Gordon Ramsey’s Great Escape in 2011. They don’t have a children’s menu but there are plenty of less complex rice and noodle dishes that children are sure to enjoy. The dining area is set in the open second story of a traditionally decorated building with views of the street below. TheSugarPalm.com
Le Tigre de Papier, Pub Street: Located on the famous Pub Street, Le Tigre de Papier is well known for it’s cooking school as well as its restaurant and boutique hotel. It serves a selection of Cambodian and European dishes although advertises itself based on its selection of pizzas and wood fired pizza oven. The ‘Kebab’ pizza featuring chicken and garlic sauces as a particular favourite! They currently only a have a 3 item children’s menu but there is plenty on the adult menu to suit all tastes. Letigredepapier.com
Massage places are everywhere in Siem Reap and many offer children’s massages so the whole family can relax. We found a place called Body & Soul Spa nestled amongst various restaurants in a small alley behind the Old Market that offered 20 minute children’s massages. The staff loved the kids and spent a lot time talking to them. Our youngest took the opportunity to serenade them with nursery rhymes, which was very much appreciated by the staff even if the other guests weren’t too keen.
Fish spas are also very common, with shouts of “Fish, yum yum, your feet?” emanating from within as you pass by. The staff at lots of these places are happy for children to try it out without having to pay for a full ‘treatment’. Our 5 year old had a quick try before shrieking in terror once the fish noticed a new pair of feet had entered the water. Our 3 year old was just content to watch the fish.
Siem Reap has three well known museums with the War Museum probably being the most child friendly of the bunch.
War Museum Cambodia: A moderately sized open air museum, War Museum Cambodia features tanks, anti aircraft guns and even a helicopter and MiG fighter jet amongst it’s collection. Entrance is $5 adults and free for children. Free guides are also offered although our son just enjoyed running around amongst the vehicles and pretending to use the anti-aircraft guns. Allow around an hour for an extensive visit.
Land Mine Museum: Listed higher than the other two museums on Trip Advisor, the Land Mine Museum is a charitable endeavour which also takes care of local children in need and helps to fund de-mining work in other parts of the country. Not as interesting for little ones as War Museum Cambodia, but very informative nonetheless. Again, allow around and hour for an extensive visit. An adult ticket costs $5 and children under 10 are free.
Angkor National Museum: We didn’t get around to visiting Angkor National Museum although unlike the other more contemporary museums, this one deals with the main reason people visit the area; the temples. According to Trip Advisor the average visit takes 90 minutes.
Although shopping isn’t something that normally interests them, our two children found lots to enjoy at the Old Market. Whether it was shopping for traditionally patterned stuffed elephants or just trying to guess which dried creatures were hanging from the food stalls. Both our 3 and 5 year old mastered the art of saying no to the Tuk-Tuk drivers who hang around the market and try to take you home as well, which they found hilarious.
At times, the market does get very busy and the area around the back of the market where local people buy their cleaning goods and hair care products is especially narrow and crowded. Whilst it felt very safe, remember to keep your eye on your bags and your children!
You should also remember that when buying things bartering is expected. With a good poker face and a willingness to walk away you will find that you can often persuade a seller to reduce their prices by a whole 50%. Don’t assume the first price is the final price. That $10 dress might actually be $5 once you turn to walk away.
Visiting Siem Reap and not visiting Angkor Wat would be a wasted journey and what child wouldn’t want to explore an ancient temple? However, there’s no escaping that for little legs Angkor Wat is enormous, full of steep flights of stairs and actually out of bounds for children under 12 at its centre. As an introduction to temple hopping for small children, we actually found Angkor Thom and specifically the South Gate and Bayon Temple to be more appropriate.
Arriving at the South Gate the children can investigate the smiling Buddhas and glaring demons at ground level. You can also pay $20 to ride an elephant up to the temple and delay the inevitable moans and groans that accompany tired feet.
Bayon temple itself is not as big as Angkor Wat and only has a short flight of steps to the main level. It’s also fun to explore, with lots of different doors and passages.
Like Angkor Wat, the higher level may be out of reach for smaller children but it is not ‘off limits’ and children can explore the whole temple if they can manage the steep stairs. I ventured up with my 5 year old son whilst my wife and 3 year old daughter stayed downstairs. In hindsight, we all could have climbed the stairs although being ‘ladder like’ it would have been a pretty nerve wracking climb.
Children are very welcome in Siem Reap. Although these are our 5 top picks for children there are many more that could have made the list. Throughout Siem Reap there are a number of small businesses that offer activities that we would have taken advantage of had our children been a little older. Flight of the Gibbon offers a tree top jungle adventure in the temple area that features rope swings and walkways amongst the treetops. Pottery and cooking classes are everywhere. ATV tours are also very common and pretty reasonably priced. Not to mention the wealth of excursions to places like the bamboo railway and waterfalls.
So, Siem Reap with children for 7 days? If anything, we needed more time!