Angkor with children

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Exploring the temples of Angkor with young children can be challenging. But it’s also rewarding to see these wonders through your child’s eyes, as Angela Savage reveals.

Ta Prohm 42 frogI first visited Siem Reap and the surrounding temples in 1992. Back then, the United Nations was running Cambodia, civil war was still raging in the countryside, and there was just me and my partner—literally. We barely saw another living soul.

Sixteen years later, we returned with our nearly-three-year-old daughter to a town that had changed so much it was unrecognisable, and temples crowded with foreign tourists. It was a very different experience but equally worthwhile.

The first thing that struck me about visiting Angkor with our daughter was that what excited us was rarely the same as what excited her. Exploring the jungle-covered ruins of Ta Phrom might be fun, but what really had her riveted were the tiny frogs and giant snails that shared the stones with her (we were warned against touching the snails as they can cause a rash).

While she showed mild interest in the carvings of the apsaras at Angkor Thom, she was thrilled by the group of apsara dancers in traditional costume who posed for photos with her for a mere $1 donation.

Another friend’s kids most enjoyed the grassy expanse in front of the Terrace of the Elephants, and watching the real elephants ferry the tourists around Angkor Wat. The horses, too, are popular with the kids.

Bayon 16But visiting the temples themselves can be boring, if not gruelling for a toddler. So here are a few tips, gleaned from a number of families, for making the trip as enjoyable as possible for everyone.

1      If your back is up to it, consider carrying your child in a baby/toddler backpack. If you live in Phnom Penh and don’t have your own, someone on the Yahoo group Cambodia Parent Network might lend you one. Contact cambodiaparentnetwork@yahoogroups.com

2      If your toddler is too heavy or active to be carried, make sure they have decent walking shoes that don’t cause blisters (seems like a no-brainer, but we got caught out on this one).

3      Be realistic about what you can achieve: visiting 2 or 3 temples is probably enough for one day.

4      Hire a guide: in kid-friendly Cambodia, a good guide will be sensitive to kids’ needs, such as pointing out all the fantastic animals to be seen on the bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat and the Bayon. Ours even carried our daughter up the steeper staircases so we could all enjoy the view.

5      Stay at a hotel with a pool and make the most of it to take time-out between tours.

Dancing 17Some midrange, kid-friendly hotels recommended by resident expats are the Auberge Mont Royal d’Angkor, the Borann l’Auberge des Temples and the Pavilion d’Indochine. All have pools, gardens and kid-friendly touches. The Majestic Angkor was also recommended for older children (pool but no garden).

If you really want to enjoy the temples at your own pace, consider travelling with another family or other adults and taking turns at childcare and temple viewing.

That said, seeing the temples through the eyes of a child can be an enriching experience. While I remember the breath-taking grandeur of the temples on our 1992 visit, travelling with my daughter made me appreciate the details.

Dancing 4 Tash RooAmongst our friends, the jungle temple of Ta Phrom seems to be the biggest hit with the kids. Visiting early around 8 or 8.30am will get you there ahead of the tour buses.

In Siem Reap, the Butterflies Garden Restaurant is worth a visit. If the butterflies don’t keep the kids occupied, chances are the ponds, bench swing and garden will.

There’s plenty for kids to see at the enclosed Night Market, too, and the juggling cocktail barmen at the fabulous Island Bar in the middle should keep them distracted long enough for you to enjoy a cool drink.

Also recommended are the traditional dance shows. The Apsara Theatre (also referred to as ‘Angkor Village’) on Wat Bo Road has a 6.30-8.00 pm dinner and show—free for toddlers—which our daughter found captivating.

This article was originally written for AsiaLIFE magazine.

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7 Responses to “Angkor with children”

  1. Colin Alfred Says:

    There’s a weekly or twice weekly dance performance by kids from Krousar Thmey (= New Family) children’s charity at the restaurant of a guesthouse (sorry, forget its name) just across the road from Borann Auberge des Temples. Both these guest houses were started by the same person who set up Krousar Thmey. Borann also has a recruitment policy of positive discrimination for people with disabilities. An all round nice place to stay. No TV in rooms tho’ – some might not like that. But our 4-year-old daughter (and TV cartoon addict) loved Borann and loved the dance performance opposite (and never asked for TV).

  2. Sheri Wilson Says:

    Great info!!! We will be there in February with our 3 year old can’t wait and I am sure your advice will do us well!! Will look for more toddler related travel info from you.

  3. bron Says:

    Thankyou so much for this wonderful account of your trip! only confirms my idea for going onward from KL to Siem REap in March with 2 kids!
    I am so excited!
    BRon xo

    PS- Colin thanks for the tip to stay at Borann I love the look of it and the no tv cements my decsion..just wont tell hubby yet! lol Very happy to hear about the disability side of things too being that we travel with my son who is 5 and uses a wheelchair.

  4. angelasavage Says:

    Another family-friendly hotel recommended through the Cambodia Parent Network is The River Garden, though it is a little more expensive than other places recommended in this post.

  5. Malinda Says:

    I’m taking my just 2 year old here in oct and I’m not sure if I should get a carrier or not. Is it easy to carry a toddler around these areas?

    • angelasavage Says:

      Hi Malinda, a backpack style carrier is a good idea for carrying a toddler around the temples. When there is climbing to be done, I recommend entrusting your 2-year-old to a Cambodia guide to carry as they seem very skilled at scaling the steep staircases. That way, you can still enjoy all the views – e.g. from up top of the Bayon. Enjoy!

  6. Sheri Says:

    I took an ergo for my 3 and a half year old, who at home had not been in one in a good long while, and am glad I did. He did do a good deal of walking but at the end of a day it was sure nice to just be able to pack him up and keep going. We also had a wonderful guide and taxi driver that were amazing with my son. They planned out our days wonderfully, taking into consideration our little one and timing things around a midday nap and the right angle of the sun for photos. Also found a fun restaurant for the little ones, Butterfly Garden.

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