As far as family travel destinations go it might not make it to the top of the charts, but Cambodia is the stuff of kids’ Indiana Jones and Lara Croft-infused fantasies and should definitely be on your family holiday hit list.
Not only are the people welcoming and the resorts kid-friendly, it’s easy and fun to get around (travel by Tuk Tuk is a hoot) and there are more than a few things for families to do and see, besides the epic temples in Siem Reap’s Angkor Archaeological Park.
But as with travelling anywhere with kids, it’s important to be respectful and take appropriate precautions before you go. And, given the country’s traumatic past and its current political and economic challenges, it is also best to be educated. Here are our tips for travelling with kids in Cambodia.
19 tips for travelling with kids in Cambodia
1. DOCTOR’S ORDERS
As we haven’t spent four years studying medicine at university, we’re not the best people to dispense medical advice. Instead we suggest families visiting Cambodia, or anywhere in Asia, seek their GP’s advice on recommended immunisations at least six weeks before travel as those dudes know their shiz. You can also check out The Travel Doctor for up to date information.
2. BEAT BACTERIA
We’ll eat pretty much anything but still take precautions so we can eat some more. Take special care with food and water in Cambodia to avoid upset tummies. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid street food, we love that stuff, but it is best to avoid anything raw, including peeled fruits and vegetables, as well as anything reheated. The best bet to avoid vom-inducing bacteria is to choose fresh cooked, still hot foods. You can read our top tips for safe street eats with kids here.
3. WATER WISE
While it goes without saying to drink only bottled water, don’t forget to avoid ice too. It’s made of the stuff, you know. And while you don’t want to be carrying a heavy back pack, you will need to carry plenty of water to avoid dehydration. And please BYO your paper straws to drink from cans and bottles that have been floating in ice as plastic ones are disastrous for the environment.
4. NO FRY ZONE
Don’t barbecue your kids. Apply sunscreen and then add more sunscreen. This one is a no brainer but you’d be amazed at how many parents we meet on our travels who ask to borrow ours or don’t use it at all. Pack it. Use it. Oh, and ensure the kids wear hats in the sun and cover them up with long loose, light clothes.
5. TUK TUK TACTICS
Hire a Tuk Tuk and driver for the day. It’s cheap and much easier to explore the temples. Just negotiate a rate before you hop or organise a reliable driver through your accommodation – they’ll know the reputable ones. Regardless, you shouldn’t need to pay much more than USD15-20 per day.
Riding in a Tuk Tuk is loads of fun and you’ll be hard pressed to find a kid that doesn’t love it, but do make sure they hold on and stay alert becasue there are no seat belts and those things zip around at speed through the chaotic traffic.
6. BITE ME
When traveling in Cambodia, mosquito borne illnesses including malaria and zika virus are a risk, though less so in Siem Reap than more rural areas. As malaria is not the kind of souvenir you’ll be wanting to bring home, dress the kids (and yourselves) in light, loose, long clothes and apply a child-friendly insect repellent (with not more than a 20% concentration of DEET) at recommended intervals.
7. BOG STANDARDS
Outside of your plush hotel, it’s all about the squat toilet in Cambodia and given that your little prince or princess will want to empty their hummingbird size bladders at the most inconvenient times, you’ll need to be prepared to enter some seriously gross throne rooms. You can read our tips for mastering squat toilets with kids here.
8. GET RIEL
The Riel is the official currency of Cambodia but you’ll find most people prefer dealing in US Dollars, though you will find locals often give change in Riel. It can get confusing but I’d advise carrying a little of the former and a lot of the latter.
9. PASS OUT
Siem Reap is all about those gobsmackingly gorgeous temples. You’ll need an Angkor pass to gain admission to the Angkor Archaeological Park. These can be purchased for 1, 3 or 7 days (we would recommend a 3-day pass for families). Children under 12 are free with identification. Just be sure to arrive nice and early because the queues at the ticket office are not one of Siem Reap’s more appealing attractions.
10. LOOK AND LEARN
Think about hiring a guide (ask at your hotel, not on the street) to explore the temples as they aren’t clearly marked inside or out. They will be able to share the fascinating history and culture of the temples, which can’t be acquired simply by watching Tomb Raider, and add more significance to your family’s explorations.
11. UP AND AT ‘EM
When touring the temples with kids, it is wise to stick to just a couple a day to avoid temple fatigue. It’s also a good idea to visit the more popular temples as early as possible. This is the best way to avoid the maddening crowds, and they can be maddening. At popular Ta Prohm, better known as the Tomb Raider Temple, the crowds are so thick and the heat so unbearable by lunchtime that you’ll be wanting to practise your own Lara Croft style roundhouse manoeuvres on some of the selfie obsessed posers holding up the queues.
Finishing your temple adventures before lunch also means beating the heat and you’ll be able to have the kids fed and swanning about in your hotel pool before the sun starts resembling a blast furnace.
Regardless of your own personal beliefs, Angkor’s temples are sacred sites and both adults and children should dress modestly with knees and shoulders covered. Save your bikinis and butt baring cutoffs for another occasion.
13. DON’T BE AN INSTA DOUCHE
I need to break some news to you. You are not Angelina Jolie (unless you actually are Ange… in that case, loved your latest flick on Cambodia and will you adopt me?). And unless you are Harrison Ford, you are not Indiana Jones. There’s also a fairly good chance you are not a super model.
While we all want to get that great shot, the temples are not your personal movie or photo set. Take your pics and move along. If you really must spend an hour and a half pouting and flouncing to get that perfect Instagram shot, at least consider the other three gazillion people who paid the same park fee and came just as far to snap a pic of the temples, without them being accessorised with your duck face. Equally, if someone is already there trying to snap a pic, be patient and give them enough time to actually press the shutter release before you go barging in front of their shots.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, after your ninetieth completely contrived yet oh-so-casually sexy change of expression, you really do look like a bit of a douche bag.
14. NO MEANS NO
Please don’t grope the monks. Keep your hands to yourselves as it is considered offensive, especially for a woman, to touch a monk. And always ask first before snapping a photo.
15. BOW WOW
It’s not hard to be polite. Use the traditional Cambodian greeting – your two hands placed flat together with fingertips near the chin and a slight bow of the head – when saying hi or bye. You know you want to.
16. THE TALK
While Cambodia has stepped cautiously out of the shadow of its traumatic past and is moving forward in leaps and bounds, it is still a visibly poor country and it is important to discuss this with children before, during and after visiting to help them gain perspective.
17. JUST SAY NO
While it might seem heartless to bypass a begging child on the street, it’s not a great short or long-term solution. In order to break the cycle of poverty, and parents keeping their kids out of school to beg, donate a few dollars to one of the reputable charities working to help these kids in more sustainable ways.
18. SUGAR FREE
Don’t give the local kids sweets. I know its seems like a kind act but in a country with poor dental hygiene and health care it’s not a great idea, because rotten teeth are not the gift that keeps on giving.
19. DON’T BE CRUEL
Don’t ride the elephants in Cambodia. No matter what you’re told, there is no such thing as a cruelty-free elephant ride. Not only does it cause immediate harm to an elephant’s spine (which is not designed to carry heavy weights) but the excessive cruelty hidden from view causes a lifetime of misery for the animals. And no, don’t “accidentally” do it and then post a cute elephant selfie on Instagram with a token note saying how wrong it is. Don’t do it. Don’t promote it. Don’t encourage it.