The call of Cambodia: Siem Reap with Kids

 Siem Reap with Kids: Angkor Wat

The magical Kingdom of Cambodia stole a little piece of my heart when I visited to work with a small (and now defunct) NGO in Phnom Penh, more than a decade ago. It was a place I’d always promised to return with my kids, but only once they were old enough to appreciate the country’s ancient architecture without fear of temple fatigue, and also to understand the grim realities of its dark history as the country is still, even today, in recovery. 

Visiting Siem Reap with kids would mean introducing them to themes like genocide and the magnitude of evil human beings are capable of, making that whole birds and bees chat I’ve been putting off seem as easy as telling them a knock, knock joke. And while bursting the bubble of their innocence wasn’t part of my immediate plans, neither was my son becoming fixated with visiting Cambodia.

Raffles’ curiosity started when he began flicking through my old photo albums (though that may have had as much to do with the fact that he was intrigued by the unwrinkled young thing masquerading as his mama in the pics). It was piqued further when he started reading through some of the many books I’d collected on the country I think of as my spiritual home.

But while his mother’s pics and paraphernalia may have awakened his interest, it was Lara Croft who shot it to number one on his travel hit parade, with an actual bullet… and a couple of roundhouses, after he watched her do her thing all over its extraordinary temples in Tomb Raider.

Raffles has a magical way of sending his wishes out into the universe and it paying attention, and at that exact same time an opportunity presented itself for him, and us, to visit, so we decided to take the leap into an exciting adventure in Siem Reap with kids.

LOVE AT FIRST HISTORIC SITE IN SIEM REAP

Siem Reap with Kids - Angkor Wat Sunrise

In an unexpected stroke of luck for their history buff mama, it turns out my kids are immune to temple fatigue. In fact, all it took was Angkor Wat revealing itself at sunrise for the pair of them to fall in deep, deep smit.

Siem Reap with Kids Angkor Wat

We spend an hour or so exploring the temple’s hallowed halls and intricate reliefs. Raffles fascinated by it’s 550 metres of Bas Reliefs depicting epic battles between ancient gods and demons, while Sugarpuff is shyly smitten with the young monk who blesses her with holy water and ties a red string bracelet around her wrist.

Angkor Wat with my babies

Tummies rumbling, we leap into our Tuk Tuk to nosh on our BYO breakfast, thoughtfully supplied by our hotel, the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra.

Sofitel Breakfast Boxes in the tuk tuk

We nibble away as we buzz over a causeway lined with enigmatic  Hindu deities and gruesome monsters.

Angkor Thom South Gate

Eating on the go means that instead of returning for breakfast at our hotels like most visitors must, we manage to achieve the holy grail of temple touring at Angkor Thom, and get the whole place pretty much to ourselves. Booyah!

Siem reap with kids: Angkor Thom

At the heart of Angkor Thom is the Bayon, a 12th-century, melon-twisting temple built by King Jayavarman VII, who it seems, at least on a narcissistic level, was the Kanye of his time. Jayavarman devoted the temple to Avalokitesvara, the universal god of compassion, whilst massaging his own inflated ego by having its 216 gargantuan faces made in his own image. And no Yeezy, I’m not suggesting you do the same.

One of the 216 giant faces ta Angkor Thom

The kids are momentarily mesmerised by the ancient faces but are soon ensconced in a game of ancient hide seek amongst the temples many mysterious nooks and crannies.

HIde and Seek at Angkor Thom

They fly in one crooked doorway, up and down the uneven steps, vanishing from sight only to magically reappear in another part of the complex, thoroughly enjoying the thrill of having their parents reduced to a non-stop state of panic as we search for them under the mocking gaze of the temple’s hundreds of giant eyes.

Siem reap with kids: Leaping through the labyrinthine Angkor Thom

Figuring they might need a break from all the templing, we head to Angkor Zipline, located amongst the gibbon-strewn treetops of Angkor Archaeological Park.

Siem Reap with kids - Angkor Zipline

They have a hoot flying through the trees but at the end my monkeys insist they’d rather be exploring more ruins. I’m astonished by their eagerness to be dragged around ruins so before they can change their minds, tell our Tuk Tuk driver to make haste to the nearby temple of Ta Prohm.

Ta Prohm - my Little Lara takes a rest

An awestruck Raffles immediately recognises its jungle-clad ruins from its star turn in Tomb Raider. My wee treasure hunter bounds off into the atmospheric ruins with an excited squeal, his sister hot on his heels.

The Tomb Raider Temple Ta Prohm with kids

Leaping through the temple hand in hand, the kids clamber over the muscular roots that have entangled themselves in, through, and around the crumbled ruins.

Magic moments at Ta Prohm

They giggle with delight as they chase butterflies and each other, stirring up dust and dancing in the streams of light as they use their imaginations to create moments of pure magic that make my heart soar.

WHEN TOO MUCH TEMPLE IS NEVER ENOUGH

Siem reap with Kids: Phnom Kulen

Later the night, my wannabe archaeologists forget their usual night time antics to pore over my guide books, eager to choose which enchanting ruin will be the first stop on tomorrow’s adventure.

It is their unanimous decision to head further afield to Phnom Kulen, the birthplace of the ancient Khmer empire. The mountain is home to the mysterious River of a Thousand Lingas and Preah Ang Thom, a16th-century Buddhist Monastery, and my little tomb raiders are as enthralled as ever.

Siem Reap with Kids: Phnom Kulen blessings

They’re blessed by a monk at the temple, the kids fascinated by his sacred sak yant tattoos. As he chants and ties strings around their tiny wrists, they carefully study the tapering spirals, sacred geometry and spidery lettering – believed to bestow mystical powers, protection and attract good luck. So inspired are they by the symbolism of the designs they steal a biro from my handbag and start drawing all over each other in an attempt to recreate them. Alas, the only things their amateur attempts will attract is soap when we get back to our hotel.

They continue their adventures in the shallow waters of a temple-flanked waterfall, stopping only for a swing and a selfie with a couple of curious monks, who seem enamoured with their bouncy curls.

Siem Reap with Kids: Paddling with monks in the river at Phnom Kulen

On our return to town I decide to squeeze in one last stop at the tiny, rose-hued Banteay Srei, an incredibly preserved 10th-century temple that boasts some of the most elaborate stone carvings in all of Asia.

The tomb raiding twosome are particularly enchanted with this one, Sugarpuff desperately trying to emulate the dancing Apsaras carved on its walls while Raffles eyes off a couple of beefy sculpted guardian monkeys.

Siem Reap with Kids: Bantey Srei's Money Guardians

My clever little adventurers even manage to sneak off long enough to tomb raid the neighbouring market on a special quest to attain a beautiful Buddha statue for their mama’s birthday. Well played babies. Well played.

DAREDEVIL DINING IN SIEM REAP

Siem Reap with Kids: grasshoppers at 60 road

While it’s generally more of a challenge to stop Raffles eating everything in sight than it is to introduce him to new cuisines, Siem Reap has him in full pelican mode and he shovels everything he can into his copious gob. And when I say everything, I mean everything.

Street markets hawk everything from deep fried tarantulas and bags of crunchy crickets to jerky-style frog and barbecued snake on a stick. Much to his sister’s disgust, Raffles wants to eat them all.  So to satiate his hunger for the weird and wonderful, we visit Bugs Café, an Insect Tapas restaurant where a highly-trained chef skilfully turns creepy crawly Cambodian street food staple into gourmet grub (quite literally if you consider his use of silk worms in some the dishes).

SIem Reap with Kids: BUg's CAfe

Raffles gleefully chomps the legs off a huge black Tarantula before digging into a feta and tarantula samosa, while Mr Eats World chows down on a Bug Mac, complete with insect steak and sweet potato fries. Even my flavour phobic youngest loves the restaurant’s amok, a deliciously creamy Cambodian fish curry served with rice (which, to her delight, is completely devoid of insects). The entire meal, aside from a skewer of giant waterbugs that leaves us all retching, is surprisingly delicious and certainly one we won’t forget in a hurry.

But Raffles is still hungry so we undertake a moveable feast with the foodie folks from Cooks in Tuk Tuks. It proves a gluttonous winner with our whole crew.

Cambodia with Kids: Cooks by Tuk Tuk

Sugarpuff is in heaven as we fly through the dusty streets from Phsar Leu Market, chomping on the gelatinous palm fruit, sweet French style pancakes stuffed with banana and incredible, unctuous, deep-fried rice flour chive cakes that our guide Surin has selected to start our culinary adventure. But it is at 60 Road, a truly local street food market, where Raffles enjoys his most authentic food experience.

Cooks by Tuk Tuk 60 Road food stalls

Here we join dozens of local families gathered on roadside mats to dine on a variety of Cambodian treats. We spy stuffed frog, barbecued local fish and grasshoppers, sausages,  bull’s penis (yes, I said bull’s penis) and a whole bunch of other unidentifiable critters on the charcoal grills, our kind hosts helping us to distinguish the rat from the frog and the pork sausage from the pork sword.

My tiny travellers play with local kids between bites, shyly at first, but they’re soon off and cackling their way through a rickety fun fair at the end of the strip with their new pals, the language barrier a non-issue to international relations kid-style.

REALITY BITES IN SIEM REAP WITH KIDS

But it isn’t all temples, Tuk Tuks and tarantulas. Cambodia’s still visible poverty can prove a little challenging for little ones. Seeing first-hand the effects of war as we pass by landmine victims and child beggars, my kids are confused by their usually charitable parents refusal to hand out cash on the spot. But Mr Eats World and I address their concerns and use the opportunity to address the country’s dark past as gently and honestly as we can.

We also explain why we have to say no to clearly needy street kids and instead explain how we, and they, can help them far more via donations to ethical charities that will use the money on projects that will help them out of the cycle of poverty they’re trapped in. We also demonstrate positive actions through useful aid like giving blood at the Angkor Hospital for Children.

While the kids’ bubbles of innocence remain intact, Cambodia has fired up their compassion and their imaginations in a way I could never have imagined, my daughter offering her pocket money to help and my son requesting his friends donate to a Cambodian Children’s Charity instead of buying him presents on his birthday soon after.  And they are much richer for it.

 

You’ll find more our our need to know tips on travelling in Cambodia with kids here.

 


SIEM REAP WITH KIDS – NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
When to visit
November to March is the most popular time to travel with little rain and less humidity.
Language
Kmher, though French and English are widely spoken
Currency
Cambodian Riel (US dollars are also widely used and accepted)
Power
30V AC electricity. Power outlets are two-prong round sockets.
Visa & Passport Requirements
A 30-day tourist visa is required for all visitors entering Cambodia. These can be obtained on arrival for in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Preah Sihanouk but you will require a passport sized photo. The Cambodian government website also offers e-visas, so you can apply before you leave. Visitors also require a passport valid for at least six (6) months.
Health
Mosquito borne diseases are a risk in Cambodia. When travelling with children prevention is best so apply child-safe insect repellent (with no more 20% DEET) as recommended and ensure they are dressed in long (but lightweight) clothing at all times. There are no essential vaccinations for travellers to Cambodia but we advise visiting your family GP a minimum of six weeks before travel for up to date advice on immunisations.
Food Safety
Avoid tap water, raw foods and food stalls with dubious hygiene standards, and avoid tummy bugs by following our safe eating mantra of “cook it, peel it or forget it.

 


Disclosure: All tomb raiding, tree top swinging, tuk tuking and tarantula munching was self funded. 

13 Comments on The call of Cambodia: Siem Reap with Kids

  1. Anu
    January 6, 2018 at 7:54 pm (9 months ago)

    It’s amazing how you have taken your young children to this lovely archaeological tour & Kudos to them for being to be patient enough to explore the vast campus of the Angkor Wat temple. I am sure this is a history lesson they would remember for the rest of their lives. It must have been a tough call for you to take them to Cambodia given the tragic recent past of the country.

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      January 7, 2018 at 10:50 am (9 months ago)

      IT was a tough call as we don’t like to sugar coat our travels. But they are very mature and we are able to show them the reality and help them through it

      Reply
  2. Gabby
    January 6, 2018 at 11:13 pm (9 months ago)

    incredible that you went on this journey with your kids and what a great example it is to other parents they can do the same! you are also blessed with inquisitive kids – maybe a little too inquisitive when it comes to food, haha! and great that you are open with them about the history of Cambodia, I think it is so important for kids to understand even tragedies to appreciate their place in the world

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      January 7, 2018 at 10:51 am (9 months ago)

      I couldn’t agree more. It is a great way for them to understand the privileged lives they have and learn to give back.

      Reply
  3. Marcus and Mel
    January 7, 2018 at 2:08 am (9 months ago)

    Looks a good fun trip for kids and big kids alike. From Zip-lining to tomb raiding, although I wouldn’t be that keen to tuck in at the bug cafe.

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      January 7, 2018 at 10:52 am (9 months ago)

      AH, it has to be done! ANd its actually pretty good

      Reply
  4. Vanessa Workman
    January 7, 2018 at 1:01 pm (9 months ago)

    Gorgeous photos!Your kids look very much at home in Cambodia, as if they have always been there. Please tell them for me that their enthusiasm has inspired me to finally visit and experience Cambodia (minus the eating of any Tarantulas). 😀

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      January 7, 2018 at 1:16 pm (9 months ago)

      It’s only the second place they’ve been (out of 23 countries) they’re determined to see again. (Jaapan is the other) But re the tarantualas, they’re worth skipping! LOL

      Reply
  5. Hannah
    January 7, 2018 at 8:19 pm (9 months ago)

    I love the joy that your kids bring to their travels – and your account is a joy to read! I can imagine the monks being quite taken with your bonnie children! The skewer of water bugs and the eating of tarantulas, well, ummm, I think I’ll leave that to Raffles! I’ve not been to Siem Reap, but it is definitely on my list – so much tragedy, but so much to learn too.

    Reply
  6. Megan Jerrard
    January 8, 2018 at 9:37 am (9 months ago)

    Totally understand your hesitation with taking the kids of Cambodia and exposing them to some of the world’s more horrific history. It’s got to be a touch call to decide when they’re old enough to start learning about things like genocide. It sounds like you had a wonderful trip though, and good to know that they didn’t get temple fatigue – I often wonder where kids get all their energy!! Hide and seek throughout ancient temples actually sounds like a lot of fun! It looks like they had a blast visiting the ruins! Raffles face is so cute contemplating eating that sckewer of bugs lol!

    I applaud you for being honest with your kids about the poverty they saw, and speaking as honestly as you could to address their questions. I think kids can be more understanding about situations like this than we think, and it’s probably good to instill ideas about ethical donations, helping people in responsible ways, from a young age 🙂

    Reply
  7. Indrani
    January 9, 2018 at 3:58 am (9 months ago)

    That is indeed commendable that you are honest with such young kids and they being understanding and open to learning all. I can imagine their excitement with those muscular roots and huge faces. The adventure zip-line activity is new to me though.

    Reply
  8. Paige
    January 10, 2018 at 11:58 am (9 months ago)

    Siem Reap seems like the perfect playground for kiddos. I love the idea of the Bugs Cafe. I love how much your kid just jumped right in there with all the creepy crawlies! I had a cricket in Siem Reap, but it took some effort for me to get it down.

    Reply
  9. Mizhelle
    January 10, 2018 at 10:06 pm (9 months ago)

    “King Jayavarman VII, who it seems was the Kanye of his time…”

    Well that’s a sentence I never thought I’d read. Haha.

    That, and your kids are adorable! I think it’s great that you’re introducing them to other cultures at a young age. Hope they grow up to travel the world.

    Reply

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