Siem Reap with kids

Angkor Wat at sunset with not a single person inside!

Siem Reap with kids

There is so much to do in Siem Reap with kids. The locals blew us away with how kind they were and how friendly and accommodating they were towards the Things. I’ll be honest, the temples were not the highlight for the Things. There were several sharp words said about the off-the-scale levels of whining and complaining. Luckily for us, there’s loads more to do with kids in Siem Reap so we made sure we did those things too!

About Siem Reap

Located in north western Cambodia, the town of Siem Reap is best known for the Angkor Wat Archaeological Site. It’s an extensive UNESCO-recognised complex of around 50 temples. Meaning defeat of Siam, the town exists, for the most part, to accommodate the hordes of tourists that (usually) visit Angkor every year (2.2m in 2019).

There’s so much more to Siem Reap (pronounced “See-m Ree-up”) than just the temples (although you could easily spend a week just exploring this incredible buildings). There’s also an incredible amount of history in the place including life in Khmer times, colonialism, the Khmer Rouge, mass tourism, and archaeological investments. Siem Reap does lack the character you can find in other towns around South East Asia. But it’s a fun place to spend a few days exploring.

Things to do with kids in Siem Reap with kids

Tour the temples

Thing2, Mr Wanderlust, Thing 1 and me sitting on a ruin wall in front of the ruins of Bayon temple

No trip to Siem Reap is complete without a visit to one of the 50-odd temples in Angkor War Archaeological Park. I’d highly recommend taking a guide. The temples are all beautiful enough just to walk around and look at. Sure, we could have wandered around on our own following guidebooks and self-guided tours. But it was our guide, Prathna, who really taught us about the history and significance of each site.

Prathna really made Angkor Wat come alive for us. Before we left, I had been keen to only use accredited guides. I wanted someone who could prove that they were promoting responsible and sustainable tourism. In a covid world, supporting anyone local rather than booking things through the big aggregator websites is a great way to support the local economy and make sure your tourist dollars stay in the country. Prathna has 12 years’ experience and was incredibly knowledgable (he was a monk at Angkor Wat for 6 years before he became a tour guide).

This was an intense day. We were collected at 5am to get to Angkor Wat for sunrise (spoiler alert – it was cloudy!) and finally called it a day just before lunch. (We had near mutiny on our hands with the Things so this was necessary!). In that time we covered Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Baphoun (no kids under 12), the Royal Palace, Ta Prohm, and a handful of other smaller ruins like the Elephant Parade on the way round. On other days we made it to Phnom Baking and to Angkor Wat again (this time for sunset).

Pro tip: The early starts are a killer but well worth it to avoid the heat of the day which really kicks in from 9am. If you have time in your itinerary, tour temples in the mornings or evenings. Save the middle of the day for cooler activities.

Visit Tonle Sap and the floating villages

Blue floating building on Tonle Sap lake

Tonle Sap is a floodplain lake with a really unique and diverse eco system. It is also home to 171 floating villages. Some are on stilts and some are floating but permanently anchored, while others float and are mobile. You can book a tour with your hotel or from the tourist information office in the middle of Siem Reap. A mini bus will collect you from wherever you’re staying and drive you to the lake. It takes around 30 minutes to drive to Tonle Sap. Our tour stopped at a lotus farm where we had a really interesting mini tour before going on to meet the boat so it took bit longer.

Since we were in Siem Reap during dry season, the lake was considerably lower and smaller than it is during the rainy season. The floating jetty design accommodates all lake levels, although Billy, our guide, told us that the overall levels are reducing over time. It was hard to imagine just how high the water gets! The boat tour itself took us past a few of the floating villages, to a community centre and crocodile farm. We also went to a larger boat where we could have some refreshments.

Pro tip: The history of the floating villages is a sad one. Many of the inhabitants are classified as illegal Vietnamese immigrants after their residency documents were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. As such they have very few rights including the right to own land or get decent jobs. Find a boat company like Tara boat that actually gives back to the communities it tours through.

Hike Phnom Kulen National Park

Not something we had time for in our short trip, Phnom Kulen National Park is a must-do activity for anyone in the area for more than three days. The park is most visited for its beautiful waterfalls. It is also where you can find Preah Ang Thom. Preah Ang Thom is a 16th-century Buddhist monastery which houses Cambodia’s largest reclining Buddha. Also in the area is Thousand Lingas at Kbal Spean, a natural riverbed with elaborate cravings and motifs from the 11th Century.

Pro tip: Don’t rush this trip! It’s around a 1-hour drive from Siem Reap and there’s plenty to do. If you take a guide with you, you’ll learn lots more about the local flora and fauna as well as about the temples.

Go zip-lining

The four of us with helmets on at the top of Angkor Zipline

One of the highlights of our Siem Reap trip for the kids was Angkor Zip Lining. I have to say it was well worth taking a couple of hours out of our trip to go there. It takes around 30 minutes from Siem Reap to get to the network of rope bridges and zip lines has been created high above the main canopy of trees. From the top there are lovely views and some thrilling rides between the trees.

I’m not great with heights but this was actually not too bad. There aren’t any tightropes or trapezes as it isn’t a high ropes course. Their borderline obsessive focus on safety made me feel super safe. You get two guides. One goes ahead to catch you at the other end (if needed) and connects you to the safety equipment on the tree. The other connects everyone on to the zip line and brings up the rear of the group. Both our guides. (Song and Preak) were so helpful, friendly and professional. Even I stopped screaming down the zip lines by the end!

Pro tip: Angkor Zip Lining offers a Gold and a Silver package. For just $20 USD extra per person, the gold package offers loads more zip lines (and better ones). It’s well worth doing the upgrade.

Play mini-golf

Angkor Wat model at Angor Watt Putt

Another wonderful hit with the Things was Angkor Wat Putt. Most kids love playing mini-golf and it’s a great way to engage them while you enjoy the surroundings. (I actually got this idea at the stunning mini golf course in Lake Como!) Angkor Wat Putt did not disappoint. It’s about 10-15 minutes by tuk tuk outside of the main part of town so you get to see a bit more of rural Siem Reap on your way there and back.

The 14 holes are designed to look like mini replicas of all the most popular temples around Angkor Wat Archaeological Park. With obstacles and corners to navigate it’s really good fun. As an added bonus, you get a free beer or soft drink for every hole in one that you score!

Pro tip: we did this in late afternoon and the temperature was pretty much perfect. The area is nicely shaded but it’s still outdoor. I’m not sure I would have wanted to go in the middle of the day.

Educate yourself in the museums

Thing 1 holding a rat at Apopo museum

Siem Reap has several really interesting museums to see. If the National Museum is open, it’s worth visiting before you go to Angkor Wat Archaeological Park. There’s also a war museum that we didn’t have time to visit while we were there. If you’re short on time and/or are heading on to Phnom Penh, the museums there about the devastating civil war and Khmer Rouge atrocities are supposed to be more comprehensive.

If you’re long on time, there’s a trick-eye art museum, a highly-recommended silk farm, a panorama museum, and a butterfly farm to visit. Most impactful to us, however, was the Apopo Visitor Centre. This place showcases the work of Hero Rats – rats that have been trained to clear landmines from across the country. There are an estimated 6 million landmines and unexploded devices left in Cambodia and the animals provide a safe and efficient way of clearing the ground (don’t worry, they don’t get exploded!). The visitor centre shows you the realities of humanitarian de-mining and how they train the rats. We even got to see a demonstration of how the animals work together with their handlers to discover mines! We were very moved by this museum and I’d highly recommend paying it a visit.

Another thing we did which came highly recommended by everyone who has been to Siem Reap with kids and without was Phare Circus. This is an acrobatic show (no animals!) that uses people from a local performing arts school. They funnel profits from the shows back into the school so it’s a very worthy cause. The performers were amazing and they run a different show each week. Check ahead as the show we saw had some adult themes (luckily the Things were oblivious!). They open two hours early to offer street food including some Western options.

Pro tip: Call ahead or email to check that the museum you want to visit is still open. When we were there many places, including the National Museum and the Silk Farm museum were still closed after Covid, despite their websites and Google claiming they were open.

Haggle in the local markets

If you’re on a longer tour of South East Asia, you might not be too bothered about visiting the markets. However, if you’re on a single trip to the region, the markets are a fun way to pass an hour or so pottering among the different stalls and chatting to the vendors.

There’s all sorts of things to look at including all the usual tourist tat! We ended up picking up a light pair of trousers for me, a shirt for Thing 1, and a dress for Thing 2.

Pro tip: Know what you want to buy and how much you’re welling to pay for is. The stalls all sell variations of the same thing. Be prepared to shop around if you can’t haggle down to where you want to be. That being said, be aware of how much you’re haggling for. Very few people will give you prices in Cambodian Riels, most only quote in US dollars. I enjoy the challenge of haggling and I’m always a little conscious of pushing up prices for locals. When it comes to tourist gear and challenging economic times, I find it hard to ignore what haggling for a dollar can mean to me vs to the seller.

Where to stay in Siem Reap with kids

White arches exterior of Sarai Resort and Spa

Siem Reap really isn’t that big, something I found fascinating given it welcomed 2.2 million visitors in 2019. The main part of Siem Reap has more shops, the old market, and Pub Street (avoid this street – it is everything ugly about mass tourism). Most hotels can be found a bit further out from this area and there are lots of local boutique hotels to experience such as the Sarai Resort and Spa that we stayed at. Equally, there are loads of really nice-looking Airbnbs and plenty of hostels to choose from. We did notice that our hotel was a little different to the description – the pool was a bit green and the spa wasn’t open… They did seem to be on the clean up though!

Recommended hotels & villas in Siem Reap

Where to eat in Siem Reap with kids

Garden outdoor seating for dinner at Phare Circus

I’ll admit to being a little underwhelmed with the food in Siem Reap. Considering the delicious cuisine coming out of Vietnam and Thailand, I was expecting much more. That, and the fact that the Things were being particularly picky eaters that week and I didn’t have the energy or desire to have an argument at every meal, meant meal times weren’t that amazing and our range of restaurants was much narrower.

Still we found some awesome places to eat including a few social enterprise places such as Haven, Spoons, and New Leaf Eatery. We really enjoyed Khmer Grill for lunch (amazing service and tasty food – would also be great for dinner). Source Cafe has great breakfast/brunch options. I’ve also seen Cuisine Wat Damnak, Mahob, and Marum recommended in lots of places.

As I’ve mentioned before, we really didn’t enjoy Pub Street. When we first arrived, you could tell it was pretty grotty back when there were masses of tourists everywhere. Still, it didn’t seem *too* bad for a pre dinner drink (I still didn’t really want to eat there). Due to lack of planning on our part, we ended up scrambling to find somewhere for dinner on our last night and so went to one of the restaurants along there…

While the food was good and they actually served half decent wine, it really felt like the area was gearing back up to welcome lots of party-loving tourists. There were at least 3 restaurants, including ours, playing music as loudly as they could, competing for our eardrums. If you end up on Pub Street on your first night, please know that there is so much more to Siem Reap’s dining scene than this!

Getting to Siem Reap

Siem Reap International Airport welcomes flights from all over the world. You can easily get a bus to or from Phnom Penh or, alternatively, take half the journey via Tonle Sap. There are a variety of buses and boats combinations that will get you to Siem Reap from other nearby international destinations such as Thailand and Vietnam.

Getting around Siem Reap

The easiest way to get around Siem Reap with kids is by tuk tuk, a motorised rickshaw also known as a remorque. You can hail these from the side of the road almost anywhere you go. If you find a good one (some only really had two seats which wasn’t very comfortable), you can take their phone number and arrange for pick ups when you need them.

Taxis are less available but there is a taxi kiosk at Siem Reap International Airport and your hotel can always arrange one for you. As with tuk tuks, you can get their contact details and arrange to meet them as and when you need to.

Transportation between the temples in Angkor Wat is generally quite easy if you don’t mind hiring a tuk tuk on the spot. These can be less available during busy times. It can also get quite hot so we were grateful to have an air conditioned car!

Planning your trip to See Reap with kids

There are a few things to know about planning your trip to Siem Reap.

  • Booking ahead, even in quiet times, can be recommended. When we went, things were only just starting to open up but it is worth planning your trip at least a day or two in advance.
  • The local currency is the Cambodian Riel (KHR) but everyone operates in US dollars. If you want to pay in Riels, they’ll just convert it on the spot. Most places accept both currencies but some will only take dollars so make sure you bring plenty of those with you (you can also get them at any cash machine).
  • It get HOT during the day. Plan outdoor activities for early mornings or evenings and spend the middle of the day either at your hotel relaxing or doing something inside.
  • The mosquitoes are HUNGRY! We were eaten alive even though we wore patches. Take plenty of repellent and also anti-itch cream for the inevitable bites.
  • The people are super friendly and love getting into conversations with you. Getting to know our guides, taxi drivers and tuk tuk drivers was one of the highlights of the trip for me!
  • Support local businesses!!! I can’t stress this enough. Siem Reap is hugely dependent on tourism. Stay in local hotels if you can and go to local restaurants rather than big chains. Booking tours with locals is hard from abroad but booking experiences using the big conglomerate websites just takes the tourist dollars straight out of the country. Use Facebook groups and travel forums or friends and family to get recommendations.
  • We went to Siem Reap just weeks after Cambodia re-opened its borders. Keeping a resource page like this up to date is a nightmare when you have ever changing restrictions. Check your local government travel website for up to date details on travel requirements such as the gov.uk one. And feel free to message me if you think I can help!

I’d love to know if you have ever been to Siem Reap with kids Wanderlust’s! What did you think and would you go back? Send me a message at [email protected] if you want to know any more about our trip!

Emma Morrell
Emma Morrell

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