Wanderlust / December 17, 2016

3 Nights in Siem Reap With Kids

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat are on bucket lists of Wandering families around the world.  While we are living so close we had to make sure we checked it off of our list, but we were concerned about the kids appreciating and safely enjoying the ruins.  So we waited; we waited until the twins were old enough to walk safely around the ruins and the older two were old enough to appreciate the significance.  I think we timed it right, and the trip was incredible.  I recommend Siem Reap to anyone; for parents I recommend it for a short time with reasonable expectations.

Short time:

Kids have a fuse.  As parents you know how long that fuse is on any given day.  The centerpiece of our trip, as it is on any trip is managing that fuse.  The overall plan was to limit our trip to 3 days only.  We knew we wanted to see a couple of the ruins and experience downtown.  I also wanted to hit some local markets and meet some artisans!  

We booked this trip a long time ago, and with our current focus on adoption we knew that this could be our last trip in a long time, so we wanted to make it a good one, but we didn’t want to burn out the kids.  The big game plan was to only do 2 full days.  We weren’t sure if we could find enough to do over any more days, and Steve also had another trip originally planned that would limit our time.  After completing the trip, I think another day would have been fine, but much more would have been a little repetitive and a bit of a waste for our younger two.  There is a lot to do in Siem Reap, and for a young couple or a family with older children it would be great for a week, but for us 2-3 days seems ideal.  

Because you only have 2 full days, planning is key.  We arrived later in the afternoon on purpose and the transition through the airport was smooth.  You have two options for visas, either the e-visa which costs slightly more or the visa on arrival.  While I’ve heard that the line could be long, we were ready with our paperwork and were able to run to the front of the line.  The visa processors are efficient and we had our visas in less than 20 minutes.  We were traveling on our tourist passports, and even without diplomatic privilege lines we were through immigration and customs in 10 more.  Total time in the airport was less than 30 minutes.  (we travel with backpacks only, so we had no delay for luggage, but it looked like the bags were ready when people got their visas.)  As soon as we walked out we were met by our driver  from the hotel.  Almost all hotels and many AirBnB rentals will provide this service either included or as an add-on.  I can’t tell you enough how important it is to arrange your transportation prior to arrival here.  So, feeling like VIPs, we piled in our waiting van and were on our way to the hotel.  Almost all lodging in Siem Reap is within 20 minutes of the airport, so you will be in your room soon.  For us, that meant a kid-friendly hotel, as usual.         

Kid friendly hotel in Siem Reap:

While there are a few hotels in this category, we chose the Angkor Palace Resort.  We booked 2 adjoining rooms for our tribe and were pleasantly surprised when we arrived and they had upgraded us to a villa.  It was fabulous, with 2 bedrooms, an office, a kitchen and a living room.  It was perfect for us.  The pool was great, but nothing fancy, and breakfast buffet was more than adequate and had plenty of western fare.  The staff even made pancakes special for the kids every day upon request.  The staff was attentive and were very willing to arrange transportation for us at a very reasonable rate.  You can get almost anywhere in town for 2-3 USD and rent a tuk-tuk and driver for a half a day at less than 20 USD.  We felt comfortable using the drivers provided by the hotel, as it gave them a level of credibility.  In addition, if you have a good experience with a driver you can continue to schedule them for subsequent days.  We did this with our driver, and by the end of the week we had gotten to know him a bit.  (Ask for Mr. Sokha Tuk-tuk #2 if you ever stay at Angkor Palace!)  Having the staff ready and willing to help allowed us to check in and then pop out to check out the city on our first day.

Pro tip:  Have something easy to check off the list on the first night.  

If you don’t arrive too late, the first night in Siem Reap is a great chance to check something easy off of your list.  Whether it’s a restaurant or even the circus, have something easy to do and kid-friendly to check off the list.  For us, it was just getting downtown and seeing a market.  It also meant finding someplace that would make everyone happy for our first meal.   The market part was easy, and we just walked around until we found one.  While we found many of the crafts to be similar to Bangkok, there were a few things that are a bit unique.  This first trip we just walked through and familiarized ourselves with the environment.  Then we did something I’m not proud of.

We grabbed dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.  

I know, I know, not very Wanderlusty…but it made everyone happy, and while the food wasn’t great, it was familiar and eased us into the new environment.  I’m all about making things easy, if you don’t experience the culture every minute you’re in another country I’m certainly not going to judge you.  We all had burgers and Steve even got the local flavor burger.  Other than buns a bit on the soggy side, the food was good and we left happy and ready to embrace the culture on our first full day.

Day 1: Angkor Wat With Kids:

Angkor Wat is a tourist destination.  Be prepared to be approached to buy things, you will be offered multiple tours from “guides”, and you will be limited in the areas you can explore.  Even so, we were surprised at how much of the area you can explore freely.  I have mixed emotions about this.  While I am happy to be able to allow the kids to really get their hands on history and crawl all over the ruins, I balanced it with trying to teach them respect for the history by not allowing them everywhere.  Granted, some areas were off limits, but there were 20 foot drops with no railings, 1000 year old stone work that they could climb on, and other things that would not happen in the West.  Ultimately, this will lead to either the complete destruction of the ruins from foot traffic, or Cambodia will further limit the areas available to the public.  We were fortunate to get here early enough.  

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We went to Angkor wat in the morning and planned to make it back to the hotel for lunch.  This is plenty of time for families with young children.  I highly recommend limiting the ruins to ½ days and keeping your kids on whatever nap routine you have.  Remember it’s hot, dirty, and after awhile all the ruins start to run together (even for adults).  Our kids were spent after 2-3 hours, and that was honestly enough time for all but the most avid historians.  

After the temples we highly recommend returning to the hotel and allowing some lunch and pool time to cool down and if you’re going to do naps for the little people, that’s your chance.  It will give you a chance to re-charge for another trip to town that night.  

Belmiro’s Pizza:

On night 2 we went downtown with a specific restaurant in mind.  Belmiro’s pizza.  Again, not very Cambodian, I know, but we had heard of this place before we went and it certainly lived up to it’s billing as a great East Coast (thin crust) pizza place.  As soon as we walked in with our tribe we were met by Vito, the owner who chatted us up and treated us like honored guests.  He explained his background, how he came to be in Cambodia and the philosophy behind his pizza.  He is a truly genuine person who loves his food and loves everything about owning a restaurant in Siem Reap.  He was even giving us restaurant tips for Bangkok and recommended one of our favorites, Smokin’ Pug.  As we ate, another American expat began to play his guitar, taking both requests and donations for charity.   He engaged with our children and played children’s songs for them.  It was a truly wonderful night at Belmiro’s.  I can not recommend Belmiro’s and Vito highly enough.  

After that we were on to day two.  

Angkor Thum:

I will spare you the details of day two, but we made it look much like day one.  We replaced Angkor Wat with Angkor Thum, a much less touristy ruin that allows even more exploration for the kids.  Despite it being our second day of ruins, the kids absolutely loved it and really came alive making up stories and pretending they were explorers as we walked around the area.

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After returning to the hotel we did the same thing, swimming and rest, followed by another restaurant that I detailed in an e-mail to my subscribers and again, can’t recommend enough.  After dinner, the timing was perfect for us to head to the Phare Circus.  Which was so incredible, it gets its own post.  (soon!)

We wrapped up the night by previewing a bit of Tomb Raider (which we finished when we got back).  It really brought everything to life for the kids and even if you just watch the Cambodia part, was totally worth it.  

On the last day we just relaxed and enjoyed the pool, but if you wanted to budget some more time in town or one more temple, it would be easy to do depending on your family.  Even with only 2 nights, there’s a lot of flexibility!  

So that’s it, those were our three nights in Cambodia.  Our key take-aways were to limit the temples, budget for play time and stay flexible.  The great thing about Siem Reap is that reservations aren’t required!  

Safety in Siem Reap:

I would love to make a final point about safety as there are many posts out there which detail safety or lack-there of in Siem Reap.  We felt safe the entire time.  Granted, we are experienced travelers and stayed within our comfort level, but I think almost everyone would feel safe here.  If you stick to our tips and stay in a family friendly hotel, use their transportation, and stick to a semi-beaten path, you’ll be fine.  Sure, there are a lot of other options out there to get further off the beaten path…and we encourage that!  I would love to hear about any trips you may have taken.   

Thank you for reading!  Happy Wandering!  

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