Siem Reap for families, beyond the temples. That was my brief from a client who wanted an itinerary because her kids weren’t interested in “piles of rocks”. Is Siem Reap a family friendly destination she asked? Absolutely.
I have to admit that I don’t understand what kid wouldn’t want to spend a few days scrambling around Angkor Wat and the other Angkor temples near Cambodia‘s Siem Reap. It’s such an adventure, trundling in a breezy tuk tuk through towering forest that buzzes with the sound of cicadas, seeing monkeys and elephants, and then all of a sudden a grand temple appears before for your eyes, calling out to you to be discovered.
And the temples are really cool to explore, with their endless arcades, illustrated galleries, dimly lit corridors, secret chambers, and narrow stairs leading up to terraces with gobsmacking views of colossal smiling stone faces or sweeping vistas of the surrounding forest and flood plains.
Earlier this year we had friends visit from Australia with two kids who were so into the temples that on their last day their son was devastated that they didn’t have time to visit a pyramid temple he’d been so excited about discovering.
Your kids aren’t keen on archaeology? Show them Tomb Raider or an Indiana Jones film before you leave home. That still doesn’t get them excited? Book a tour with a local guide who is great with children, such as Lim from Beyond Unique Escapes (see below) or do a temple tour that combines other activities, such as cycling or a cruise.
They’re still not into it? You can always leave the children at a kids’ club or hire a babysitter and head off to the temples on your own for the day – and then you can make it up to them with these ideas…
Siem Reap for Families
WHEN TO VISIT
Siem Reap can really be visited all year, even during the monsoon season, underway now, when it’s gorgeous and green. But I recommend families time their trip to Siem Reap to coincide with a family-friendly event or festival such as the Siem Reap Water Festival in October, the Giant Puppet Project Parade in February, pictured above, or Khmer New Year in April. All of these provide a wonderful opportunity to interact with Cambodian families.
WHERE TO STAY
Family Friendly Hotels
You will definitely want a hotel with a swimming pool and gardens are a bonus for kids who like to run around. If money is no object, Raffles is a fantastic option, offering a babysitting service, one of Siem Reap’s biggest pools and shady lawns, and an Apsara dance show with buffet dinner. You’ll find Siem Reap’s largest pool, along with a sprawling garden, at lovely Templation, our base for our October Cambodia Culinary Tour and Writing and Photography Retreat. They also have very spacious pool villas, which are brilliant for families.
Otherwise, we recommend opting for small, intimate boutique hotels that are generally more accommodating than the big five-stars. Sala Lodges has a house for families while Maison Polanka can be privatised so you can book the entire property for families travelling together who are looking for some privacy. Click through for more of our Siem Reap hotel recommendations.
We’ll be posting guides to mid-range and budget Siem Reap accommodation soon, but in the meantime, one very affordable hotel we love is La Niche d’Angkor, where we lived for a few months when we first moved to Siem Reap a few years ago. Book an upstairs balcony room with views over the swimming pool.
If you’re on a long journey and going the guest house route, then keep in mind that many hotels allow outside visitors to use their pools for a small fee, including La Noria ($5 adults/free for children under 10 years), Sokhalay Angkor ($5 adults or $7 adults including gym, sauna and steam room/ $4 children under 4-14), and Prince d’Angkor ($10 adults/$6 for kids under 12). Budget hotels and guest houses with pools will often charge as little as $3 or nothing if you spend $5 on food.
Siem Reap has an increasing number of serviced apartments and holiday rentals, which are fantastic for families with babies, kids who are fussy eaters, or families who simply don’t want to eat out every meal and would like to cook the occasional meal. See this post on renting apartments in Siem Reap for both short and long stays; Karavansara Residences are a fantastic option for anything from a few nights to a few weeks.
WHAT TO DO
Enjoy a Night at the Circus
There are few better ways in Siem Reap for families to kick off a trip than with a night of laughter. The hilarious, high-energy show by the quirky Phare Cambodian Circus is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend an evening in Temple Town – for adults as much as kids. There are no animals involved in this very rustic Cirque de Soleil-style circus, just very funny and talented young Cambodians performing acrobatics and circus tricks to contagious, live Cambodian music.
There’s an excellent café offering family-friendly dishes like spring rolls, fried noodles and plates of chips so arrive early if you want to have dinner before the show. They also have popcorn! Go the first night you arrive in case the kids love it so much they want to return. The big top opens at 7.30pm and the one-hour show starts at 8pm. Allow 15 minutes travel time from the centre of Siem Reap and have your tuk tuk wait. Click through to buy tickets here.
Engage the Kids with Pre-Temple Excursions
Yes, you still need to take the kids to the temples. Because I’m guessing that Angkor Wat is the main reason you’re coming to Siem Reap, right? If you’re worried they’ll get bored fast, then you need to get them to think about the archaeological sites as more than ‘piles of rock’. Engage them in the rich history and art – or the pretty statues and crafts – with a couple of pre-temple excursions.
Start at the impressive albeit compact Angkor National Museum (8.30am-6pm daily; US$12), which provides a good historical overview and has slick displays of handsome statues and artefacts from the Khmer Empire. Then visit Artisans d’Angkor, where you can do a short (free) tour of silk painting, lacquer, stone carving, and wood carving workshops to watch artisans hand-craft beautiful things, many of which would have once decorated the sites. Both experiences should help your children to better imagine how the temples were built, how much work went into them, how ornate they would have been, and how clever and creative Cambodian crafts-people are.
Explore the Temples on a Private Tour
A good guide who knows how to engage kids and bring history to life makes all the difference. Use a Siem Reap based tour operator such as Beyond Unique Escapes and book a private tour rather than join a group tour for maximum flexibility and comfort. While I recommend a tuk tuk during the cooler months (Nov-Feb), if you’ve got a baby on board or little kids you’ll be better off with an air-conditioned vehicle with driver – especially if you’re travelling from a cold country and the kids aren’t coping with the heat or just to provide some respite from the sticky heat from time to time.
While tuk tuks are fantastic fun, and younger kids usually love them, there’ll be more room to sprawl out and nap in an air-conditioned van. While tour companies will provide an endless supply of icy water and occasional cold towels, I highly recommend you take some fruit juices, lots of snacks, as well as wet-ones which you should put in the hotel mini-bar the night before.
Beyond Unique Escape’s full-day Angkor Uncovered private tour, which visits Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Baphoun, the Elephant Terraces, the royal temple of Phimean Naga, the pretty Preah Pithu temples, and lastly Angkor Wat, is a good starting point and then you can tweak as necessary. The tour usually starts at 8am and finishes around 3pm, however, for an additional US$15 you can start at sunrise and when the kids have had enough you can return early if needed.
You will need to buy your Angkor temple passes ($20 per person) on top of the tour fee. Buy some plastic lanyards from the stationery shop in Lucky Mall so your tickets don’t get lost or damaged.
We have more advice here in this archaeologist’s guide to Angkor and more fantastic tips here on how to get the most out of visiting the Angkor archaeological sites.
Chase Butterflies and Scramble Remote Ruins
After Angkor Wat and the Bayon in Angkor Archaeological Park, some of the best temple experiences for kids are at the lesser-visited temple ruins farther afield. Often dilapidated and enveloped by the jungle, the remote temples have loads of atmosphere, are more exciting to discover, and often you’ll find yourself quite alone at them.
You won’t escape the crowds at exquisite Banteay Srei (38km from Siem Reap), unless you go soon after sunrise. A compact ‘pink’ temple with incredibly detailed carvings, it’s fantastic for artistic and curious children. Atmospheric Beng Mealea (63km away), a ramshackle, moss-dappled temple almost lost to the jungle, is ideal for young explorers with a sense of adventure and discovery. The drive to both is fascinating for the local life and scenery, with palm-fringed rice fields dotted with water buffalo and diminutive villages of traditional houses with yards with cows and chickens to see along the way.
You can do both in a day and break up the two temples with a visit to the wonderful Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre, which kids love. Go as early as you can in the morning to Banteay Srei temple, then stop at the Butterfly Centre after that, followed by brunch/lunch at their cafe before heading to Beng Mealea. The Butterfly Centre is open from 9am-5pm and it costs US$4 adult and US$2 for children. Note that there is a separate fee for Beng Melea of $5 per person but Banteay Srei is included in the Angkor Pass if you bought a 3-day pass.
Learn Some Lessons at the Landmine Museum
Not far from the Butterfly Centre is the Landmine Museum. Teenagers will get more out of a visit here, although younger kids generally like the kitschy display. There’s a lot of text to read, however, you can wander through, reading bits and pieces, see all the exhibits, and be in and out in 30 minutes. Or you can get more out of the experience on a (longer) guided tour. The museum supports a school and landmine removal efforts. The museum is open from 7.30am until 5.30pm and tickets are US$5 for adults and kids go free.
Embark on Countryside, Village and Jungle Excursions
It’s so easy to visit the countryside in Cambodia. In 20 minutes you can be out amongst the rice fields and with a good guide you can spontaneously stop to chat to locals who are out and about. Whether they’re harvesting rice or fishing from their own pond or creek, Cambodians are usually happy to welcome foreigners for a closer look and a chat. While you can go on your own, you’ll get more out of these experiences with a guide who can provide some history and context and do some translating for you.
Beyond Unique Escapes offers an engaging ‘Village Walk and Talk’ tour, where you get to interact with local farmers, including families, on a village stroll. They also run a full-day ‘Day in the Life of a Village’ experience where you get to do everything from riding an ox cart to rattan-weaving.
We also love Triple A Adventures‘ countryside tour, which starts with an easy village bike ride and includes a market walk, that’s punctuated by spontaneous stops at homes and farms to chat to people, before taking to the water for a cruise through the floating villages and lunch at a local house on stilts.
If you’d rather be on the back of a horse you can join a trail ride through the rice paddies at the Happy Ranch.
If you prefer to explore independently, discuss what you want to do up front with a tuk tuk driver or hire a vehicle and Engligh speaking driver. We use Siem Reap Shuttle, which charges around US$35 to about $80 for a car for a day, more for a mini van. Call +855 63 767 768, book on their site www.siemreapshuttle.com.
Get on a Bike
If your kids love cycling then Grasshopper Adventures, Smiling Albino, and Spice Roads all offer bike tours for families, from one day to multi-day trips for serious cyclists. If you prefer to go it alone, then some hotels, such as Maison Polanka, offer complimentary bikes, you can hire bicycles from most ‘mom and pop shops’, or you can rent bikes from The White Bicycles. The non-profit that has over 50 rental bicycles at hotels and guesthouses in Siem Reap and income from rentals is injected into educational and clean water projects. See our guide to Cycling Around Siem Reap.
Get on the Water
IndochineEx Adventures offers kayaking tours of the flooded forest or you can discover the floating villages by paddle boat and visit the bird sanctuary with Osmose, an eco-tourism operator in Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary on the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) which has assisted poor families in the floating communities by providing schools and other services.
Enjoy Wildlife and Birdlife
If you head out to Banteay Srei to the temple and butterflies (see above), you could continue on to Kbal Spean, 12kms north, to the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity. On their guided tour, you can see animals and birds that the Centre has rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.
We don’t support elephant rides in Angkor Park, where an elephant died this year after being over-worked during a heat wave, however, there are ethical elephant experiences in Cambodia. If you add a few days to your Siem Reap trip you can take the family to Mondulkiri province and The Elephant Valley Project, where you can observe and walk with elephants, or the Mondulkiri Project Elephant Sanctuary, where you can do jungles treks and swim with elephants.
Get Hands-On and Get Arty
Some of the NGO workshops and small businesses offer arts and crafts classes in Siem Reap for families with arty children. You can get the kids on pottery wheels or get them painting at Khmer Ceramics and Fine Arts or on an Apsara Dance Class (US$25; Mon-Fri 4pm; one-hour) at Body and Soul Spa on The Passage.
Backstreet Academy offers a while range of hands-on activities, including sketching, painting, weaving, jewellery making, kite-making, Apsara dancing, music lessons, Cambodian boxing, and more.
If your kid watches MasterChef Junior, then sign them up for a cooking class. Most offer a mix of demonstration and hands-on cooking. Beyond Unique Escapes cooking classes are very popular. Most of the five-star hotels offer excellent cooking classes and can cater them to kids if you ask.
Some of the most fun things in Siem Reap for families to do are the simplest, everyday experiences that locals love to do, like visit a pagoda, have a picnic on the river bank, or go out for street food on Road 60. (See our tips on eating safely in Cambodia before venturing out for street food feasting.) You can also book organised local experiences through Backstreet Academy, above, from net-fishing with a local fisherman to joining a game of football with local kids.
WHERE TO EAT
Bakeries and pastries
Siem Reap has some wonderful bakeries and cake shops if you’re craving a croissant for breakfast or cupcakes for a treat. Start with the Bayon Pastry School Coffee Shop ran by the French-NGO operated Ecole du Bayon for a French-style breakfast then hit Blossom Cafe, a not-for-profit cafe focused on training and empowering disadvantaged women, for afternoon tea.
Coffee and Cafés
Siem Reap has brilliant cafés too. If you’re after a spot where you can sip seriously good coffee while the kids tuck into a cheese cake, make a beeline for Little Red Fox Espresso at Kandal Village. New Leaf Eatery (formerly New Leaf Book Cafe), Artillery Café, Cour de Maison, and Pages are all spacious, cool, family-friendly cafes, with wholesome food, fruit shakes, and healthy desserts. See our Siem Reap cafe guide for details and other recommendations.
Smoothies and Shakes
The stalls selling freshly-squeezed juices and fruit shakes and smoothies (all US$1) that run alongside Old Market (Psar Chas) are all good and safe and by buying from them you’re supporting small businesses. Blend, on the southern edge of Central Market (which is no longer a proper market, just a block of shops) also does delicious smoothies, juices, milkshakes, iced coffees, fruit and yoghurt, and grilled panini / toasties.
Family Friendly Restaurants
Marum is a lovely restaurant for lunch or an early dinner with courtyard dining from where you can watch the littlies run around the lawn. There are also beanbags and low tables scattered on the grass if you want to join them. Marum is a hospitality training school that is part of the Friends International NGO and they serve a combination of pan-Asian tapas and more traditional Cambodian specialties. Dishes like the croquettes and bao go down well with kids. Don’t miss their gift shop selling their recycled/eco-friendly product range ‘Friends‘n’Stuff’, much of which is made by the carers of the disadvantaged youths who go through their programme to supplement their incomes.
Sugar Palm and Malis can also be very family friendly, while many a time we’ve seen the waiting staff at Chanrey Tree keep an irritable baby amused while parents finish their meal. See our Cambodian restaurants guide for more ideas.
Halal-only families will appreciate Cambodian Muslim Restaurant. Soup Dragon is good for crazy-cheap Vietnamese and Cambodian food and the rooftop is nice.
For authentic, filling pastas and great pizzas, we love Il Forno, Little Italy and Mama Shop. For Tex-Mex, Viva is great, with very generous portions at crazy-cheap prices, and sweet staff.
For over-sized American fast-food where everything’s dripping with gooey cheese, hit Belmiro’s. Adventurous older teens will get a kick out of the insect dishes at Bugs Cafe, although it might give the little ones nightmares.
The Gelato Lab is a scrummy ice-creamery specialising in authentic Italian-style gelato and sorbets, in both classic and Asian flavours, and good coffee. It’s located on the lane known as Alley West, between Old Market and Pub Street. The original Hospital Road branch closed a few months ago.
WHERE TO SHOP
Made in Cambodia Market
This laidback little market, which recently moved to the garden at Kings Road Angkor, a tourist-focused restaurant complex on the riverside, sells only Cambodian made artisanal products by local craftspeople and designers. There’s plenty for children, from handmade toys to cool recycled wallets by NGO Friends ‘n’ Stuff. The compact market doesn’t take long to browse, and there’s food and drinks, and musicians and dancers to keep the kids entertained. The Phare Cambodian Circus also performs tricks and routines here occasionally to tempt you out to their big top. Open daily from noon until 10pm.
Kids books, toys and clothes
Monument Books beside Ta Prohm Hotel on the riverside, one block from Old Market (Psar Chas), is the best bookshop in Siem Reap with loads of kids toys and children’s story books, as well as a great range of Cambodian and Asian guidebooks and books on archaeology, history, politics, society, culture, and food, novels, coffee table books, and a small supply of newspapers and magazines.
Wild Poppy stocks Softies kids toys made by the disadvantaged women at the NGO HUSK’s sewing centre.
Some of the stalls at nearby Old Market also have children’s toys, from stuffed elephants and monkeys to traditional wooden toys and loads of clothes for kids, from cute t-shirts to fluffy animal slippers and (fake) brand name runners etc. Keep in mind that much of this stuff is made in Thailand or China.
Theam’s House, owned by Cambodian artist Theam, has a petite museum with a fascinating collection of musical instruments and curios, as well as a peaceful garden with chatty birds and cosy nooks that are ideal for sipping cool drinks and enjoying some downtime. This is also the spot to buy Siem Reap’s quintessential souvenir, a cute lacquered elephant that comes in candy colours. You’ll need to take a tuk tuk here. Have the number handy in case the driver gets lost: 078 20 8161.
Angkor Market, on Sivutha Boulevard, the main commercial street, not far from the Old Market area, is the best supermarket for foreign specialties, including cereals, biscuits/cookies, muesli bars, chocolate, sandwich ingredients, and picnic basket fillers (as well as cheese, charcuterie, wine, beer, spirits etc for the adults). If you’re travelling with babies or toddlers, there’s a section upstairs with everything from milk powder to disposable nappies. Also upstairs, you’ll find incredibly affordable eskies/coolers, thermos flasks, plastic plates and cutlery, and napkins etc for picnics, all of which can be given away to your tuk tuk driver when it’s time to leave. More here on supermarkets and markets in Siem Reap.
Lucky Mall, Sivutha Boulevard, a short walk from where you’re staying, is also a good one-stop shop for ATMs, money exchange, an okay bakery, a decent supermarket, an Apple shop, and a large stationery and gift shop upstairs with books, colouring books, sketch pads, pencils, crayons, paints, etc. They also have sporting goods, from badminton rackets to an array of balls, along with some toys.
If you need a pharmacy, use U-Care only. Unfortunately some of the small chemists sell fake pharmaceuticals. U-Care has a small branch in Lucky Mall, a better and bigger one on Sivutha Boulevard, and another in the Old Market area on Hospital Road, right opposite the start of Pub Street. All tuk tuk drivers know them.
We have lots more resources on Siem Reap for families on the site. Browse our Siem Reap section and see our guides to Things to Do in Siem Reap When it Rains and our Responsible Travel in Cambodia (and why it matters). If you have any questions about anything at all, feel free to leave them in the comments on our Siem Reap Angkor Wat FAQs post and we’ll respond.
Book Siem Reap Family Tours and Activities
Need help organising your trip? I offer a trip planning service and bespoke itineraries which can be booked via this site or our Siem Reap Retreats and Culinary Tours site.
Do you have any other ideas for experiencing Siem Reap for families? Have you been here with kids? We’d love to hear your tips.