Siem Reap is the epicenter of Cambodia’s ever-growing tourism industry. Being the gateway to the awe-inspiring Angkor temple complex brings many travelers from all around the world. Naturally, the city has done a lot to accommodate tourists and offers a variety of things to see and do for people of all ages. The following are what we found to be the best in the area for families.
1. The Angkor Temples-
Duh. If you go to Siem Reap and DON’T visit the temples, then you wasted your trip! Even for kids, this is one of the ultimate spots in the world for your bucketlist. Kids will feel like Indiana Jones exploring all the nooks and crannies of the temples. My son had a ball climbing stairs and wandering through passageways. While there are some areas that are off-limits to kids under a certain age, the vast areas they can explore are still incredible. There are so many temples in the complex that it would take at least 2 weeks to go through all of them. If you only have limited time I would say that Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm are the most impressive and popular ones in the bunch.
Angkor Wat is famous for being the most stunning and favored temple in the complex. It was constructed to be the earthly home for the gods in Cambodian history, kind of like the Mt. Olympus of Cambodia. Therefore it is a very sacred area. Please remember that when dressing for the day. No booty shorts or spaghetti strap tanks. There are areas of the temple that you will not even be allowed into without proper dress.
Angkor Thom is actually bigger than Angkor Wat when you put it all together. It is known as the “face temple” because of the many faces carved in/around the temple and gates. Also your kids can feel like Lara Croft trekking through the sites. Parts of Tomb Raider were filmed here! Ta Prohm is a magical place where Mother Nature has taken over. The trees are grown over the temples creating a beautiful clash of nature and architecture. It makes for beautiful photographs. As for when you should go… I highly encourage you to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Nothing compares to it. Even with kids. You can sit and eat some breakfast (in our case, granola bars) on the shore of the reflection pools and watch the sun come up (or in Ashton’s case, play in the dirt).
After sunrise, stay and check out the rest of Angkor Wat. It’s still cool and many people head back to Siem Reap for breakfast so it’s not too crowded. When we were finished checking out Angkor Wat we headed for Angkor Thom, but by the time we got there Ashton was passed out with no chance of waking him up. So I ended up sitting outside the temple for an hour while he took a nap. Moral of the story… maybe that would be a good time to head back to your hotel and take a nap. Then, you could wake up, get some lunch, and then continue on your adventure to Angkor Thom refreshed and ready. Bring plenty of water with you here. It will be midday, very hot, and this temple is one of the larger ones with lots of different buildings to trek to.
After, head on over to Ta Prohm. It is not very large necessarily but easily one of the most beautiful ones in the complex. It’s also a very shaded area so it will be a nice break from the sun. One last tip, bring lots of insect repellent! We basically drowned ourselves in the stuff and still got eaten alive.
2. Psar Chaa-
Psar Chaa is a fairly large building with a plethora of winding aisles stocked to the brim with anything you could want. There is a great wet market for fresh veggies. You can stock up on gifts with plenty of T-shirts, trinkets, wall hangings, or paintings. If your best friend is a DSLR then head over to the food and spices section. The vivid colors make for some great pictures. Ashton loved winding through all the alleys of the market. He also loves spending money, as most kids do, so that helps too. They have some great little kid shirts, toys, and stuffed animals.
3. Cambodian Cultural Village-
This is a lesser known site to foreign tourists, as it is more popular with Cambodians, but our tuk tuk driver said it was good for kids and he was right, of course. It is a replication of various styles of Cambodian villages. While it may not be the most exciting thing for those of us who have already gone through puberty, my little one had a blast checking out all the little houses and villages. They also have dancing and performances by locals which Ashton definitely enjoyed watching.
4. Floating Village-
To get to the floating village you can take a tuk tuk to the river harbor and then charter a private boat or get a ticket for a larger ferry. The boat ride is about 30 minutes to an hour depending on which kind of boat you board. The ride itself is such a joy to see the “river life”. Families fishing and swimming along the banks. My son loves boats (and, like most boys, pretty much all modes of transportation) so this was a big hit for him. Getting to the village is such an experience… seeing chickens in floating coops, children playing in house boats, and kids going to school in the middle of a lake. There is also an orphanage here. You can stop at a market before you get on your boat and bring rice, veggies, or other little snacks to the kids here. Ashton ended up playing badminton with about 10 of the kids at the orphanage. Talk about heartwarming!
5. Artisans Angkor-
This company is based out of Siem Reap but has outlets throughout the city and in Phnom Penh as well as at the major airports. They sell handmade jewelry, home decor, clothing, and lots more. The artisans are local people who have been trained at this center in Siem Reap. They also provide tours (which is the fun part for kids!) about how they make some of their stuff! Pretty cute watching a little one learn how to use a loom.
6. Zip Line-
The ‘Flight of the Gibbon’ is the name of Siem Reap’s only zip line. While I did not personally try this, I have heard far too many people say that this was one of the best zip lines they’ve done in Asia. It does not go through the temples but it does go through the Asian jungle and that alone makes it a pretty incredible experience. Our tuk tuk driver/guide Rony said that this was one of the most popular family attractions in the city and it went through a very beautiful area of the jungle. I can’t wait until Ashton is a little older so we can go back and try it!
7. Horse Riding-
The ‘Happy Horse Ranch’ is the place to go. They offer all kinds of trail rides; short 1/2 hour lead rides to 2 hour trail rides for experienced riders. The owner is originally from Cambodia but spent more than 30 years raising horses in California. He has now retired here and has brought his love of horses back with him. His vast property is beautiful and a perfect spot for some trail riding. Various statues placed throughout the property makes for some great pictures along the way. For kids under 5 the 1/2 hour lead ride is perfect. My little one was starting to get fidgety after a while. For older kids the longer rides explore more of the picturesque land.
8. ATV Riding-
If your kids like something a little faster or more modern than a horse, you can always take them out on ATVs! There are a few options around town for ‘quad-biking’. The one we went with was Siem Reap Quad Bike Adventure. Again, there are several options you can choose. You can do a short little ride around the surrounding areas or you can do a longer option to see the sunset and go through the farmlands. The ATVs are all very easy to use and you can go as fast or as slow as you like. There is no pressure since you can book your ride to be a solo guided ride. You are the only one so you can determine the pace. With Ashton, obviously we weren’t pushing the pedal to the metal so it was nice to be able to take it slowly. It also gave us more time to take in the pretty views of the surrounding areas around Siem Reap.
9. Angkor National Museum-
The Angkor National Museum is a must see for anyone visiting the city. It helps inform you more about the Angkor temples and has so much more to offer about Cambodian history. It’s a beautiful building that has an abundance of relics from ancient Cambodia. It is a little expensive considering it’s not that large and the cost of the actual temples but I still say it’s worth it. One of the rooms that you shouldn’t miss is the Room of 1,000 Buddhas, which, if you can’t guess, is a room with about 1,000 Buddha statues in it. Pretty intense and powerful. Definitely check it out!
10. Phare the Cambodian Circus-
The last must-see on my list is the circus. I saved this for last because, besides the Angkor temples, I would recommend this above all others. It was absolutely amazing. Cliche, but there is simply no other word to describe it. Ashton was so enthralled with it for the entire 90 minutes because it is so colorful and the performers are so energetic. I was equally as enthralled because of the storyline behind the acts. It goes through the emotional upbringing of someone raised during the Khmer genocides. I’m a big enough person to admit, I teared up more than once watching this. Luckily, Ashton was too young to really understand the meaning. He just saw cool stunts, energy, and color. If you only see one thing in Siem Reap… see Angkor Wat. If you see two things, see the temple and this circus. I can’t even stress enough how much my son and I both loved it.
I hope you enjoyed our list of “must-see’s”! If you’ve been to Siem Reap and had an amazing experience somewhere, leave a comment and let us know where we should go next time!