Visiting Angkor Wat has always been at the top of my bucket list, I just hadn’t thought that it would be a suitable place for little kids. My kids are a little older now at 11, 9 and 7 so we decided that now would be a good time. Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples are located close to Siem Reap in Cambodia.
Another reason I had a strong desire to go to Siem Reap was to visit the orphanage where Ban, our sponsor child lives and we would have the opportunity to meet him and the other 27 children in his ‘family’. I wanted to take the kids there as they have a very blessed life with all their travel and I wanted them to understand that life is not like that for everyone. So we had 2 great reasons to visit Cambodia.
Once I’d booked our flights I started to research how I was going to go about getting the kids to enjoy the temples and what type of itinerary would be suitable for them. We had booked our flights for June, which is the start of the wet season in Cambodia and the weather would be unpredictable but likely wet at times. True to form it was wet at times but it didn’t impede on any of my organised plans.
I had read a number of blog posts about Cambodia and a number of different people had recommended their drivers. I came across a post from a couple that are currently travel blogging and I have come across them in a few different groups I am in. I was confident that they would not recommend him if they didn’t feel that it was deserving. I decided to contact their tuk-tuk driver and see if I could organise him for our trip.
Luckily Sok was available for the dates that we were there so I promptly booked him after our initial emails confirming price. I have written a post about Sok, click here to read it and get his contact details. Sok came and saw us the evening we arrived in Siem Reap and we discussed a rough itinerary for the 4 days we would be spending with him. As we were in Siem Reap for 7 days we were able to break up our days with Sok and had 4 days out of 6 days instead of 4 consecutive days which was easier on the kids.
We decided that 2 full days exploring the temples would be enough for the kids. The weather was very hot and the humidity high. Sok picked us up at 5.45am and we went straight to the ticket office for our passes to the Angkor Archeological Park. Prices are as follows (as at July 2016):
Children under 11 are free, make sure you have your child’s passport each day as they will be checking them on entry to the Park. They are very strict on this so make sure you carry it. There are also a couple of inner temples that you can only enter if you are over 12 years old and they again will ask to see passports for children entering to confirm this.
Another good tip is to purchase your passes the night before after 5pm this will let you enter the temples to enjoy the sunset while your pass will still be valid for the next day. This is a good option if you are only visiting for 1 day and want to take advantage of an extra chance to crack a ripping sunset. Unfortunately we never got to see a sunset as it was cloudy every evening while we were there.
We arrived in time for a great sunrise (the anticipation can sometimes lead to disappointment but very glad to report that we got a good one), I was anxious to get there as I had the perfect shot in my head that I wanted for my photo wall. Walking into Angkor Wat there will be loads of people trying to sell you books or asking if you would like a tour guide. We chose not to engage a tour guide but on reflection we probably should have. It’s up to you if you feel you would benefit from having one but I would recommend hiring one.
The well photographed sunrise spot is inside the outer wall so don’t panic like I did when I couldn’t see any resemblance to all the photos I had seen, it’s there, it’s just inside a bit! The best spot for photos is on the left as you approach the temple, if it’s not too crowded of course. We weren’t aware at the time and went to the right. We still got some great photos but it was only when we went over to the left side that we understood why that side was busier.
When we were there it wasn’t overly busy compared to what others had told me. During the summer there can be up to 10,000 people there for the sunrise. We were lucky if we had 1000, it was relaxed and people taking photos for each other and no shoving or climbing over people to get your shots. Luckily because I would have got the hump with that.
After sunrise you can either go back out and have breakfast or continue on into the temple. We decided to go straight in as we thought it would be less busy. This was a good move and we were able to get around with relatively small crowd. We had to queue to go up into the central temple, this is one of the places where you are required to be over 12 years old. I went up and explored first while Craig sat with the kids, we then swapped over and Craig went up for a bit. I reminisced about one of The Amazing Race episodes were the teams had to go up this steep staircase to the central temple, I remember thinking at the time how I wished I had been there. From the top of the temple you are able to get some great views of the surrounding jungle and the enormity of the outside wall. Watch out for the cats and the aggressive monkeys. What ever you don’t get too close to the monkeys, I saw one try to grab a man’s camera and took a swipe at him. It was one of those moments where you think, you idiot why would you get that close to it anyway!!
We walked around the main central area of the temple and explored the long hallways for around 3 hours, after that the kids were getting hungry and wanted to have breakfast. We went out and found Sok our driver and he took us to a local place for breakfast at about 10am. If the kids had been up for it I would have liked to walk the perimeter of the whole temple but it was very hot and humid and the kids wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Just means I have to go back another time to do it. As I said earlier, our visit was at the start of the wet season and jungle was very thick, green and healthy. We got rain here and there but nothing that hindered our plans, had it been a few weeks later we might not have been so lucky.
After breakfast we headed to Angkor Thom, which is located 1.7kms from the entrance of Angkor Wat. Angkor Thom is best entered through the south gate where you cross a Naga (serpent) bridge with statues of demons straddling the serpent. Angkor Thom is very distinctive due to the faces carved into the stone, its like they are looking at you from every angle. This temple is a little more run down than Angkor Wat but there are currently teams from NGO’s from around the world working to restore it.
There are 4 main areas to visit in Angkor Thom, we started with the Bayon, temple of faces. It’s amazing to look at the intricate work that has gone into carving all the faces into the stone. Large amounts of the temple is in ruin and there’s a big difference between this temple and Angkor Wat.
A short walk north of the Bayon is the Baphuon which adjoins the Royal Palace. Restoration efforts have hindered access to this temple and currently the centre tower is inaccessible. To enter this temple you are required to be over 12 years old so we didn’t bother with this one.
The Terrace of Elephants is a viewing platform for a palace that only a few ruins remain. The front face of the terrace is decorated with carvings of elephants. The Terrace of the Leper King is located on the north west corner of the Royal Square. Who is the Leper King, there are many theories although it is suggested that Jayavarman VII may have been a leper.
Otherwise know as the Tomb Raider Temple is believed to be in much the same state it was discovered in, almost swallowed by the jungle. There are many trees that are growing over the top and surrounding many of the temple walls. Ta Prohm was the favourite with the kids as they were able to explore and climb around much of the ruins. It doesn’t have proper straight paths and in some places you need to climb around parts of the wall that have fallen.
It’s amazing to see how the jungle has almost claimed this temple and I hope they maintain its character when restoring it. There is one tree that is being held up with scaffolding so that it doesn’t crush the wall beneath it. There are a number of walls that have been covered by tree roots and you could easily spend half a day here.
Banteay Srei meaning Citadel of the Women, is located about 60 mins drive from Siem Reap in the tuk-tuk. It’s worth making the trip out there as this temple is known for its beauty and is famous for its intricate stone carvings made from red sandstone. It’s one of the smallest Angkor temples and is thought to have been built by women due to the elaborate carvings believed to be too fine to have been carved by the hand of a man.
You are able to take a boat ride out the back of the temple, we chose to have a walk around and watch some local men working in the rice paddies. There’s a forest trail with arched trees that we took a nice walk through as well. We took some nice photos of the local area around the outside of the temple. There were some water buffalo out in the fields and it was very picturesque country side and exactly what I expected to see in Cambodia. Parts of Cambodia remind me of Vietnam when we first visited in 2003 especially this rural area.
Banteay Srei was the first temple to be restored in 1930 and was deemed a great success. There is a large car park and many facilities to accommodate visitors including western bathrooms, shops, information centre and cafe. I do have to add here that this is where we think Alannah and I got food poisoning. I believe it was from the complimentary cashews we were given when we stopped for a cold drink in the cafe after exploring the temple. Luckily it was only Alannah and I that ate them so the rest of the family was spared thank God.
The Cambodian Landmine Museum is also out on the way to Banteay Srei, we would have visited if we didn’t have the kids with us. We decided that we wouldn’t expose the kids to much of the sad side of Cambodia (we did the same with Vietnam last year) as much as Craig and I would have loved to visit we will do that another time. I hope to take them back one day when they are teenagers and hopefully they will have a better understanding of the atrocities that the local people have had to endure.
I was pretty happy with how we did things, we did Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm in one day, Banteay Srei we did the next day. The kids were tired after the sunrise then big day with all 3 temples so we had a relaxed start the next day and just did Banteay Srei and then went back to the hotel. Which was great as we got back before the food poisoning started which was brilliant!
The only thing I would do different is stay longer. If the kids were older I would have purchased 7 day passes and visited a temple each day. For us though it would have been too much for the kids and they wouldn’t have enjoyed it.
If you are packing in 2 or 3 temples in one day, do Ta Prohm last when the kids are tired as they will enjoy this temple tired or not. Its a real adventure and will keep them interested. We were lucky with the crowds being nowhere near as bad as other times of the year and we could move around freely and relatively relaxed. I would think that it would be a very different experience if it was too crowded.
One of my readers recently provided information regarding childcare and babysitting options for those who’s kids get ‘templed out’, she highly recommends Tree House Nursery, click the link for further details.
Have you been to Siem Reap to visit the temples? What time of year did you go and did you find it too crowded? Would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
Sal & Co.