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At first glance, Siem Reap may not seem like it would make the list of family-friendly destinations. Between the low price of beer and the general party atmosphere of Pub Street’s watering holes, Cambodia’s gateway to Angkor Wat is not the vacuum-packed, safety-sealed childhood experience you’ll get at theme parks. For some parents, however, that’s the whole point.
School-age children will enjoy exploring the city’s ancient ruins and temples, while teens can appreciate its museums and history in ways their younger siblings might not. However, families with infants and toddlers should pass on this destination for now — they are too young to truly appreciate the destination’s attractions, and constantly keeping an eye out for them will unfortunately divert adult attention from all that the area has to offer.
Summers in Siem Reap are hot and busy, but many families visit during their kids’ school vacation, which is usually the most convenient. December may be the best time in terms of weather, so spending the holiday break in Cambodia might be the superior option if it won’t get you in trouble with the grandparents.
Clients should begin their visit at Angkor National Museum. This air-conditioned introduction to Siem Reap’s history and culture will help adults and teens get more out of the trip and allow grade-school children to more easily recognize the sights.
Many families travel to Siem Reap to go ruin raiding, and nothing can fully prepare them for their first view of these temple complexes. Families should give themselves at least two full days for ruin exploration. Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, is quite impressive. For younger children, the Buddhist temple Angkor Thom is the most interesting and kid-friendly of the ruins and includes a chance to ride elephants around the complex. Clients should arrive early, as the queue is often long and the elephant rides stop by early afternoon. Prices range from about $15 to $25, depending on the tour company.
When possible, do ruin raiding in the mornings and evenings. Even in winter, temperatures and humidity are high enough to ruin a child’s day and frazzle even the toughest of parents. Get outdoors before and after the hottest times of the day, and spend afternoons swimming at your hotel.
Families looking for adventure should try Flight of the Gibbon, a tour company that offers two hours of canopy trekking 50-plus feet above the ground, punctuated with 10 zipline traverses and possible encounters with local wildlife. Rates begin at $109 per person, with an additional discount for children under 16.
Families can also take cooking classes. Programs at Le Tigre de Papier, for example, run about three hours, beginning with a trip to a local market to source ingredients. The teachers are experienced in working with children, so kids will be safe in the classroom learning traditional Khmer cooking methods. Clients finish with a shared meal and get a copy of the recipe so they can recreate the dish at home.
The steep walls of the ruins don’t come with guard rails, and tuk-tuk transportation is like a rollercoaster in open traffic. But for adventurous families ready to brave a few minor hazards, Siem Reap will expand young ones’ horizons and give them memories to last a lifetime.