The ancient temples of Angkor are the pride of Cambodia and a must-see for anyone visiting or moving to the country. Built about a thousand years ago, and scattered over an area of some 115 square miles, the thought of visiting the temples can be a bit daunting to parents with small children. But don’t worry, you don’t have to miss out! Here are some tips for visiting Angkor Wat and the other temples around Siem Reap with kids in tow.
Do a little research to decide which temples you really want to see
You won’t be able to see them all! My suggestion would be Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm with a quick stop at one of Bayon’s Victory gates for a sampling of the different styles of temples. Angkor Wat, the largest of them all, lends its name to the archaeological park and is featured on the kingdom’s flag. It is still a site of religious pilgrimage today. Bayon is interesting in that it comprises some 200 large stone faces, smiling serenely. And Ta Prohm is overgrown with tree roots twisting around the ruins, giving it an Indiana Jones feel.
Depending on how many temples you want to see, as well as the ages of your kids, plan for a half day or perhaps two half days. A whole day in the sun with lots of walking and climbing is a recipe for meltdowns. A half day is enough time to see three, maybe four temples, depending how long you want to spend exploring each of them.
Book private transport
Get your own tuktuk or private transport to Angkor instead of joining a group or bus tour. You’ll be able to customize your trip and spend as much (or little) time at each temple as you wish, catering to your kids needs/ tiredness levels on the day.
Plan the right time of day
Consider if you want a sunrise or sunset at Angkor Wat. Sunrises mean very early starts (you’ll probably want to set out around 5am to be at the temples in time). The sunrise is very popular, so expect crowds! Sunset is much less crowded. If you aren’t after those artistic shots, consider visiting Angkor Wat at midday while the tour groups are having lunch for a much less busy tour.
Buy tickets in advance
Buy your entrance tickets in advance if you are planning on an early start to shorten the day a little. The ticket site is not at the temple entrance. Everyone aged 12 and above needs a ticket and must be present to purchase them as they print your photo on your ticket. You’ll need to bring passports for proof of age for older (or older-looking!) children.
Wear good shoes and sun protection
There is lots of walking involved, especially at Angkor Wat, which is the largest religious structure in the world! Be prepared to carry smaller children. Bring sun hats, sun screen and sun glasses. These are a must. You might also want to pack some bug repellent, especially if you will be there at dawn or dusk, when the dengue-carrying mosquitos are most active. Keep in mind that the temple dress code requires you wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees while visiting these religious sites.
Snacks and drinks are available outside some of the temples, but not all of them. Bring your water bottle and at least some snacks to keep energy levels up. And when you are near a temple with drinks and snacks for sale nearby, an ice cream or fruit shake can really make a difference in cooling kids down.
And the toilets…
Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm have decent toilets, Bayon (and some others) not so much. Your entrance ticket will get you into the toilets for free, otherwise you’ll be asked to pay a small fee. You won’t find diaper (nappy) changing facilities. A small fold-up changing mat that you can pack in day bag is your best bet.
Things to know
Kids will love exploring the stone structures, climbing the levels on the towers and scrambling over the ruins. Take care at temples such as Ta Prohm, however, where the moss-covered stones are slippery. And, like the rest of the country, the area around the temples can get quite muddy after rain.
There are monkeys at some temples that will cheekily grab drinks and snacks off visitors. Hide any food when monkeys are around to avoid having it stolen. And don’t feed the monkeys – it isn’t good for them and encourages them to expect handouts and snatch what they want. Don’t try to touch them either, the cute little things do bite!
And lastly, remember not to buy from children selling at the temples – as hard as it is not to try to help them by buying from them, good sales encourage parents to keep their kids working instead of sending them to school.
With a little planning, kids of all ages will be able to appreciate the size and magic of the temples of Angkor. Be sure to get lots of snaps to capture their experience of the ancient ruins and jog their memories down the track!
For up-to-date prices and options on entrance passes, check the government website: angkorenterprise.gov.kh