Taming the Temples of Angkor With Kids

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It’s a truth experienced by traveling parents everywhere – no matter how exotic the location or ancient the ruins, kids will rarely share our enthusiasm for temples. Dragging children around centuries-old religious monuments in searing heat while maniacally imploring them to enjoy it will break the most zen parent – our patience escapes us like the sweat that pours down our backs.

a young girl interacting with a monk at a temple
(Courtesy of Evie Farrell)

Take heart though, as the majestic ancient temples of Angkor in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province are a child explorers’ dream. Once the largest city in the world, its more-than 1000 temples have narrow pathways and steps to climb, hidden rooms to discover and moats and beautiful lakes to cross.  Detailed carvings with inscriptions to decipher and the intrigue of a creeping jungle seeking to devour the temples will pique the adventurer in every child.

My six year old daughter Emmie and I spent three days at Angkor on a journey into the centuries old Khmer Kingdom, where ancient Kings worshipped Hindu divinities Shiva and Vishnu and later sought Buddhist enlightenment in temples built throughout centuries by the city’s million inhabitants.

With a few strategies, some distraction with fun things to do in Siem Reap and pool-time anticipation we explored, imagined and photographed our way around the ancient city of Angkor, the largest religious site in the world. Here’s how we did it:

Book a Hotel With a Pool

It’s hot in Siem Reap, and scorching at Angkor so you will need a pool to cool off in. Hotels with pools in town are around US$18 a night or if you prefer to stay fancy there are five star hotels in town and on the road to Angkor. We use booking.com to find ours in advance, and loved our stay at the Anantara Angkor – read about our stay here – as well as some smaller $20 a night guesthouses- with breakfast and a pool – in town.

Choose the Three Day Pass

We bought the three day pass – $US62 for adults, children under 12 free  – and took our time. Passes must be used within a week, allowing you to break up your visits with pool days and roaming Siem Reap’s breezy riverside, bustling markets and agonising over whether to taste the fried cockroaches, worms and crickets on every street corner.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Evie Farrell)

Learn Before You Go

Share stories of adventure with your children before you start exploring Angkor.  With the roots of ancient trees engulfing the temple, Ta Prohm is definitely one for the kids and is where Tomb Raider was filmed – watching it made us so excited to get to the temple and see it for ourselves. Preparing kids with books about Angkor and Cambodia helps build their excitement. Cambodia Kids is a fun book about the country and Angkor and you can find lots more resources for kids and family here.

Getting Around

There are many ways to see Angkor – whether on an organised Angkor temple tour, hiring pushbikes and riding out or making your own route around the temples. We hired a tuk tuk for the first two days (US$20 per day)  – we just found a driver in the street  – and followed the two standard routes that every driver will take you on – you can devise your own itinerary if you like. On our third day we took a car to Angkor Wat, watched the sunrise and wandered around in awe before driving north to Kulen Mountain to swim in an incredible waterfall surrounded by monks, and visit the Phnom Kulen temple and the fascinating 1000 Lingas River.

Zipline at Angkor Zipline

Who would have thought there’d be a zipline in the middle of Angkor? Just a few minutes down a dirt road, Angkor Zipline is the perfect distraction to break up your first day of exploring. With Emmie excited about ziplining at lunch we planned a full day of sightseeing. After an awesome morning exploring Angkor Thom and the majestic Bayon Temple we ziplined over the jungle canopy together and it was amazing. Emmie loved it so much she went a second time, and afterwards was happy enough to continue until sunset at Phnom Bakheng. It was a big day, but the zipline made it work for us. You can buy discounted tickets here. Have a great time!

Epoch Times Photo
Angkor Zipline fun. (Courtesy of Evie Farrell)

Cover Up, Drink Lots of Water and Buy Snacks

Modesty is key, and you’ll be denied entry if you don’t show respect for the Khmer culture by covering your shoulders and legs from the knees up when visiting the temples. You can buy water, snacks and lunch outside the temples – James Bond 007 was an especially entertaining cafe owner at Angkor Wat and I enjoyed his fun attitude and nutella pancakes while Emmie played in front of the temple with local kids.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

The ultimate experience and photo opportunity is sunrise over Angkor Wat, reflecting the temple in its pools and lighting up the sky. Take a torch, and depending on the time of year you’ll need to stand to the left or the right of the temple for the best view. You can hire chairs from the nearby stalls for a dollar to sit in while you wait.

Kulen Mountain
You have to visit the amazing Kulen Mountain. (Courtesy of Evie Farrell)

Get There Early

On the days you’re not at Angkor Wat for sunrise, beeline to the temples early and you’ll be rewarded with mostly deserted sites before the heat of the midday sun. Similarly, late in the day most visitors are searching out sunset vantage points and you’ll have the chance to explore almost empty ruins.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Evie Farrell)

Please Don’t Ride Elephants

Thankfully, elephant riding has been banned at Angkor. If you’re interested in elephants the best way to see them is to seek out elephant sanctuaries where you can see these beautiful creatures as they are reintroduced to the wild like the Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri.

Enjoy Your Time

Traveling with kids doesn’t always go smoothly, and when they’ve had enough it’s often not worth pushing on. Make the most of your time here, enjoy climbing and exploring together and encourage them to appreciate what they can. In our opinion a short experience shared in happiness is worth far more than a long day of tannies!

Find out how to get around Cambodia here and read about exploring Kep with kids here.

And while you’re in Siem Reap you could help Cambodian children by giving blood at The Angkor Hospital for Children. You can read about our experience here.

Good luck and have fun!

This article was originally published on mumpacktravel.com.

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