What many visitors to Angkor are not prepared for is the sheer size of the site. Angkor Archeological Park is not just one little area, it is a a vast 400km2 city made up of various sites and specific areas of importance. It is NOT possible to walk between the main areas that tourists can visit. The little legs in the family would never make it. And while it is possible to have a quick scoot around in one day, you should really allow yourself at least two, if not three, full days to explore this amazing place. The best option for families, and the option that we used, was hiring a driver who picked us up from the airport who was then was our guide/driver for the duration of our stay. The drivers will charge a daily rate and take you wherever you want to go while you are there. They will wait in the various car parks while you ramble over the ruins, and then drive you between the sites as you see fit. They also generally know some really cool places for a bite to eat.
The guide books come to life.
Tracy and her family on their Angkor adventure.
Angkor essentials: Getting in, getting around, getting out…
You must possess an admission pass (an ‘Angkor Pass’) to visit the temples and sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Passes may be purchased at the main entrance on the road to Angkor Wat. One-day tickets only can be purchased at the secondary toll gate on airport road entrance near Angkor Wat and at Banteay Srei. Your driver/guide will be able to take you to the appropriate ticket counter.
Passes are sold in one-day ($20), three-day ($40) and seven-day ($60) blocks. The three-day pass is valid for one week (that is, three days to be used within the week, not necessarily consecutively). The seven-day pass is valid for one month (seven days to be used within the month, not necessarily consecutively). Children under 12 are free, as are Cambodian Nationals. Cash – either USD, Euros, Thai Baht or Cambodian Riel – are the only accepted form of payment. No credit/debit cards.
One passport-sized photo per person is required at time of ticket purchase for three and seven-day passes. If you do not have a photo, free photos are provided at the main entrance. This can mean a lengthy queue though and your time is definitely better spent exploring than lining up!
Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia is high on the list of must-do travel destinations – with its spectacular temples, ruins and jaw-dropping carvings, it’s an awe-inspiring and unforgettable trip (and just two hours from Singapore!). But can you do it with children? Will a Cambodian holiday end up in ruins or will you all be loving the ruins? Tracy Tristram took her sense of adventure along with her three small people (and a husband) to Angkor for a fun-filled long weekend…
Our youngest was just eight months old when we bundled him in his Ergo Baby and introduced him to a sight that we had wanted to see for many years – Angkor Wat.
We also had our other two kids tag along (not in Ergos) at age five and 10 at the time. They were completely nonchalant about going to “a load of old ruins” but were happy to admit they adored the place once we were there. The photos and the guide books that had been scattered around our apartment in the lead up to the holiday were really not all that interesting to them. They had visions of spending a holiday in a kind of endless museum. But the reality was an experience of exploration, excitement and yes a little bit of exhaustion that they loved every second of.
SIEM REAP: THE NEED-TO-KNOWS
Siem Reap is just a quick two-hour direct flight with Jet Star or Silk Air from Singapore, so makes a great destination for a long weekend or as a pit stop as part of a longer holiday. You’ll barely have time to fire up the iPad before you are landing in this amazing and mystical land.
For most passport holders, Cambodia is ‘Visa on Arrival’ but do take a look at the information pertaining to your nationality before you travel at Cambodia Tourism Visa Requirements. And make sure you bring some USD to pay for the visa!
Weather wise, the driest and coolest months to visit are November through to March. Once March rolls around it starts to heat up and April and May are the hottest months. In June and July the heat starts to lessen and the showers start to fall (rarely for more than an hour or two at a time). Come August you will need wellies and a rain mac, and possibly even a portable canoe, as this is when the rain really starts to fall. In fact between the months of August to October, Siem Reap has more water fall from the sky than London has in an entire year! (And for those of you who know London, you must also know that it rains a LOT there!).
We visited Siem Reap in January and the weather was ideal. Not too hot. Not too cold. No rain.
A one-day visit allows you to see the highlights of the most famous temples, but very little more. This may suit those with very young children. Three days will get you a visit to all the major temples as well as a few minor ones with a little extra time to linger at your favourite parts.
Visiting hours are 5AM – 6PM. Angkor Wat closes at 6PM, Banteay Srei closes at 5PM and Kbal Spean at 3PM. Make sure to always carry your ticket! It will be checked upon each park entry and at major temples. There is a significant fine for not possessing a valid ticket inside the park. A regular admission ticket is not required to visit Phnom Kulen (the holy mountain famous for its carvings and sacred waters), Koh Ker or Beng Mealea, but there is a separate entrance fee of $20, $10 and $5, respectively.
The many faces of Angkor Thom
A lot of the site is open for us tourist types to clamber over and explore at our will. Our kids were in their element finding secret passages and dodgy looking staircases to climb and our time there was, sadly, not quite long enough.
There are dozens of temple ruins in the Siem Reap area. Your temple itinerary depends largely on how much time you have and your level of interest, though some temples are absolute must sees. Any itinerary should include the legendary ruins of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the giant faces of Bayon. These temple ruins are probably the most iconic and offer the kids ample opportunity for climbing and rambling. It is worth noting that Angkor Wat is NOT stroller friendly! A baby carrier is a must for babies and little legs who won’t cope with the level of walking and climbing involved. The older little legs will get tired, so factor in rest breaks and if you are there over a few days then definitely pace yourself according to your kids’ energy levels!
The amazing if a little creepy Ta Prohm, home of the Tomb Raider set!
The amazing if a little creepy Ta Prohm, which you might recognise from the Tomb Raider movie!
Another incredible adventure for your family is Ta Prohm. Close to Angkor Thom, the two sites make for an unforgettable day out. Ta Prohm is also very familiar for Lara Croft fans as it featured in the film adaptation, although Angelina Jolie is unlikely be there when you visit, I am sorry to say. However, Ta Prohm is the undisputed capital of the ‘Kingdom of the Trees’ and it is easy to see why. Shrouded in dense jungle, this area has largely been left untouched by archaeologists except for the clearing of a path for visitors. The trunks of the trees twist around the stone pillars, giving it a haunted charm that the kids will love (or run screaming from!).