Cambodia offers families the perfect blend of rich culture, awe-inspiring ruins, friendly villages, remote jungle and tropical palm-fringed beaches. Here are some of the top things to do and the best places to visit if you’re in Cambodia with kids.
Entering the Angkor Wat complex and seeing the lost city and the temple ruins for the very first time is an experience that you and your children will remember for a lifetime. Magnificent Angkor temples, monasteries and different capitals from the once-thriving Khmer Empire surround you. With every step you take, the journey takes you deeper and deeper into the past. There is no better way to teach your kids about this amazing place, than to let them explore it with you.
Out of all the Cambodian Temples, Ta Prohm is the one that your kids will probably want to see most of all because it was made famous by the 2001 action-adventure movie, ‘Tomb Raider’, starring Angelina Jolie.
This temple has been progressively invaded and claimed by the surrounding tropical jungle and looks very much the way most of the monuments of Angkor appeared when European explorers first stumbled upon them. The buildings are crumbling, everything is covered with moss, and tall, ancient strangler figs have taken root within the walls.
Near to Angkor Wat, but not invasively so, is a zip-line eco park, where you and your kids can soar through the forest canopy in a thrilling way, enjoying amazing jungle views as you go.
On the shores of the massive Tonlé Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, you’ll find several stilt villages, with all the houses suspended on eight-foot stilts. If the water level is high enough, your kids will love taking a boat trip around one of these villages, weaving in and out of the stilts.
Phnom Tamao is Cambodia’s leading zoo / safari park, about one hour’s drive from Phnom Penh. Here, you and your kids can spend the day with Free the Bears on the zoo’s Bear Care Day. The Bear Care Program looks after rescued Sun and Moon bears, native species to Cambodia.
The day involves food preparation, making enrichment toys for the bears, feeding the bears and a tour of the park. For animal lovers, this is a wonderful way of interacting with wildlife and helping a worthy cause. All the animals in the sanctuary were rescued from poachers or abusive owners and have received a second chance at a better life.
Less visited and less touristy than Siem Reap, yet Cambodia’s second most populous city, Battambang became part of French Indochina, and is therefore known for its French architecture and cosmopolitan feel; it is easy to get around on foot or by bicycle. It also boasts an even more famous attraction that anyone traveling through Cambodia with kids should visit: the bamboo train.
Affectionately known as ‘Norrie’, the train is essentially a bamboo platform that balances over two sets of wheels and is powered by a motorbike engine. It was once used to great effect in the days following the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge and proved a lifeline to villages needing to transport goods across the country. Today, with the roads much improved, the Norrie has become an eccentric tourist attraction.
Just off the coast of Sihanoukville are the paradise isles of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, where you can stay in Robinson-Crusoe-style beach huts. Pleasures here are of the simple kind but you and your kids will love the laid-back nature of the turquoise waters and the white-sanded, palm fringed isles.
During an action-packed holiday in Cambodia with the kids, there are not that many opportunities to get out and explore the countryside. However, one exception is Phnom Kulen, in the Kulen National Park, which is a great spot to enjoy a day out in nature. Here, following quiet rainforest trails, you can spot wildlife, monkeys, tropical birds and butterflies. Walk through the jungle or take a kayak or a sunset boat ride, and swim in a pool at the base of a waterfall.
Cambodia’s answer to Cirque du Soleil, Phare − the Cambodian Circus − is so much more than a conventional circus. This social enterprise located in Siem Reap, with its nonprofit school, Phare Ponleu Selpak, based in Battambang, has transformed the lives of hundreds of local children. It is a success story just as much as a fascinating, engaging and entertaining day or night out.
You can watch the school run circus skills and dance classes throughout the day or you can take in a real performance during the evening. Phare shows are unlike any in the world: dance, theater, original live music, juggling, gymnastics, and breath-taking circus arts are used to tell uniquely Cambodian stories from folklore, recent history, and modern society. You will see everything in just one show: energy, emotion, enthusiasm and talent.
In the south of Cambodia, near the Vietnamese border, lie the attractive twin towns of Kep and Kampot. At Kep, you can spend a wonderful couple of days taking a boat ride to Rabbit Island to go snorkeling, visiting a butterfly farm, taking hikes in the national park and exploring the crab market. The market is great fun for kids, and you can watch as the fishermen bring in the day’s catch before tucking into a large plate of freshly cooked seafood.
Crabs are still the specialty on the market menu, and a cheery waving statue welcomes visitors to Kep with one raised claw. The baguettes in the bakeries could be straight from Paris, a tempting legacy of French colonial rule. Kampot is equally worth a visit, a slightly ramshackle but utterly charming collection of colonial buildings on the edge of a river.
The town is famous for its uniquely flavored black peppercorns; the Cambodian dish of Kampot pepper crab was born here and a visit to the Kampot’s crab market serves up an authentic taste. After wandering around the town, visit a pepper plantation and take an early evening cruise on the river to watch the fireflies dance over the water.
Kratie, a small town located on the banks of the Mekong River, is dominated by a central marketplace surrounded by old French colonial buildings. A trip to this remote eastern province brings with it a wealth of wildlife opportunities. This includes rare Irrawaddy dolphins, which can be spotted swimming in stretches of the Mekong River, and Cantor’s giant softshell turtles that can be seen at the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center.
Asian elephants stalk the fields and bushlands of the far-flung Mondulkiri Province; water buffalo and timber longhouses ring the wetlands, and peaks of forest-clad rock rise to meet the border with Vietnam. This eastern jewel is a far cry from the sun-scorched lands and steamy tropical climes that dominate the rest of the country and is slowly becoming famed for its second-to-none elephant conservation project. Cultural encounters with the earthy Bunong tribespeople are also possible, and ecotourism of that ilk is now the main driver here.
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