Southeast Asia is full of incredible history. One place that was at the top of our list to visit was Siem Reap, Cambodia. Infused with history and amazing engineering feats as seen in the Angkor Wat compound, you can’t go wrong with visiting, and will likely wish you had more time. It was a short 1 hour flight from Bangkok, before disembarking into the hot, dry, desert-like land of Cambodia. My husband grew up in Chad, Africa and he was struck by how similar the landscape looked compared to his memories of Sub Saharan Africa. As always, verify if you will need a visa prior to traveling anywhere. We did require a visa for entry and applied ahead of time via the official Kingdom of Cambodia website. At the time of our travel, you could also obtain a visa on arrival, but I'm not sure if that's still the case. Either way, a little bit of forethought and doing it ahead of time was incredibly worth it for us because the visa on arrival line was long.
If you’ve followed our travels much at all, you have probably realized we visit places you may not think of taking kids, and yet there is so much rich history in this part of the world that we want to see as much as we can. So we travel anyways, knowing that in spite of difficulties which arise from traveling with young children it will always be rewarding. We visited Siem Reap in January of 2019 for 2.5 days. We stayed at BB Angkor Green Resort which seems like a little oasis with a kid pool and lush greenery. The hotel assisted in arranging 2 days of tours based on our interest - but they had many activities to choose from. Our first afternoon we spent the afternoon at the pool, letting the kids swim. The hotel offers a free shuttle to Pub Street in downtown Siem Reap, which has lots of restaurants, bars and shops. The whole area around Pub Street is quite busy, but you can easily find somewhere to eat. We enjoyed the local cuisine of frog legs! Surprisingly the kids thought it was tasty. That was as adventurous as we were going to be with food. If you've traveled with a young child who needs a highchair, you will often find they are hard to find in some places. Including Siem Reap. But with a little creativity we used our Ergo to attach our 1 year old to the chair! Messy, but worth it.
We enjoyed our dinner and meandering along Pub Street listening to the live music… we stopped at a few shops that had handmade quilts and other gifts made by vulnerable women trying to make a living. We always try to support local businesses when possible. All along Pub Street there are many ice cream stands, food trucks and several fish spa’s. The second night when we went into town we all enjoyed a “fish spa” which made our feet really smooth but it tickled a lot!!
Using Cash while Traveling
Someday I’ll do a whole post about changing currency, however I wanted to share about our specific experience in Cambodia. In Cambodia you can pay in the local currency (Cambodia Riel) or US Dollars. So you can pull cash from the ATM in their local currency or USD. When we travel we have found it is easier to pull cash from an ATM in the local currency – or in this case US Dollars, since the currency we would have on hand is Thai Baht and it’s more complicated to change it to a local currency. So, we pulled out a few hundred dollars from the ATM for our time there, and the ATM surprisingly distributed the funds in one hundred dollar bills… not $20 bills as you’d expect. We didn’t think too much about it. However, one of the hundred dollar bills had a small ink smudge on it. Otherwise it was a perfectly new, crisp and a legit bill. But when we would try to pay with it at a restaurant or any of the shops, they all turned it away, because of the small smudge on it! When we asked why, we were told that the banks will not accept it for the full value of $100, but instead only give them back the equivalence of $95 for it. When you consider the value of $5 in #Cambodia, that can be a significant loss just from one bill. Clearly the shops have learned their lesson, and yet I have no doubt the bills are added to the ATMs over and over for unsuspecting tourists. In the end we were able to use it to pay for our hotel, but I would strongly encourage visitors from the USA to bring cash with you, or go to the bank for cash, and check the bills before taking them.
Our first full day was spent going to the Angkor Wat complex. It is one of the oldest religious monuments in the world. It was built in the early 12th century and the ruins stretch over 154 square miles (400 square kilometers). Read more about its history here and information on the ticket price and hours here.
There are several ways you can get around the complex, some of our friends actually rented bikes and biked their way through the complex. You can also ride in a tuk-tuk, but we chose to hire a tour guide for the day who could take us around to the various sites while sharing the history of it. In general it was very helpful and our tour guide was very informative, but if
we had to do it over again we would have just read up on the history beforehand and gone through the ruins ourselves and traveled via tuk-tuk. The main reason is because our kids could only stand around for so long listening to someone share history. At the time they were 5, 3, 1 years old and I was about 22 weeks pregnant. It was a very hot day, and after 2 hours slowly walking through the main complex of Angkor Wat, kindly asking our guide to speed up (or simply having to tell him we didn’t need to know ALL the details) while the kids were melting down from hunger and heat, we were all a mess. We felt bad, because our guide just wanted us to know everything about the ruins, however it wasn’t really necessary for us… having a young family didn’t allow us the privilege to take all the time in the world, but it was still very impressive. This is when I was thankful for packing lots of snacks, and for the carts of cold drinks and ice cream along the roads.
After visiting Angkor Wat we spent the afternoon seeing several other temples on the complex. The first was the Bayon temple which has a multitude of smiling faces carved from stone facing all directions.
From there we visited the Temple of Ta Prohm, which has become popularized as the location of the film Tomb Raider. It had these massive trees growing up from the sides and tops of the buildings. It was really incredible. Otherwise we stayed in the vehicle and drove past many other sites. #AngkorWat is somewhere my husband would love to visit again because there was so much we weren’t able to see. It is definitely a historical site you could spend 3-4 days at and not run out of things to see.
Floating Village on Tonle Sap Lake
The second full day we traveled by private van to #Tonlesaplake for a boat tour to see the floating villages. As always we brought our own life jackets for the children. The water itself is quite brown from run-off water, but it gives a true glimpse of life on the lake. We rode the
long tail boats past fishermen casting their nets and homes up on stilts over the water. We made it out to the Floating Village which even had a crocodile farm! It was quite a full pen of crocodiles, and I definitely held on to the kids very tightly as they were looking over the fence at them down below! It took me a while to realize the crocodiles can't just swim out from the pen! I imagined they were swimming into it and out of it whenever they wanted, lol.... which made me quite terrified for the water! But it turns out they farm them for food and products. Honestly, this was a place that I was relieved to leave and get back onto the boat as there were plenty of nooks and crannies the kids could fall through.
After a lunch stop overlooking rice fields, we spent the afternoon at the Artisans Angkor. You can have a free
tour of the workshops, learning about how their handmade arts and crafts are made. Their goal is to “revive ancient Cambodian Arts & Crafts while improving the lives of thousands of people living in rural areas.” That’s the kind of organization we love to support! The tour showed the different stages of hand carved stones, painted crafts and they even let the kids take turns trying their hand at carving!
After the tour you end at the shop to buy in support of the artists. They had beautiful silk scarves, paintings, carvings, jewelry, clothing, anything you could hope to bring home as a souvenir. I recall vividly having Adele in the ergo, facing forward as I was looking at items…. Her feet were so fast! She kicked a small round container onto the ground and of course it broke. We had to buy it, but they were so kind to replace it with a non-broken one. But alas, I was reminded again to not take children into stores with breakables! If you’re interested in supporting such a cause, they do offer world-wide shipping through their website.
Overall, #SiemReap is a must-see in Southeast Asia. And if it means your young kids come along for the ride, they will thank you for it someday!