Siem Reap With a Toddler: Beyond the Temples
We knew Cambodia would be a relaxing place to travel with a child the first time our hotel bellhop lifted our toddler onto his shoulders for a ride (a treat that would be repeated during our stay).
Cambodians love children and nearly all of them greeted ours with broad smiles. A woman at a barbecue restaurant where we ate one night even brought him across the street (in our full view) to dance.
Before You Go:
US dollars are the effective currency; it helps to bring a lot of small bills as many things will be inexpensive and people might not be able to change a $20 (or even a $10). ATMs dispense dollars but there are fees. Change under one dollar is given in Cambodian riel, which are useful for tips.
Diapers are widely available, but not in larger sizes.
What To Do
People come to Siem Reap for the temples, but there are other activities.
We took a hike one day to the Kbal Spean waterfall (not for swimming), which had beautiful carvings believed to be about 1,000 years old on the rocks under and next to the water. We paid a local man who was milling around to show us the best carvings, which turned out to be downstream from the end of the hiking trail.
The night market in Siem Reap was less crowded and more spacious than others we visited in South-East Asia. Our 2-year-old, Jude, was very interested in all the colors, sounds and items for sale. I found it a relaxing place to stroll around and pick up souvenirs at good prices.
The floating villages on Tonle Sap outside Siem Reap are a very popular day trip, but it’s too long a day for a young child. An older couple we met said the trip took them 14 hours (driving on unpredictable roads, then riding in a small motor boat). So we had to skip it.
Watching Jude interact with the local children outside temples and our hotel and downtown was entertaining. Most children were very curious about him but got nervous if he came too close. These interactions usually attracted a crowd. The adults would encourage the kids to talk or get closer for photos that they took with their cell phones.
The hotel staff suggested visiting the Cultural Village but we didn’t make it there. We saw elephant rides and hot air balloon rides near the temples that could with fun for bigger kids.
What To Eat
Cambodian barbecue is a delicious and inexpensive meal option that can be fun for kids. You order fish or meat, which arrives with sides and broth. You cook the items on a skillet that slopes down into a trough at your table. As the meat and fish cook, you pour broth, mushrooms, tofu, noodles and water spinach in the trough. When it’s all done you spoon the soup into your bowl and add meat on top (or just eat it straight off the grill). There are hot sauces, black pepper and lime for dipping.
If you seek out a barbecue joint in downtown Siem Reap, you’ll likely be treated to some fantastic people watching. We stumbled onto a place that had live music just outside. Jude was thoroughly entertained the entire meal.
Visit the FG Hotel Guide to Cambodia
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Pavillon d’Orient, halfway between Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. The staff was lovely and it’s very child-friendly. Another option is the Golden Banana, in downtown Siem Reap. We didn’t stay but heard good things from fellow travelers.
Despite the obvious hassles, we brought a car seat for Jude and hired a car through the hotel when we ventured to distant temples or to go to the airport.
We used tuks-tuks for short hops around Siem Reap, say to go into town for dinner or to Angkor Wat early in the morning. But we had the same tuk-tuk driver, hired through our hotel, for our ten-day stay. He had a two-year-old at home, too, and took it easy. While it probably wasn’t ideal, we felt reasonably comfortable doing it.
A Word Abotut Hawkers
As soon as you jump out of your tuk-tuk, you’ll be approached by vendors selling souvenirs, drinks and guidebooks. If you’re not interested, say no politely but firmly. Patrick offered a maybe later a few times, to be polite. But when we didn’t buy anything on the way back we received guilt trips and even a few nasty insults (“You number one crazy man!”)
Nothing is perfect, but our Siem Reap sojourn turned out to be easier with a toddler and more fun than we could hoped.
Bliss Bernal co-authors the blog Around the World with a Two-Year-Old with her husband, Patrick. They left Brooklyn in August 2011 to travel around the world with their two-year-old son, Jude.