With Cambodia’s colourful history and tales of red rebels, kidnappings, landmines, corruption and dodgy roads, it’s unsurprising that parents might think that, say, Brussels or the local petshop might be better options when planning a trip with their kids. Yet Cambodia is child friendly, and a large number of parents are making the journey here with their children, and thoroughly enjoying it too. It’s a lot cheaper than Disneyworld, that’s for sure, and there really is plenty to keep kids entertained so you won’t need to hear too many sweet strains of “Awwww, Mum!! Not another temple! Temples are stoopid.”
Moreover, you’re in a country where a devoted temporary babysitter is never more than a few yards away. Cambodians love kids, and if you’re in the right restaurant and play your cards right, you’ll easily find a waitress (provided she’s not run off her feet, of course) who will take your toddler and make faces at them while you eat a meal in peace. This, obviously, is not to be expected or asked for. Maybe it’s like karma: it’ll happen if you’ve been good too.
With a huge thank you to Siem Reap’s very own child survivors for all of their top tips, here are the highlights of some of the things that they do to keep their monst, err, oops, darlings’ energy levels down to something manageable.
Horse-riding through paddy and villages, and down dusty, red-earth lanes is a great way to introduce kids to the Cambodian countryside, and run off some of that energy. The Happy Ranch caters to kids as young as young as six.
If getting into a saddle isn’t quite their thing, try the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre. Did you know that caterpillars are liquefied in their cocoons before re-forming as butterflies? Me neither until I went here. Not far from the Banteay Srei temple, the Butterfly Centre is a small, exquisite jungle garden just thronging with thousands of beautiful butterflies of every colour imaginable. Their aerial ballets are beautiful, and guides are on hand to provide additional information.
At Kbal Spean, near Banteay Srei, the first dedicated conservation centre in Cambodia, the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, is home to a range of rescued animals including palm civets, gibbons, leopard cats, and the highly eccentric, and endangered, pangolin. Daily tours are held at 13:00, for which early arrival is recommended.
Rock climbing at Krorma Yamato has proved very popular with locals’ kids. A dedicated eight-metre climbing wall with all the equipment costs only $2 for half an hour or $4 for the whole day. At your own risk.
If you’re on the prowl for kids’ clothes, Shanti Shop on The Lane has just brought in a new selection of gorgeous and colourful clothes for ages 0 to 14. And if you forgot to bring toys or books for the kids, then Monument Books has a pretty good range of high quality, safe children’s toys (Fisher Price and so on). They’re beside the Old Market, looking on the river.
Highly reputed Lemongrass Spa has recently introduced a special Kiddie Khmer Massage, which is a 45 minute massage (without oil $6, with oil $9) that is aimed at children between the ages of two and 10. According to the manager, the massage usually sends the children off to sleep, leaving the parents free to enjoy a full 90 minute massage if they wish. (It sounds a little like what happens at Jari Menari in Bali.)
While many restaurants are kid-friendly, there are a few standouts. Tangram Garden is a new and lovely garden restaurant with a wide range of western and Khmer dishes. They have a kids play area in the garden, which is excellent for distracting the little angels while you catch up on your reading.
Kanell is a really beautiful, exotic garden restaurant with a delicious menu of French and Khmer dishes. At the back of the garden, there is a free to use small pool which is very popular with locals with kids. There is also a special poolside menu offering yummy burgers and snacks. Towels are provided.
In the centre of town, Le Grand Café is a lovely old colonial style building just opposite the Old Market. Upstairs, there is a small play area especially for kids on the right hand side. Here you can keep an eye on them while enjoying a coffee and watching the crowds.
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