Cambodia Tips At A Glance
- You can get your visa upon arrival at the airport in Phnom Penh and most border crossings
- Mosquitos and mosquito borne illnesses are prevalent throughout many parts of the country. Malaria prophylaxis won’t prevent you from getting dengue fever. You need good bug repellent. For our children, we used Don’t Bite Me stickers which have Vitamin B in them (but they stick like a bandaid. Kids hated taking them off) and mosquito repellent wrist bands and leg bands. Together, that did the trick. We used malarone tablets for malaria prevention.
- Read Survival in the Killing Fields by Haing Ngor if you want to learn more about the Khmer Rouge Revolution.
What an amazing country with a complicated and tragic history.
For Cambodia, you can get your visa in advance, or apply for it on site in the airport upon arrival. Note that you will need to fill out forms for every single person, even though the paperwork says otherwise.
The girls were 2.5 and almost 5 years old when we went on this trip. We began our adventure in Phnom Penh. It’s a beautiful little city right on the riverbanks. Feeding the pigeons, going on a sunset river cruise, Wat Botom Vatey Playground, and visiting the Royal Palace were highlights.
I went to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum one afternoon, but did this without the children. There was hardly any signage or available information so if you haven’t read much about this time period in Cambodian history, you might find a different site more educational. I tried to hire a guide, as recommended by my guidebook, but there weren’t any available for hire when I went. I heard that The Killing Fields memorial is better funded with more information. This may change with time though.
Feeding the pigeons in Phnom Penh. There are plenty of people selling seed and corn for you toss to them. The pigeons are pretty fat and well fed, so they don’t attack you or your children, for food. It’s pretty tame experience.
On a riverboat cruise at sunset. To hire a boat, head to the river about 30-45 minutes before sunset and look for somebody holding an advertisement. Negotiate your price. Pretty easy. Cruise lasted about an hour. We paid $5 per person. There were only two other paying guests on our boat. They served soft drinks or beer for a small additional fee.
The Royal Palace is similar to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, but less crowded, smaller, and less elaborate. Still worth the visit though.
Our older daughter started our tradition of standing like flamingos for pictures while we were in India. Kinda fun!
At Wat Botom Vatey Playground in Phnom Penh with some new friends. Important tip while traveling with kids is making time to play. Kids will put up with tours of palaces and temples if you also give them time to run around a be, well, kids.
A larger view of one of the playgrounds at this park. There were several play structures of variable sizes for kids of all ages. It’s fully fenced except for one small area so you have pretty good control of your children. It was close to the river and the Royal Palace.
One thing about Cambodia is that “family rooms” which are considered rooms with more than one bed, were a little harder to find. Not impossible, but harder. Our first stop in Phnom Penh, we stayed at Eureka Villas. The good is that it was walking distance to most major sites and had a swimming pool, including a shallower one for kids. The bad is that the restaurant was overpriced and that full sized bed in the triple room (a.k.a. family room) was super uncomfortable and the shower kept turning on spontaneously at random times. All of that would have been fine, but not for the price at which we paid to stay there.
We only stayed in Phnom Penh two nights before flying to Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat. In Cambodia, we ended up staying at hotels. There weren’t many hostels and no vacation rental properties to speak of. As tourism grows, I expect this to change.
In Siem Reap, we stayed at Jayavara Boutique Hotel which was really wonderful. The price included daily hot breakfast. The staff was quite friendly and accommodating. The family room consisted of two full sized beds and wasn’t overtly large, but the window looked right out to the pool deck so we could lounge poolside while the children napped, but still within earshot of them in case any silliness ensued. The staff at the hotel linked us with a tuk tuk driver who took us on daily excursions.
On our first day, we decided to wake up in time to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. The hotel packed us a breakfast to go. When you get to Angkor Wat, people are trying to sell you flashlights but these aren’t necessary. There are so many people and guide groups heading into the complex all at the same time, you can just follow their light and the sun rise happens pretty quickly. Save your money or bring your own pocket one if you are insistent on having one of your very own.
Keep your eyes peeled for giant centipedes!
So Angkor Wat and the complex are beautiful and I could write on their beauty for hours, but I won’t. Be sure to see some of the other surrounding temples that are covered on your pass too. One of our favorites was Preah Khan.
There are some giant, steep staircases all over the Angkor Wat complex. If you, or your children, are scared of heights, you may want to avoid these!
If you’re doing Siem Reap with kids, a must-do is Jungle Junction. For $1 per kid, you can relax with a drink in the garden while somebody runs around after your children and plays with them. Awesome!
Supervised play at Jungle Junction. The outdoor is a big garden setting with a trampoline and play structure. Inside is another play structure, a bouncy house, a couple swings, and a ball pit. Totally worth the $1 per child for unlimited supervised play! Food was actually quite good and certainly much better than what you would expect for this type of establishment.
After Siem Reap, we headed down to Battambang, which is well worth the trip. We went by bus on the way down there, which I do not recommend. It wasn’t that much cheaper than a taxi ride, and took a lot longer. It was quite uncomfortable on the bus and they only stopped once for you to grab a quick snack at a roadside stall. When we headed back to Siem Reap to catch our flight down to the south, we took a taxi. Paid about $45 for the taxi and about $30 for the bus. Taxi made it in 2.5 hours while bus took 4.5 hours. All that being said, Battambang is well worth the effort!
We stayed at Phka Villa Hotel, which was very nice. They have several bungalows surrounding a swimming pool. Their family bungalow is a little goofy though as it has just three twin sized beds. It has two connected rooms. One room is very small with just one twin bed in it. The other room has two twin beds. We put both girls into one twin bed, and my husband and I each slept in our own twin beds in the other room. One thing with travel is that regardless of the sleeping arrangements, our children pass right out at nighttime because they are so tired! Breakfast is included in your room and there is air conditioning, although Battambang wasn’t quite as hot as Angkor Wat.
Battambang has lots of fun things to do with children. Our first day, we went on the bamboo train. The basics of the train is that there few train tracks in the country, do to lack of funding, and fewer trains. There is only one train running each direction, each day, and no passenger trains. So, the people came up with an ingenious work around to getting people and things from point A to point B using the tracks. They put a bamboo platform on two barbell looking things and with a small motor, run this contraption up and down the tracks. Since there are not scheduled times, two “trains” can be heading toward eachother at any given time. If another train approaches, both slow. The one with few people or objects, yields to the other, and climbs down, unloads their belongings, and then dismantles the whole thing and moves it off the tracks. After the other train passes, they reassemble theirs back on the track and keep going. This seems complicated, but the whole thing takes just a couple of minutes.
Family photo on the bamboo train.
Letting another train pass. Yes, we had four people too, but two of ours were children, so they didn’t count in the tally when deciding who had to yield to who.
Reassembling our train back onto the tracks.
Part of our trip was through this beautiful greenery.
Sunset on the bamboo train.
The area of track that they put tourists on, is touristy. At the end of the line, you end up at a little area with a few shops where they try to sell you trinkets and drinks. When you want to head back, you just tell your driver and he takes you back the same way you came. These little trains get up to 25 mph or so. It’s rather fun!
Another must-do in Battambang is the Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus, which has shows on Sunday and Thursday evenings. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance by your hotel.
Alexis enjoying the show on the floor with local children.
Alexis’ favorite bit. What’s not to like about teenagers in diapers with pacifiers? (=
One morning in Battambang, we simply strolled through the farmer’s market. What an educational moment for our children as we pointed out the various types of food available. We purchased a big bag of little oranges which were absolutely delicious. We took them down to the riverfront and just relaxed while we had our snack.
Also saw some monks out collecting their daily alms, which was cool.
Another must-do is to head to the Phnom Sampeau temple complex on top of the mountain. Please note that tuk tuks cannot make it all the way up the mountain. If you take a tuk tuk, you will then have to switch to a motorcycle (no thank you!), hike up (which can take about an hour), or convince a car to take you for a fee. We didn’t know this until we got there. We didn’t have enough time before sunset to reach the top of the hill by the steps, and we didn’t think our kids could do it, so we took a car. At the top, various teenagers will ask to be your guide to help them improve their English (and for money). While the temples are beautiful, be forewarned that there is a Khmer Rouge killing cave up there too. Our teenage guide took us there without any warning and we had to have an impromptu discussion about the Khmer Rouge revolution and Pol Pot as she stared at the bones of murdered people. It went well, but a little warning would have been nice.
View of Battambang from the top.
Entrance to the killing cave.
If you visit the hill in the afternoon, on the way back down you’ll pass this very large bat cave where thousands upon thousands of bats fly out every evening! So cool!
Also at the base of the hill is this super cool tree with swings!
Rice laid out to dry.
- See more at: http://www.visitbattambang.com/circus-battambang/#sthash.9XcL3XAW.dpufcircus.