Think your kids would prefer a resort pool to trudging through temples? Or they’d rather visit a theme park than an archaeological park? Think again.
Cambodia might not be the first place to spring to mind when planning your next family holiday, but it truly is a wonderland for kids.
Cambodia doesn’t serve up just any old temples. With their giant stone faces and elaborate carvings emerging from monkey inhabited jungles, the captivating temples of the vast Angkor Park in Siem Reap will inspire junior Lara Croft and Indiana Jones-style fantasies in even the most temple-resistant child. We were warned that our kids, aged five and eight, wouldn’t last more than a day before temple fatigue set in, but on the contrary, they were begging for more adventures, tuk-tuking between the jaw-dropping ruins.
Of course, there’s more to Siem Reap for kids than just Angkor, and so many ways to introduce them to the ancient and intriguing Cambodian culture. For instance, a boat ride through the floating villages and markets of Tonlé Sap (Southeast Asia’s largest lake and Cambodia’s main source of protein) is fascinating. Kids can also try their hand at rice-planting or head out on a culinary adventure through the local markets with Cooks in Tuk Tuks to try local delights including stuffed frog and barbecued fish as well as fried grasshoppers and crickets, which are sure to induce both giggles and groans from your kids.
In Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, The “Killing Fields” of Choeung Ek have become a much-visited memorial to the lives lost during Cambodia’s tumultuous and tragic past. While making a respectful pilgrimage is recommended for adults, it can be a little disturbing for younger children. Instead, for a less confronting history lesson head to the National Museum to view stunning art and artefacts from around the country, or watch a traditional Cambodian dance or shadow puppet performance.
Not far from Phnom Penh is the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre – home to more than 12,000 animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. It’s a hit with kids, and visitors can help out in the daily routines of rescued sun bears and other rare wildlife.
Arachnophobes might want to skip our next suggestion, but Spiderman fans keen for a walk on the creepy-crawly side will definitely want to visit the town of Skuon, about 50 kilometres from Phnom Penh. Also known as Spider Town, the townsfolk serve up platters of breaded, deep-fried spiders. Kids will love (or hate) noshing on the limbs of the now crispy crawlies, though eating the abdomen is optional. And in case you were wondering, from firsthand experience I can attest that they don’t taste like chicken.
In Cambodia’s second most-populated city, the charming colonial town of Battambang in northwestern Cambodia, families can explore the countryside by bicycle or by taking a ride on the hair-raising Bamboo Train, the most ramshackle locomotive you’re ever likely to find.
Like Siem Reap, there is no shortage of temples or crumbling ruins here for the kids to explore and a visit to the Phare Ponleu Selpak, a fabulous circus and performing arts school for underprivileged children, is a must. If you’d prefer to taste your way through the local culture, the street-food stalls at the central Phsar Nat market or the main Phsar Boeung Chhoeuk market are the best place to meet and eat with the locals.
Mondulkiri is an eastern province of Cambodia, spoiled with forested mountains, powerful waterfalls, lush green rolling hills and chock full of adventure activities. Here families can also experience a cultural experience of the wild kind, with an overnight stay at the Elephant Valley Project, Cambodia’s renowned elephant sanctuary. The sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates overworked and exploited elephants from around the country. They don’t allow people to ride their elephants, instead only allowing visitors to watch them going about their business, a kinder and more ethical way to get close to the gentle giants.
Whichever part of the country you visit, kids and Cambodia are a match made in heaven.