Every family should visit Cambodia at least once in a lifetime. The south east Asian country more than earns its place on the holiday wish list thanks to its tropical climate, dense forests, deserted beaches and legendary temples. Here are some of the best things to do when (not if) you go with kids.
The most famous temple complex of all is Angkor Wat, of course and it should definitely be part of your itinerary when you visit Cambodia. However, there’s so much more to this country than just the big name sights. Whatever your preference, energy level or budget, Cambodia can deliver experiences for you and your family.
Visit Cambodia and don’t miss the temples
Angkor Wat is sure to impress, but it’s not the only incredible temple to visit in Cambodia. On the same complex, Bayon and Angkor Thom are worth a look for sure, but don’t omit the ‘Lara Croft’ temple at Ta Prohm, where crumbling walls have been intertwined with the jungle, creating a haunting atmosphere.
But Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm are only two of many, many temples around Siem Reap. Each temple brings a different flavour – some almost immaculate, some crumbling into oblivion, some disappearing into the jungle, others perched on top of hilltops.
Most importantly, these ancient buildings are still part of every day life, and at the sound of a gong, monks will arrive to tend to their worship. Incense sticks burn and offerings are left, giving you and your family a unique insight into the religious devotion of the Khmer people.
Go help free the bears at Phnom Tamao
Located around an hour outside of the country’s capital at Phnom Penh, Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center is home to more than 1,200 animals, mostly rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. With over 6,000 acres of protected forest, it is the largest zoo in the country. Here, you can meet elephants, tigers, gibbons, crocodiles and more. Don’t miss Chhouk the elephant, who has a prosthetic leg that the keepers change twice a day.
As well as this, the park is also home to the Free the Bears sanctuary, a charitable organisation that looks after orphaned or rescued sun and moon bears. It is the largest group of rescued sun and moon bears in the world, and is home to around 130 individuals at any time.
If you have the time and budget, taking part in a ‘Bear Care’ day can be a great way to learn about these unique and interesting animals. The day involves preparing the food and feeing the bears, making toys for them, and touring the park for a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the good work that goes on here.
Catch the bamboo train on family holidays in Battambang
Cambodia’s second largest city is refreshingly under-touristed, and is a welcome respite from the hectic streets of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Battambang is worth an explore in itself – having been part of French Indochina, it boasts some glorious colonial architecture and a very cosmopolitan atmosphere.
There’s a bunch of stuff to do in the city, but the bamboo train is guaranteed to kick the fun factor up a notch. Locally known as ‘Norrie,’ the bamboo train is basically a bamboo platform with wheels and a motorbike engine. Back in the days of the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge, it was used extensively to bring goods from one city to another. Today, it is simply a quirky tourist attraction, but it really is very good fun.
Take a step back in time and take an ox-cart tour
Outside of the main cities, life in Cambodia continues as it has done for centuries. Exploring this time capsule is best done in the traditional manner – by ox-cart ride. It is truly inspiring to see the locals working in the paddies, fields and villages as you plod by on your ox-cart tour.
Many tours will include an opportunity to experience life in the countryside first-hand. Activities can include rice planting, harvesting crops, weaving thatch for roofing and much more.
If the ox-cart sounds a bit slow going for your style, there are also opportunities to get out and about in the countryside on quad bikes, which is great fun. The all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) can be driven by adults with children on the back, providing a fun means of exploring farms, wildlife and hidden temples.
Discover the joys of kayaking when you visit Cambodia
There’s something incredibly magical about meandering about on a river in a kayak, listening to birdsongs and marvelling at the reflections in the glass-like water surface. Kayaking is widely offered across Cambodia, and is a great way to explore the jungle, spot wildlife and enjoy the natural landscapes of this beautiful country.
In the south, kayaking along the Tatai River in the Cardamom Mountains will bring you to stunning waterfalls and secluded swimming spots. Over in the east, head to the small town of Kratie to paddle the Mekong and spot Irrawaddy dolphins, if you’re lucky. On the island of Koh Kong, you can paddle through mangroves, watching out for snakes and crocodiles, or head to a deserted beach for rest and relaxation.
Explore quaint towns and taste the freshest of food
The twin towns of Kep and Kampot are right in the south of Cambodia, near the border with Vietnam. Kep is a coastal paradise, where you can catch a boat out to Rabbit Island for a beach day and snorkelling. In the town, there’s a fabulous butterfly farm, and the market is a great place to watch the fishermen bringing in their catch before tucking into the freshest seafood you’ve ever tasted.
Nearby Kampot is made up of a riverside collection of ramshackle colonial buildings, but is charming to stroll through at any time. Famed for its local dish of Kampot pepper crab, flavoured with its own unique black peppercorns, you can dine on cheap and fresh crab at the local market.
In a nutshell, Cambodia is an outdoor wonderland for kids of any age. You might lack the flashy malls, theme parks and polished attractions of some Asian countries, but it brings history, culture and nature by the bucketload.
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