Cambodia with kids, wow! What an amazing adventure. When we decided to head there I spent a lot of time scouring the internet to put together our itinerary. I found it immensely helpful to see what other families had done however most of the itineraries I found were for 2weeks or less so I wanted to add our itinerary to the mix, a three week (23 days to be precise) adventure through this amazing and diverse land with our three crazies, aged 8, 6 and 4.
1st stop – 5 days Siem Reap
What’s in Siem Reap?
We started our time in Cambodia in Siem Reap almost by accident and I am so very glad it ended up this way. Siem Reap is a busy place, full of tourists all there to see the incredible Temples of Angkor. Siem Reap is not just about the temples however, it’s an incredibly foodie place so you can expect to enjoy some great meals and we found the Cambodia people we met there to be absolutely lovely.
Day 1 Explore Siem Reap Town including a visit to the National Museum
Before hitting the temples, give yourself some time to get familiar with the history. A couple of hours at the National Museum is a great precursor, especially for the kids. They (and we!) were able to learn some of the history, and see some of the many statues we would find at the temple.
The kids loved learning about Naga and then pointing out all the Naga statues we saw around the city. It got them excited about going to the temples themselves and thinking about what they would be seeing. Lunch at Malis is a lovely place to start your foodie experience too as well as a stroll around the colourful streets near Central Market, getting familiar with the town.
Day 2 Full day temple tour – Angkor Wat for Sunrise, then Angkor Thom and the Bayon and then finishing up at Ta Prom.
Our kids LOVED the temples. I would never have expected we could spend a whole day out there with them (and yes there was some complaining as we walked from our van into each temple but I will forgive them that as it was very, very hot!) but once in there that were absolutely captivated by the history. Don’t underestimate your kids.
Start your temple experience with the big 3. Angkor Wat for Sunrise (yes it’s a 5 am start but yes, it’s also worth it!) then instead of going straight to the Bayon with a million other people go directly to Ta Prom (the Tomb Raider temple, it’s breathtaking!) From there head back to the Bayon. You can either book a tour with an air-conditioned minivan (this worked for us as it enabled the kids to retreat if needed and our littlest even got a good nap in over lunch) or you can hire a tuk-tuk for the day.
Day 3: Further afield temples and the landmine museum
Yes, the temples were such a hit that we headed out to visit more on our third day. Head further afield to Banteay Srey, you will find far fewer people around which is quite magical. The landmine museum is out this way and totally suitable for children. Our eldest child (8yrs old) did the audio tour with us while the boys just looked around. We had seen a few landmine victims around Siem Reap so had talked in an age-appropriate, simple way with the kids about some of the history so they wanted to learn more. The Landmine Museum mostly tells the story of one man’s mission to clear landmines from the country rather than being about the history of the war and graphic information about landmine victims. Worth the visit!
Day 4: Rest day
A day to chill! Spend the day strolling around Kandal Village, a little oasis with beautiful shops and quite cafes. We spent a few hours a Red Fox Espresso before heading back to our hotel for an arvo by the pool and it was just what we all needed! In our experience, rest days make a real difference to how everyone feels during a trip like this – where the weather is hot and the days are full.
In the evening go to the Phare Circus. The circus trains street kids and is a wonderful, entertaining performance that we all really loved.
Day 5: Phsar Leu and Angkor Wat for Sunset
You won’t find Phsar Leu on most of the tourist tips – it’s a real local market and we absolutely LOVED it. We went early and saw all the stall holders in full swing. It was amazing to be at such a busy spot on only see one other group of westerners in the 2-3hours we spent there.
Seeing the temples at Sunset is truly something to behold. Most people head to Bantay Chre so we decided to avoid the masses and head to Angkor Wat instead. We found a quiet pocket of the temple and sat there for about half an hour ENTIRELY BY OURSELVES (and yes, this was in the busiest season of the year!) It was breathtaking.
Day 6 Make your way from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.
- We started with an early, delicious breakfast at Sister Strey before starting our journey.
- We opted to book a private car to do this transfer and it took 4.5hours (it is supposed to take around 6!) I have heard of an overnight sleeper bus you can take which would have been a great option too!
4 Days Phnom Penh
What’s in Phnom Penh?
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and it is INTENSE. To be honest, I did not love Phnom Penh, but I think that’s largely because big cities and small kids are not a great match. If we’d been there on our own and been able to explore the nightlife and even just wander the streets more in the evenings I think we would have had a different experience.
We spent 4 days here and you’ll need this long if you want to get any tailoring done. You could easily cut it back to 3 unless you thrive on the hustle of a city like this….. (I found this Love Letter to Phnom Penh a helpful read when we had landed there and was wondering when we could leave!)
Day 7 Explore the city
The thing about bustling cities and small kids is that you don’t get to see most of the great things the city has to offer…because they happen after hours! This is fine, just takes a different way of thinking. Here are some ways to explore this city during the daylight hours….
- Start the day with breakfast at the Russian Market – if you go early you will find it full of locals, if you go late it is horribly overrun by tourists.
- Thinking of getting some tailoring done? The Russian Market has fabric and tailors. The Olympic market has fabric and you can find tailors at Central Market. I got fabric at the Russian Market and some dresses made there. I also got some fabric from the Olympic Market and took it to a tailor in Central Market (it’s the one below, and I LOVE it). If you want to get anything made here you will need a few days. I was able to get some dresses and tops made in 4 days but that was considered a fast turn around. If you’ve got less time than that then it’s probably not possible unless you offer to pay extra – I did get a dress made in one day paying extra (US$35).
- Lunch at Sesame Noodle Bar (delicious!)
- Panorama Bar or the FCC are great places to have a drink while the sun goes down.
- Dinner at Romdeng where we tried the famous Tarantula dish!
Day 8 Killing Fields and S21, finishing the day with a Sunset Cruise
After pondering whether or not we would take the children to the Killing Fields and S21 (Tuol Sleng) we decide to go. If you’re wondering if it would be suitable for your kids then check out this post.
After a heavy, sombre (and HOT) day we finished up with a cruise on the Mekong. It was a beautiful way to spend the day and have a chance to reflect on this country, rich in both the history and astounding strength of its people. (We went with Le Tonle Cruises) It was pretty stunning….
Day 9 Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre
Get out of the city and experience and incredible Wildlife Rescue Centre. Meet the world’s second only elephant with a prosthetic leg. Feed otters, about a million monkey, Cambodian deer among many, many more including, in our case, this cranky Leopard! The kids absolutely loved this day!
Day 10 Explore the city
- Visit Street 240 – an expat area where you can find cool cafes and boutique shopping.
- Pick up any clothes you’ve had made at the Russian Market
- Eat lots of street food!
Day 11 5 hour bus ride to Mondulkiri
Mondulkiri is a LONG way from anywhere and it’s most about elephant resuce and the jungle. You can only get there by road and if you’re leaving from Phnom Phen then it’s going to take you 6 hours in a bus to get there. Do it anyway; you will have one of the most amazing experiences of your life.
Take headphones and tablets/laptop for the kids and they can go to town watching movies on the drive (it’s too bumpy and windy for reading/drawing).
1 day Mondulkiri (Gulp!)
Day 13 Epic Travel Day
11hour bus transfer to Kep! We took the TCT Mondulkiri Express back to Phnom Pehn, stopped for lunch at Friends Restaurant and then got a private taxi on to Kep. Yes, it was a most epic day, but it was absolutely worth it to have swum with elephants!
You could have a stop over in Phnom Penh if your kids really struggle with car travel, however we felt that just prolonged the experience and would lose us time so we just pushed through. We arrived around 7pm and jumped straight in the pool!
3 Days in Kep at Veranda Natural Resort
Let Kep be your chillaxing, happy place. After a couple of weeks of exhilerating exploration, this is your time to reeeeelax. You will love it and the kids will thank you for it. Kep is famous for its crab however over fishing means that the really big crabs people used to be awed by are dwindling. I don’t know what will happen to Kep when the crab runs out which is a very sad thought. When you get to Kep make sure you are booked in to Veranda Natural Resort, aka, Paradise.
Day 14 Pool, The Happy Hut (a free, supervised kids play area offered by Veranda), lunch at Kep Beach, pool, dinner at the Crab Market. You can also grab a mani, pedi, wax, massage down by the beach (or at Veranda) while the rest of the fam swims or snoozes!
Day 15 Crab markets and relaxing by the pool.
Day 16 Morning visit to Pepper Farms, a tour and lunch. Back to hang out by the pool (Are you sensing a theme here? If it feel excessive, trust me, you will be very ready for some down time after the trekking you’ve been doing for the previous two weeks)
Day 17 Morning in Kep, lunch at Kep Coffee (delicious!). Private transfer to Sihanoukville and boat over to Koh Rong Sanloem
4 Days Koh Rong Sanloem
Koh Rong Samloem is the smaller of two islands, not far off the mainland. The bigger of the two, Koh Rong, is known as the party island so we opted for the smaller and less developed of the two Koh Rong Samloem. That said, most of what you will read about this place online was written a couple of years ago, and it’s now a pretty busy place. The main beach is lined with resorts, side by side and when the wind hits (as it did when we were there, it’s pretty awful). If you head round the other side you will find Lazy Beach. And once you have found it, you will never want to leave…
Day 18 To be honest, we felt quite disappointed on our first day here, though we had to be philosophical about it. It was too windy to be outside our (very small) room and none of the resorts had any wind-breaks set up (and I cannot understand why!) My big tip here is to keep your accommodation options flexible so you can move around the island if you need to. This is a WINDY place and one side or the other will be awful, but as long as you can swap sides then you’ll be fine. I am not sure how you work out where the wind is in advance, the island is quite remote so you can’t get accurate weather reports for it.
Day 19 We decided to check out the other side of the island and found Lazy Beach….WOW!
Day 20 Lazy Beach and swimming with Bioluminescent Plankton!
Day 21 Lazy Beach then back to Saracen Bay where the winds had gone and we swam in the crystal clear blue waters, discovered a sea urchin and had a fascinating time watching it.
Day 22 Transfer back to Phnom Pehn
One final night in Phnom Penh
(note you can also fly directly out from Sihanoukville if you’d prefer not to come back via Phnom Penh
Day 23 Goodbye Cambodia, you are simply incredible!
So, who’s ready for a holiday??