Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and rural Cambodia
Top 10 Things to do with Kids

Cambodia has quietly crept onto the holiday scene as a destination that offers a whole lot more than your average family holiday. While the description ‘templed out’ is definitely a thing here, we’ve found the best antidote is Indiana Jones style adventures with a cultural tilt; ensuring they (and you) have an unforgettable trip but learn about this fascinating country and its people at the same time. You’ll leave profoundly touched by the warmth and humility of the locals, it seeps out of every nook and cranny despite the traumatic recent history. Rather than watching wide eyed, your children will now sagely nod their heads during the next ‘Lara Croft’ or ‘Jumanji’ block-buster, having been the star of their own family action packed adventure – albeit with a sparkly pool to retreat to at the end of a particularly exciting day.

Our Top 10 Adventures with Kids:

Phnom Penh and beyond:

City tours might include a Diamond Hunt in the Silver Pagoda, learning Lotus Flower folding at Wat Phnom and then lunch at the fantastic NGO restaurant ‘Friends’; a vibrant colourful training restaurant teaching street children to learn to cook. In the evening, be tempted by the sunset cruise and cocktails (or mocktails!) beside the river. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try a ‘dinner with a difference’ with local specialities like fried insects or even a tarantula? 

1) Free The Bears
How about becoming a zoo-keeper for the day with a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre. While it’s not quite ‘zoo’ standard compared with Western ideals, this charity is responsible for rescuing over 200 Malayan Sun Bears along with Asiatic and Black Bears, gibbons and elephants – so just the fact they are now safe is a good thing. Even the track to the zoo is exciting enough; filled with welcoming committees of monkeys, tumbling from the trees and rollicking across the road. You’ll need strong hands to chop the vast quantities of fruit and veg which fill bamboo tubes and hollow basket balls – topped with a little side splash of honey (Winnie the Pooh must be a distant relation). These are lobbed over to the little bears who make short work of their snacks – it’ll take you the rest of your holiday to recover from the cuteness of it all. 

2) Skun Village ‘Spider’ Market
So, you might look at your house spider slightly more fondly after a trip here. Think huge trays of deep-fried tarantulas, crickets, scorpions and silk worms served up with a smile by the fashionista market sellers in their matching pyjamas and hats. For the brave, there is also a chance to ‘play’ with the giant spiders at the centre of the market and chat with the little boy who keeps one as a ‘pet’ (yes, he stroked it as you would a kitten!). 

3) Kid’s City
For those travelling during the slightly more extreme weather here (rain or sun), or those suffering from an extreme case of ‘templed out’, then head to Kid’s City in the heart of Phnom Penh. It’s a smorgasbord of indoor children’s entertainment with six floors of different activities ranging from toddler town to a multi-story indoor playground. Or how about family ice-skating, Laser tag, go-karting, rock-climbing or even the Science Discovery Centre. For those after a more gentle play in the park, then Phnom Penh is home to plenty of lovely green spaces where kids can run to their heart’s content while you settle back and watch local life unfold under the trees.

4) Dolphin Watching Kratie
For intrepid families venturing off the beaten path, then we highly recommend coming to see the fresh water dolphins in Kratie. Run by the local village people, the boats are rustic, but you reap the rewards of years of local knowledge that ensure you see plenty of these magical creatures. A note to those budding photographers or ‘instagrammers’ – the dolphins are very small and, by the time you’ve seen them, they’ve disappeared; a good opportunity to put the phone away and just soak up the beauty of the Mekong for a while? 

Siem Reap

The fabled temples of Siem Reap need no introduction and for visitors of any age, they are truly extraordinary. From the first glimpse deep inside the jungle, they are one of those experiences that raises the hair on the back of your neck with the promise of untold adventure. That said, Bushbaby’s then 8-year-old ‘trailblazer’, was broken mid-way through the third temple and even the promise of local ice cream didn’t do the trick. So, what to do? Choose your weapon……….:

5) Horseback Riding
Happy Ranch (even the name raises a grin) is a western-style horse ranch just outside of Siem Reap. Choose your favourite purebred Cambodian horse (descended from Mongolian wild horses no less) and enjoy a happy explore of rice fields and local villages far from the tourist crowds. A highlight is the visit to Wat Atvea, a tucked away treasure, beautifully peaceful, and if you are lucky – just yours for the time you are there. For smaller ones there are lead reins available and staff will walk alongside if necessary. 

6) Vespa/Quad Bike Action
For those who prefer wheeled transport, then there are plenty of options. Explore the temples and surrounding countryside from the back of a vespa with an experienced guide. There are child-sized helmets available and they can ride with you or have their own bike and chauffeur-driver. Or how about a rip-roaring quad-bike experience? This off-road guided tour takes you far into rural Cambodia, meeting the locals and enjoying sunset in the rice fields. For a quieter option, then traditional bikes (in a variety of sizes) are also available with tours that explore the less visited and ‘hidden temples’ of Angkor – add to this a Scavenger Hunt with a map, set of clues and mysteries to discover and Indiana Jones will be eating his hat! 

7) Kayaking
Another hit for family adventurers: kayaking on Tonle Sap Lake, Asia’s largest freshwater lake. Explore floating villages, temples and have lunch on the veranda of a local house. A delightful way to enjoy the countryside and spend an afternoon on the cool water. 

8) Butterflies and rats!
Other local experiences include Angkor Butterfly Centre – a wonderful netted tropical garden filled with thousands of brightly coloured butterflies, indigenous to Cambodia. Experience butterflies feeding and learn about the life cycle of many species. The revenue generated here provides support for the local community and conservation projects so a worthwhile visit. For a twist on butterflies, then a visit to Siem Reap’s brand new APOPO visitor centre to meet the rats is a must! These uber intelligent furry friends have been trained to detect landmines; watch them in action in a specially-designed demonstration area -a truly unique experience. At the time of writing a new ‘SAS’ Rat squad are en-route from Tanzania having completed their nine-month training. We wish them the best of luck in their new work.

 9) Kid-friendly street-food tours
A highlight of any visit here is the delectable food. These family-friendly tours offer an opportunity to eat as the locals do, sampling local delicacies at markets, street food stalls and hard-to-find restaurants. A great way to introduce even the fussiest of eaters to a different cuisine.

10) Circus
No visit here is complete without a night out with the Phare Circus. This is a cultural organisation in Cambodia which offers young people a way out of poverty by training them to become professional artists and performers. they are taught circus skills alongside theatre performance and music. Astonishing feats are the order of the day and a truly inspirational evening. If you are heading to Battambang then we highly recommend the workshops run here by the performers. Learn acrobatics, balancing and juggling alongside different form of dance. You’ll be packing in your job and running away to the circus before you know it! 

About the author

Our former South East Asia and Australasia Travel Specialist

Lops Twine - Former Staff Member

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