Ancient temples, an ethereal circus, tuk-tuk rides through darkened streets and a hotel fit for a king — all together, these experiences add up to make Siem Reap, Cambodia, an exotic yet family-friendly destination.
On a recent AmaWaterways river cruise up the Mekong River, I was advised to spend a few extra days in Siem Reap where the cruise finished. I'm so glad that I took the advice, especially for the first-hand look at how this seemingly remote outpost was so welcoming to kids.
For those heading to Cambodia, with or without children, this magical city should be on the “don’t-miss” list. You'll want more than just a couple of days to experience it. For those heading to Siem Reap with children, there are some family-friendly parts of the destination that you should definitely build into your visit.
The vast temple complex may seem overwhelming to the casual visitor and even more so for those with children in tow.
With a site that measures more than .6 square miles, where do you start?
How about with a guided tour? For those visiting independently, Intrepid Travel’s Urban Adventures offer an excellent one-day tour that provides access and insight into some of Angkor Wat’s most prominent temples. The journey includes transportation and lunch and is just the right amount of time to avoid traipsing around the temples in the sweltering heat of the day, (i.e. the kids will be back in the pool before dinnertime).
Phare Cambodian Circus
There's more to Siem Reap than the well-known ruins. Families should definitely consider dedicating one evening to experiencing Phare. The Cambodian circus takes place in a big top-style tent just outside of Siem Reap, and the proceeds from ticket sales go to assisting disadvantaged Cambodian youths.
Young artists go beyond just the circus experience in a performance that incorporates theater, music, dance and modern circus arts to illuminates everyday Cambodian life for the visitor, telling a nation's story through historical and cultural references.
Guests can make an entire evening out of the event. The performance complex offers a restaurant, a shop selling local merchandise and stalls for snacks and desserts. Be sure to buy tickets in advance as the better seats generally sell quickly.
The Night Market
Whether you are ready to shop till you drop or just looking for something to do in the evening, Pub Street and the surrounding night market is where all of the action takes place.
Visitors will find an abundance of street food, bars, shops and merchants hawking their wares as you stroll by. The market is not as intimidating as other larger examples found in big cities like Phnom Penh, for instance, making it an ideal place to shop with kids.
If families have spent the day exploring Angkor Wat, stop in for a foot massage at one of the stalls found along the streets or inside the night market itself. A half-hour massage will set visitors back about $4 per person and is something the whole family will be thankful for.
Transportation by tuk-tuk
Exceptionally warm days give way to balmy evenings, and there isn’t any better way to explore the city than to travel by tuk-tuk. If you find accommodations that aren't in the heart of the city, this is the best—and sometimes the only—way to get around the city.
Tuk-tuks are cheap, safe and plentiful and can even take you to the airport.
If you're traveling on a cruise, you're all set: You'll either return to the ship or have a room reserved at a high-end hotel as part of your package. If you're traveling independently, your options are vast: Siem Reap has a variety of high-end and boutique hotels that can easily accommodate intrepid family travelers.
For a centrally located, high-end property with a Western feel, visitors can’t go wrong with the Park Hyatt Siem Reap. The hotel is 15 minutes from Angkor Wat and within walking distance of the heart of the city. It also hits all the marks for multigenerational groups: Kids can cool off in the pool, moms and dads hit the spa while all can experience farm-to-table Khmer cuisine, have high tea in the afternoons and enjoy international selections from the grill.
Families will be particularly pleased with the two-bedroom suite, with plenty of space for everyone to spread out. It comes with one king-size bed and a bedroom with twin beds plus a private plunge pool.
— Janeen Christoff, TravelPulse. This article originally appeared on TravelPulse.com.