Cambodia: Siem Reap and Angkor
Fly in/out: Siem Reap International Airport (REP)
Recommended ages: 6 and up
Ball Park Price: $400/person for up to four travelers (airfare not included)
Best Season: November-February Cool Season
Currency: Cambodian Riel (US dollars preferred)
Timezone: CST plus 12 hours
This trip was expertly guided by Kim Soryar (called Soryar), a local Cambodian guide originally from Siem Reap. We heard about through expat friends who can be reached at email@example.com. For a longer Asian adventure, this trip can be combined with Bangkok Thailand, Luang Prabang, Laos or Hanoi Vietnam.
DAY ONE: Arrive at the Siem Reap International Airport (REP) airport via Bangkok and meet Soryar and take a small drive over to the hotel Park Hyatt, formerly a boutique hotel named, Hotel de la Paix.
DAY TWO: After breakfast, meet driver and visit the Rolous Group of temples, some of the earliest permanent structures built by Khmer just east of Siem Reap. The principal temples here are the beautiful Bakong, the Preah Ko and Lolei Temple. In the afternoon, visit the Artisan’s Center then visit Tonle Sap Lake to take a boat trip to visit the floating villages called Kampong Phluk.
DAY THREE: Start early to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat then head to explore the picturesque Ta Prohm with its giant fig trees growing intertwined with the temple ruins. Break for a long lunch and then go back to explore Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument ever built. Watch the sunset over at Pre Rup.
DAY FOUR: After breakfast drive to visit Banteay Srei, built in 967 AD, a small, but pristine pink sandstone temple. On the return to Siem Reap, sample traditional palm sugar sweets from a roadside seller. Then visit Banteay Samre, built by the architect of Suryavarman II who built Angkor Wat. Explore Preah Khan and Neak Pean built by the architect of Jayavarman VII who built Angkor Thom. After lunch and a pool break, explore Angkor Thom City, the political capital of King Jayavarman VII. Visit and explore all the featured temples inside Angkor Thom City including Vichar Bram Pei Lvan, Preach Palily, Terraces of Elephants, Leper King, Baphuon, the massive 11 century temple and the “Golden Palace,” Phimeanakas with its beautiful Royal baths. The last stop includes the Bayon Temple, the biggest temple inside the Angkor Thom city decorated with 100 smiling faces.
- We absolutely loved Siem Reap. We marveled at the unique and remarkable monuments and landscape. Even more impressive were the people-they are so welcoming, humble and gracious. Siem Reap, once considered a risky area to visit is more prepared for welcoming tourists of all ages and receives almost 2 million visitors a year.
- The region of Angkor is home to some of the most remarkable architectural and artistic accomplishments of the ancient world. The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand including Angkor Wat, said to be the world’s largest single religious monument.
- The temples with the most distinct qualities made the greatest impact on the kids. Angkor Wat for it’s architectural quality as capital of the Khmer regime from as early as the 9th century; Bayon Temple, the largest temple inside Angkor Thom City carved and decorated with 100 smiling faces; and Ta Prohm, the temple ruins with the eery fig tree roots almost suffocating this grand temple.
- Another memorable temple a little further away was the Banteay Srei that had a pink hue because it was built from red sandstone. We left early in the morning to capture the morning sun on the temple and noticed the incredible intricate and detailed carvings.
- We took a boat trip to Tonle Sap Great Lake to see the floating villages. Tonle Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in all of Southeast Asia that hosts whole villages include markets, schools, churches and farms to support the people who live on Tonle Sap Lake and as a food source to millions in Cambodia. To learn more about the fragile ecosystem and efforts to sustain this unique environment visit Osmose.
- Thankfully, much of this area is collectively protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site so there are efforts to continuously preserve and restore this region. However, not all the temples are appropriately protected by the throngs of visitors each year. Some of the beautiful temples are not cordoned off yet where they should be.
This boat trip to view the floating villages had quite an impact on the kids. It is a magnificent experience in trying to imagine entire villages of people whose lives are sustained through the Tonle Sap lake. You’ll receive a virtual lesson in life on water while watching people with relatively very little, seem completely content and self-sufficient.
Ta Prohm is among the largest of the monuments in the Angkor complex. It is eerily shrouded in dense jungle with fig, banyan and kapok trees spreading their gigantic roots over the temple structure. The ruins are now left to explore what was once a magnificent temple with at one time 80,000 people living there to maintain the temple.
Places to stay
A fantastic hotel, now a Park Hyatt had wonderful services, convenient location, beautiful gardens and a great pool. We had a convenient two bedroom arrangement versus the traditional hotel with adjoining rooms.
- Our hotel was located in the French Quarter where many resort restaurants were located. We particularly liked the dining offered at the Park Hyatt but other resort restaurants came highly recommended. Among them, the Shinta Mani Resort restaurant Bai Tong, featured outdoor dining for lunch and dinner.
- For a great read on Khmer Cuisine read, “10 Meals every visitor to Cambodia should try.”
- For a list of dining recommendations, see Frommer’s list.
- Purchase a 3 day Angkor pass for entrance to all of the Angkor temples which can be purchased at the Angkor Wat Temple.
- Our guide provided us with the right mix of interesting temples on a daily basis with a schedule that included an early excursion, a long break for lunch and swim to rejuvenate, and a late afternoon tour. Not only do you avoid the peak crowds, the humidity and heat is intense in the afternoon sun, so a long break during that time was a welcome relief.
- The temple grounds are massive and it is best to get around by car. Tuk-tuks are an option but not always the safest one for families with children. Our drivers arranged by Soryar were also at an extremely economical price.
- Prepare your children for many young monks and children who ask for money or are selling their wares. They are very prevalent in Siem Reap. The feedback is that giving money promotes a culture of begging so instead, find a local organization to support and help children realize that bringing tourism to Cambodia helps their economy. Tell children to smile and acknowledge the young children.
- There are a number of organizations that support the local economy in Cambodia. One of them supports a basket weaving village entitled Sra Srong.
- Drink only bottled water that is sealed and bring it with you at all times.
Before You Go
- You must have a valid U.S. passport that expires in more than four months after the date (some sites say 6 months) your trip begins to qualify for a Cambodian visa. You can obtain your visa now online through an evisa application. Have an extra passport picture for each traveler. Double check current visa requirements with the Cambodian Embassy.
- Consult your healthcare provider and travel clinic for recommended vaccines and precautions before visiting Cambodia. Stay current with the CDC website for recommendations.
- Read a thoughtful and helpful book entitled “Responsible and Sustainable Travel through Cambodia” to select travel guides, hotels and charitable organizations.