What, wat?! Exploring Angkor Wat temples with kids
Another UNESCO World Heritage site & one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient world. This group of temples (Angkor Wat is just one of the temples within this complex) are a city in their own right. You can’t walk from temple to temple (as I had thought). You are reliant upon either a tuk tuk or driver. Or if you’re feeling Uber fit (especially in this heat) then you could cycle. Here’s how we got on at Angkor Wat with kids!!
Choosing a driver?
As you’d expect there are hundreds, if not thousands of tuk tuk drivers. However, a driver isn’t someone who has knowledge of the temples. For this you need a guide, see below for my thoughts on getting a guide. For drivers they literally just follow a set itinerary and take you around. So be warned if you want something different, you will sometimes be met with a confused look… “What, you don’t want to follow all the other tourists????”. Erm … No!
Ok, I’m being a little harsh but keith had tried to book a specific photography guide for USD 220 but unfortunately he was away. This was more of an instruction and photography course. I love Keith’s photos but not that much!! Either way, our decision was made for us – we were on our own!
So instead Keith researched and researched and researched. I got some quotes from recommended drivers but Keith was still not sure where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do!!! The day before we got to Siem reap we still had no idea, so decided to leave it to fate! Not the best idea 🙈
We spoke to our hostel and they suggested one of their drivers for 3 days. We wanted to ensure we were out of the main midday heat as so negotiating with timings & finally agreed a price for the 3 day excursion. US$10 for sunset, US$20 for small circuit and US$22 for grand circuit.
Getting a guide
We decided against getting a guide. I had asked the question beforehand and the overall advice was to get one. But you need to decide what kind of explorer you are. For us, we aren’t the tour types. We don’t like to be chaperoned. We like to roam at will and get irritated when we stop and start. Geez, I sound like hard work.
I did hesitate when one lady said that having a guide meant the kids had someone else to talk to and the guide would buffer all the questions instead of you. Ooh! Now, that comment nearly swayed me!
But in all honesty, it was so hot only a transportable swimming pool would have kept my kids engaged. In fact, we left the temples earlier than we expected because of tiredness and heat exhaustion.
After wandering around and listening to the guides there were some interesting tidbits that I heard but mostly they were stood looking at statues or stones and discussing the ancient history. This isn’t something that I could listen to all day and neither would the boys. So for us, we made the right choice not to get a guide.
What to take to the temples
- Camera!! (make sure it’s fully charged)
- Map (either a physical one or osandm app)
- Mosquito spray
- Sun cream
- Cover for shoulders and knees (or dress appropriately)*
- Umbrella (shelter from sun)
- Sweets/entertainment (for kids – they will get bored)
- Jacket (check weather first) ponchos are better as you just sweat in a coat. Most daytime showers pulse through so you can just take cover…. or use the umbrella! (@travelynn see it’s handy!! 😂)
- Torch if doing sunrise or sunset.
Don’t worry too much about overstocking with food and water, there are stalls outside every temple! My favourite was James bond cafe – we even met 007 himself – ha ha…
Oh! and there are toilet stops (western style) everywhere too.
* Note: This rule was purely aimed at women, Keith and the boys walked round with shorts just above their knee and nobody said a word!
The suggested itinerary
Here is the ‘Set’ itinerary that most people follow when they come to the Angkor temples. Don’t worry the names will baffle you as they are so similar but you get used to it after a while (“Which one is this?!”):
Day 1 Sunset
Start at 4.30pm – first pick up tickets either 1 day or 3 days.
Go to Phnom Bakheng (walk up hill) OR
Go to Sras Sarang
Day 2 – Small circuit
Angkor wat – Very early morning start 5am (as you already have your tickets!) and head to Angkor wat to wait for sunrise. Leave by 7.30am.
Angkor Thom next – Make sure to visit the following ruins (in this order): Bayon, Baphuon (over 12s only), Phimeanakas , the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King.
Ta Prohm – The famous “Tomb Raider” temple overgrown by jungle.
Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang and Prasat Kravan.
Day 3 – Grand circuit
The temples on the Grand Circuit, should be visited in this order:
Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon and Pre Rup.
Day 4 – Remote temples route
Kbal Spean – Banteay Srei – Banteay Samre and including:
Cambodia Landmine Museum – As implied by its name, a museum to educate people about the history of landmine use during the Cambodian civil war. Admission is US$ 5.
Banteay Srei Butterfly Center (BBC) – Discover the lifecycle of butterflies and some other native species in BBC’s tropical garden. Admission is US$ 5 for adults, US$ 2 for children.
Alternatively, we’d seen Beng Mealea mentioned as a good photographic temple, its completely natural and overgrown with very few tourists. But we ended up discounting it as the taxi would cost $60! It’s too far for a tuk tuk.
How did it really go?
Well, the pre planning didn’t go to plan!
The actual plan wasn’t much better!!
It was cloudy for sunset so Keith decided he wanted to go to Angkor wat and check out the viewing points ready for sunrise to avoid faffing in the morning! He also didn’t like the sound of Sras Sarang as it didn’t have a focal point?!
With a shrug our driver took us to Angkor wat and we popped in for half an hour. We then asked our driver to take us to Phnom Bakheng for look at sunset. That didn’t exactly go down well – he even said ‘why!? – it’s a bit late now’.
Well, its cooler now and we want to see a temple and holding out hope that we might see a bit of sunset! As it was, we didn’t but we did get to see the temple in top of the hill with nice views!
We did accept that we were probably being a bit inconvenient but hey, that’s what we were paying him for… right?! We were back by 6.30pm.
Eurgh! 4:30am… grumpy kids!! This day is not going well so far! We got to Angkor wat in good time and early enough to get a good photo spot. It was pretty dark when we arrived!
Soon lots of people were arriving
Jasper lasted all of 20 minutes before complaining, so we went for a stroll to keep him occupied.
Unfortunately clouds was still present and although we caught this blue glow – the epic sunrise did not happen! Ah well.
Soon enough Ethan joined us and we found a quiet spot to have some breakfast! Around 6.45am, Keith joined us and we had 45 minutes to explore Angkor wat.
Next onto Angkor Thom. I loved bayon, the first temple we visited (only opens at 7.30am) and we were one of the first ones in. There’s also a few monkeys around here. This is the temple with the faces, they smiled down on you. Lots of corridors and small rooms.
We then walked around the next few temples in this area (as listed above). They were much smaller but it was nice to be able to stroll among them. We stopped for a drink and toilet stop before heading onto..
Ta Prohm – I haven’t seen Toomraider so couldn’t relate to the movie, but it was a very pretty temple with the trees growing through. It was also very popular! I think this is where I hit a wall and so did the boys. Ethan was very tired and although had got a second wind he was getting too hot. By now it was nearly 10.30am.
The plan was to go back to the hotel when we’d had enough and daddy could come back out on his own later. So with the white flag waved we headed back.
The boys got changed and immediately jumped into the pool – completely rejuvenated. “shall we do more temples?” “NO!”
So after lunch and a chillout keith headed back out. He had his photography head on and wanted to capture Bayon was & Angkor wat in a better light as it was cloudy this morning! But the driver didn’t seem on board with this, saying “but you’ve already been there”. To which Keith replied “Yes, but I WANT to go back!”. I sensed Keith’s frustration when he got back when he told me he wasn’t going out tomorrow as planned 🤷.
Instead we agreed that we’d go back out in 2 days to do the Grand circuit. Maybe we’ll feel better about it in a couple of days!
When our final day came we started at 7.30am, we just followed the circuit and stopped and viewed the temples in the correct order. This made the driver a little more relaxed and we just went with the flow, not expecting too much.
We enjoyed Preah Khan most, again with its tree covered temples. It also had a lovely walkway into the temple & we got there early in the morning, so that was lovely! A good light for Keith! I believe the coaches start to arrive at 9.30am so aim to get out early if you can.
We agreed that once we’d had enough we’d just head back and sign off on temple touring. But actually we got through them all, some shorter than others!
Angkor wat done – ticked off.
Was it worth it??
For me, it was ok. I know it’s controversial, but the temples were not overly appealing. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed Bayon, Ta Prohm and Preah Kahn. But it wasn’t as wow factor as I expected. I could quite happily stuck with 1 day and a sunset. It was purely the photography aspect for Keith that we explored further. Keith really enjoyed the temples (although not Angkor Wat itself) and was glad we explored them.
As for the kids – meh! Jasper is still refusing to visit anymore temples ever again!
Still, it was amazing to see this ancient structure and visit the site. But it’s not somewhere I would return to. It didn’t wow me as much as the Forbidden City in China or Taj Mahal in India.
We did get some pretty cool photos though!