Angkor Wat with a Toddler
Written by: Mama Bea , 10 Nov 2018
It was sweaty, it was dusty and it was tiring, yet it was beyond magical. I’d wanted to visit Angkor Wat for as long as I could remember and I never thought my first experience of it would be with my little mini-me in tow. Exploring the temples of Angkor is completely possible with small kids, despite the heat, dust and 4am wake up call to witness the sunrise. Although Roscoe is still young and sometimes no matter how impressive our surroundings he will often remain nonchalantly unenthusiastic, I truly believe Angkor absolutely made an impression on him. Many people will say you need at least 3 days to fully appreciate Angkor, we chose to do just 1 day, mainly because I was unsure how Roscoe would take to being dragged around dusty temples in the heat, but also because, for us budget backpackers, it is actually really expensive! A one day Angkor itinerary may not be optimal, but it is totally possible, and I shall explain more of what bits we picked out to explore below.
Once the largest city on Earth and still one of the largest religious monuments in the world, there are over 1000 temples to explore within Angkor, it is genuinely immense. Dark mysterious passageways follow enchanting entrances, expansive courtyards are surrounded by beautifully dramatic half-ruined towers and hundreds of withered walkways are lined with intricately decorated balustrades. The surrounding landscape creeps in and around the temples, adding an extra layer of magic. The roots of tropical trees can be seen merging with temple walls, creating an awe-inspiring contrast between nature and surviving ancient ruin, and tame monkeys can be seen running past you over the grass. It is a child’s wonderland, the stuff only mystical dreams are made of. We worried Roscoe would be too young to appreciate the sheer awesomeness of it all, but he had such a fantastic time exploring the temples. I've put together this post to explain the logistical details of our time at Angkor as a young family, including where we stayed and our 1-day itinerary around the temple complex itself.
Where we stayed
If you have been following my blog or instagram for a while you will know that our travelling style involves all things backpacking and budget-friendly. We rarely stay in resorts and usually opt for homestays as a special way to get closer to the local culture. We stayed in Siem Reap whilst exploring Angkor, the main city just down the road. It was easy enough to get to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh, we flew with Cambodia Angkor Air with a flight time of around 1 hr. We chose to stay in a budget boutique hotel we found on Airbnb, it was £20 a night, so slightly over our usual nightly budget, but it was in a great location, just a 15 minute walk into Siem Reap centre and a 20 minute tuk tuk to Angkor Park in the opposite direction. The hotel was simple yet stylish with a refreshing pool next to the dining area and we had a lovely little private room with breakfast included. They also gave us free airport transfer and made sure their tuk tuk driver was available whenever we needed a ride. If you are travelling on a similar budget and looking for a small, quiet hotel with a local vibe then I would definitely recommend this place (Airbnb link: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5185168). Just to clarify I’m not getting anything for saying this, just genuinely really impressed with the value for money.
First of all, foreigner tickets to enter the park are actually pretty expensive and have to be purchased from the ticket office at the edge of the park, at the time we visited (November 2018), a 3 day pass ticket was $62 and a 1 day ticket was $37 . One extremely useful thing to note is that if you buy your ticket at 5pm you can use the ticket to enter the park for that evening also (essentially getting an extra evening for free). We made use of this and made our way to Phnom Bakheng for sunset.
1. Phnom Bakheng
We got a tuk tuk to the bottom of the hill leading to Phnom Bakheng and from there it is a rather large uphill climb. There were hundreds of tourists and we unfortunately saw quite a few elephants being used to carry tourists, which was disappointing. Once at the top of the hill you have to wait in a queue to actually enter the temple, only 300 tourists can enter at any one time. The view once we finally got up there was scintillating, the sunset was breathtaking and we could see right out over Angkor Wat itself. Absolutely worth every trickle of sweat.
2. Angkor Wat
On the morning of our big day exploring Angkor we awoke at 4am, dressed in the dark, grabbed our ergobaby carrier and transferred a sleeping babe from bed to tuk tuk. We rode through the fresh morning air, feeling the breeze in our faces and the wind whipping through our hair. We used our torches to wade through jungle, over grass and into the temple complex, where we patiently awaited alongside hundreds of others for the sun to illuminate the majestic towers of Angkor Wat. It was ridiculously busy yet somehow rather exciting to trek through the dark and wait in rampant anticipation with so some many other people. One thing we did find rather irritating though was the number of vendors trying to sell you coffee and breakfast as soon as you enter the temple complex. They took hassling to a whole new level by chasing after us and shoving menu boards in our faces even after we'd given them a firm no. I understand people need to make a living and there is a lot of money to be made out of the immense number of tourists that visit Angkor everyday, but it was rather off putting none the less. In the rush to leave in the morning we forgot to bring coffees in our reusable coffee cups and ended up paying a small fortune for them.
Roscoe woke up just before the sun had risen, strained his sleepy eyes, pointed his little finger up towards the colourful sky and whispered, ‘Woow Mama’. People may say he is too young to remember these travels, but I can honestly say he definitely still appreciates these magical moments, alongside all the benefits of how travelling is shaping his little personality. Watching the sun rise over Angkor was incredible and one of the most memorable phenomena I've been privileged enough to experience, but my number one tip would be to bring your own snacks and coffee in a thermos if you can, and be prepared to stubbornly refuse those vendors.
Once the sun was up in the sky and we had finished our expensive coffees, we wandered inside Angkor Wat itself. Again, there were people everywhere lining up for the perfect instagram shot, it sometimes felt like we were constantly dodging being caught in other people’s photographs, but thankfully it didn't distract from the magic of the place too much. You can also climb one of the towers to reach a viewpoint overlooking the complex, however there were very large queues so we didn't bother. Roscoe obviously couldn’t understand the momentous cultural importance of the temple complex but he absolutely loved running around, climbing up steps and skipping along the dramatic passageways. Through a child’s eyes it is truly an enchanted wonderland. On reflection I reckon it would be better to head straight inside Angkor Wat as soon as the sun as risen, whilst everyone else is still grabbing that sunrise photo and having breakfast. We spent a couple of hours walking around inside Angkor Wat in awe of its sheer size and beauty, no words can truly do it justice.
3. Bayon Temple
After leaving Angkor Wat itself we made our way back to our tuk tuk driver who was waiting for us outside the temple complex and headed to Bayon temple, inside the Angkor Thom complex. Angkor Thom was once an ancient city that in the 12th century reached a population of 12 million! Today, amidst the encroaching jungle, only the stone temples remain. Bayon possesses 54 faces carved into stone which makes it extra captivating. Once again Roscoe was thrilled to wander around and explore, Kieran even rates this as his favourite place in Angkor.
4. The Terrace of the Elephants
Soon after leaving Bayon, the early wake up call began to get the most of Roscoe and he proceeded to fall asleep on my back. Whilst been careful to not wake him we explored the Terrace of the Elephants without him. This is situated just a short walk from Bayon so didn’t require a tuk tuk. Centuries ago it was here where public ceremonies of the Khmer empire took place, and where the King would make proclamations to large audiences. Walking alongside the terrace you can almost imagine how people would line up alongside these magnificent elephants to hear the King speak.
5. Ta Phrom
Just after leaving the Terrace of the Elephants it was getting towards midday and having a snoozing, sweaty baby on my back was less than optimal so we decided to jump back in the tuk tuk for a ride to Ta Phrom. Roscoe woke up just in time to explore Ta Phrom himself, my favourite temple by far, and also very popular with other tourists. Frankly, this place does not look real, it felt like walking around some fairytale land or film set, and indeed it has been used in numerous films, the most famous probably being Tomb Raider. Ancient trees encroach around the temple ruins giving an alluring contrast between the work of the Khmer Empire and the surrounding jungle landscape. So fascinatingly wild and oh so beautiful. It was hard to find spots to take good photos without other tourists but we did manage a few.
Conclusion and Key Tips
In conclusion, exploring Angkor Park in one day with a young child is totally possible if you are prepared to pick and choose which temples you would like to see. You will definitely need to organise a tuk tuk driver for the day, tourists cannot drive themselves and the local drivers can also offer any tips. Our hotel organised a driver for us and I imagine most hotels in Siem Reap will if you just ask. Its important to take your time exploring Angkor, especially with a young child. It was extremely hot and sticky and we found we began to lose interest when we were all overheated, so remember to have regular breaks and take lots of water with you. Like I said above its probably worth taking your own coffee and food to avoid paying extortionate prices and avoid spending time trying to figure out which vendor is offering the best deal within the complex. I would advice bringing a baby carrier over a buggy, even for slightly older children. The temples will be fascinating to any child and will encourage them to investigate and explore, having somewhere to carry them when they get too tired and hot is a must.
We only saw a handful of temples on our trip and there are so many more to explore, but we decided to take it slow and not pressure ourselves into seeing loads of them. We will definitely be going back in the future one day to explore some more. Travelling and exploring the world should make you happy, one magical morning fully exploring just one temple is much better than racing around trying to see them all.
Thanks for reading, if you have any more suggestions or tips about visiting Angkor with kids then please leave a comment or message, I always love to hear from you,