Cambodia with kids: lessons learned
Can you visit Cambodia with kids? Absolutely – not only have we done it, we had the most amazing adventure there and I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.
As with every trip, we came home having learned a few lessons along the way – or at least a few tips about making family travel to Cambodia a little smoother.
Don’t underestimate what kids will love
I still find it tricky to know what Minnie will enjoy – visiting Banan temple in Battambang, I suspected we’d barely begin the 358 step climb before she complained. Instead she scampered enthusiastically ahead as I puffed behind, before insisting on praying to Buddha and lighting incense. She was also fascinated by the story of the Ramayana as we walked around Angkor Wat, handily our Leap and Hop Cambodia book had a concise version.
Meanwhile, she flatly refused to get out of the tuktuk to see the majestic line of statues leading to Angkor Thom and wanted to draw Buddhas in the earth with an umbrella tip at Ta Prohm rather than marvelling at the creeping trees. Still, I got to enjoy both! The boat trip where she complained about engine noise and splashing water? A bit less so.
You win some, you lose some… but the overall verdict was that this was the best adventure ever.
Take all your adapters
I got horribly confused trying to work out what kind of plug is used in Cambodia. Having been and seen the impressive variety, I know now why it seemed so baffling. Some places used the round two-pin plugs, some use the flat two-pin options, others will work with UK three-pin and some of the more modern hotels had special universal plugs which seemed to work with everything.
Happily I had taken my universal travel adapter, my KIT universal travel charger which has a UK and European plug plus the USB sockets, a handful of mini portable chargers that I’ve acquired, plus some standard European and US adapters and between the lot, always managed to keep everything charged.
Rainy seasons has some big advantages
It’s hard to predict the weather accurately all the time (just ask the Met Office) but if you’ve ruled out visiting Cambodia in rainy season, I’d suggest rethinking that. There were a few tremendous downpours but not the all-day drizzle you might get in the UK – and while we were lucky with our timing, you normally got a bit of warning that rain was coming and blue skies were back after a short while sheltering.
We also had fewer crowds, a lower daily temperature (high 20s, rather than peak season’s high 30s) and less dust. And while staff warned us that pools were a bit cooler after the deluge, we didn’t have much trouble coping with that either! The biggest issue is the roads which do suffer from the downpours, so earlier in the rainy season might be better.
Don’t fear the toilets
I’m not a big fan of squat toilets – nor is Minnie, though she seems to manage them fairly easily when required. Thankfully that was almost never in Cambodia: restaurants, stopping places during our journey, major attractions, airports – all seemed to be standard western toilets, albeit with the special handheld spray attachment (aka the bum gun).
Tissue and hand sanitiser came in useful a few times but even that wasn’t often needed.
Bring your own booster seat
We had a lot of long drives during our fortnight – check out our two week itinerary for Cambodia with kids here – and had been warned that child seats tend to be hard to come by and not always great quality.
So we packed our ever-useful inflatable Bubblebum booster seat which we had reviewed on our Burma trip: Cambodian kids might be crammed onto mopeds from a very young age, but this gave Minnie more chance of seeing out of the window and less chance of the seatbelt hurting her neck.
A driver is a big bonus
You can get around Cambodia using public transport – buses, tuktuks, taxis for longer drives and so on. But having our drivers arranged by Stubborn Mule made life so much easier.
There was no stress about what we’d do on arrival or finding the correct address, air con is always a bonus, and when we ventured into the Cardamom Mountains, having private transport looked essential (and not always cheap to arrange independently). Sometimes time – and not having to spend it faffing about on getting from A to B – is definitely worth money on family trips!
Don’t forget road trip entertainment
I wouldn’t expect Minnie to entertain herself on a three-hour journey in the UK, and even the fascinating views of Cambodia’s countryside and life wasn’t enough to keep a five-year-old engrossed.
When my optimistic hopes that she’d sleep were dashed, we played more than a few road trip games and she listened to audio books with her headphones.
Free WiFi is (almost) everywhere
We had better WiFi in Cambodia than in Greece… every hotel we stayed in had free and fast connections (and not just in a tiny corner of the lobby), every restaurant and cafe we visited seemed to have it too. Which was useful when it came to downloading those audio books among other things.
Don’t drink the water
Tap water is not good to drink in the country, although all the hotels we stayed in provided at least a couple of small bottles a day and bottled water is easy and cheap to find. Ice tends to be fine though, as bottled water is used to make it.
There’s food even for the fussiest
While I was devouring as many new kinds of food as I could find (never did come across tarantula), there were plenty of plain or Western options for my daughter, who tends to become even fussier about food while she’s away – plus restaurants were happy to do plain grilled chicken with rice, for example.
Our only restrictions tended to be routine – avoiding a very late bedtime and resultant grumpy small girl often meant eating in or very near to the hotel at night. It’s worth knowing that if you come across pesto pasta, the basil will be the Thai variety: I thought it worked rather well, Minnie flatly refused…
That still winds me up
I’m not sure if Minnie is very slowly becoming more adventurous or whether I now have even less patience with her announcements that food tastes ‘funny’ – something which was extended to bread, cornflakes, pasta, pineapple, noodles, and countless other things over the trip.
There’s less hassle than you might fear
Minnie was still the centre of attention when it came to people wanting photos with her – although she minded it less than the year before in Burma. But when it came to getting the hard sell, I was very happily surprised to discover that didn’t seem to be an issue.
Apart from Ta Prohm, where we had a lot more requests to buy fans/postcards etc, I found we could browse stalls in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh or eye up menus without either being ignored or pounced on. Perhaps because we were visiting in low season, but I think it’s as much about the gentle and welcoming attitude we saw from people across Cambodia.
Beaches are even more relaxing
Lounging on Otres Beach near Sihanoukhville on our first stop by the coast, I wasn’t altogether surprised to be offered a massage by the Cambodian ladies who wandered between the loungers. Ah, but that was only the start.
This was practically a mini spa, with manicures, pedicures and eyebrow threading also on the list. And if you haven’t quite shaved your legs precisely, they will very kindly point out your hairy knees and offer to sort those too…
See more of my planning tips for Cambodia with kids in this vlog
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