Our week in Siem Reap, Cambodia had its ups and downs. A family travel rollercoaster, dazzling highs and anxious, dark (literally) lows, so let’s keep it real and share it as it really was.
This is one of those “what we’ve been doing on the road” posts, so lots of chatty stuff about us and a little hard information. I’ll write the detailed posts later and eventually link to them.
Time to work is short on the road and, to be honest, I’d rather be enjoying Cambodia with my family than trying to earn a living, but needs must.
Siem Reap Cambodia
Siem Reap: Not Love at First Sight
As almost always happens when you return to a favourite spot 15 years later, things had changed.
The first room we took was grotty and mosquito-filled, our walk to find a place to eat took us past many ageing western men hanging out in bars, presumed sex tourists.
Pushy touts, beggars and all manner of hawkers bombarded us and grabbed at my children as we walked through the new, modern “Night Market”.
Pub St. was a shock, a modern, purpose-built monstrosity, full of neon, pizza and Mexican food.
We couldn’t find a good meal, and by that, I mean something at least SE Asian, if not Cambodian, at a decent price.
This wasn’t the Cambodia we loved.
Finding the Old.
A day, a much-needed sleep and a short walk later, we found the old Siem Reap. The old market is there, almost exactly as we remembered it on the banks of the river. Beyond the river, the old wooden houses remain, although another Chinese Night Market has sprung up in their midst, not far from the Hard Rock Cafe.
A beautiful temple, beautiful people and a change of accommodation did a lot to improve our moods. Cambodian people are some of the friendliest, happiest, most joy-filled people in the world.
Angkor Wat and the whole complex is wonderful with kids. Extra special to be finally sharing this with my children, my second time, their first.
We bought a 3-day ticket, visited for sunset one day ( this doesn’t count as one of your 3 days) and did 2 full half-days in the complex. Both the children qualified for free admission, which was a bonus, this works for children born after 2003.
We had the best driver in the world, not a word of English but his infectious laugh will stay with us all for a long, long time. Little things like that make a huge difference.
A Week of Personal Disasters.
Boo has been slightly unwell since before we left London. We decided it was about time he saw a doctor. I hate doctors, so obviously my worry levels were sky-high to even consider it necessary. The doctor was great, a Londoner, we paid our $50 and, of course, the child has been better from the moment the cash left my wallet. It always happens.
Our next hiccup, the cashpoint (ATM) stopped giving us money. An anxious day of trying to contact Australia and get the bank to sort its life out before the cash tap came back on.
My personal disaster came in a computer failure. A total reset to factory condition took me a full 2 days to sort out. I’m still struggling but things seem OK.
Not really a disaster, but a tough time when we stumbled across the Siem Reap Killing Fields. That, in itself, was fine, a great history lesson, but two children there, toddlers with hydrocephalus, were shocking, frightening and upsetting to my youngest. I don’t know if the mothers were beggars or just spending their days in the temple with their dying children. It was so sad to see these helpless, precious little children just lying there in the heat. The real world, I know, but I’d rather my ultra-sensitive child hadn’t seen that so young. History is often easier to take than modern reality. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know I’m far from over-protective, this is the first time in any of our travels, we’ve had issues of this sort. Some really intense and valuable conversations have come out of this though. The boys want to make a difference.
Then the disaster of all disasters, a national-level disaster. A truck ploughed into power poles on the highway between Bangkok and Siem Reap, wiping out the electrical supply for a huge chunk of Cambodia. No fan, no aircon, no lights, no water to shower, flush or even wash hands. To precious westerners in 36-degree heat, it was a little tricky. We heard the repairs could take days so we hopped on the first bus to Battambang, which is where we are now. We passed the site of the accident on our journey (4 hours $6 each), many hands were still working to get the power fully restored.
Finding a Great Family Hostel in Siem Reap
Our second guest house or hostel, Garden Village, was a joy. We visited a dozen hotels before settling on this place, it had the best atmosphere, the friendliest staff and a gorgeous room and pool. It’s the same place the Nomadic Family stayed, for months on end, during their time in Siem Reap.
We loved it, the kids played in their beautiful pool with other travelling families, food was great and good draught beer at 50c kept the grown-ups happy. All was right with the world.
Still Not in Love With Siem Reap, But with Cambodia, Yes.
You have to go to Siem Reap for Angkor Wat. It’s worth a look but we wouldn’t rate it as a destination. It’s gone too far to meet the needs of mass tourism.
We didn’t see everything and do everything, obviously, these are just our impressions from our 8-night stay. A trip out into the surrounding countryside and to Tonle Sap Lake ( not the tourist “floating village” which I’ve read plenty of bad things about) would probably have been well worth doing.
In contrast, Battambang is fantastic, we’re loving it here so far. This is a real town with a few tourists rather than a town structured around tourism. This would be a better place to spend more time, we think. Prices are slightly higher here, those 50c beers have become 75c beers, but it’s worth it, there is a nice vibe in this town and we had the most amazing full day of exploring yesterday with our tour guide/driver. He was a random tuk tuk guy met at the bus station. There is far more to Battambang than just the Bamboo Railway, but that is a fun hour of your day.
We’re paying $2 more for our room, but at $16 it’s still a fantastic deal. There is all sorts of accommodation here, from $1 dorms to fancy-looking riverside hotels.
So that’s how it goes, sometimes you love a place, sometimes you hate it. You can read a dozen travel blogs and get a dozen different opinions because, at the end of the day, we are all different and that makes life interesting. We’re really enjoying Battambang and Siem Reap gave us family memories of Angkor, so Cambodia is getting a big thumbs up. It’s looking like we’ll explore as much of Cambodia as we can, everything outside Siem Reap is new to us and that’s pretty exciting.
All views are our own and we’re not sponsored by Garden Village Guest House Siem Reap, we just like it.
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Thursday 24th of February 2022
Well if I ever get over to Cambodia all I plan on seeing is the live monkeys that are at Angkor Wat. And also the live monkeys that are about 3 hours away from Angkorn Wat. I would bring plenty of food to feed the monkeys and take pictures of them. Especially the babies. When you know what the different names are of the monkeys it's pretty easy to get them to pay attention to you. Heck you can even get the monkeys to lip-smacking. Which is hilarious to watch.
Alyson for World Travel Family
Saturday 26th of February 2022
Be certain you have your rabies shots, and that post-bite rabies treatment is available in Cambodia. You may have to go to Bangkok if they're out of stock. Monkeys bite. Seen it too often. It's not smart to feed them.
Monday 28th of August 2017
I live in Cambodia but have similar issues with Siem Riep, visited first 18 years ago and do not like what it has become. There is however so much in the country around the town.
Saturday 20th of February 2016
Thanks for this snapshot view. We are heading to Cambodia in a few weeks with our very young children, Angkor Wat has long been on my bucket list - though your thoughts on Siem Reap town itself are a little concerning. Is the begging only at the killing fields or everywhere? I know my 6 & 3 year olds would find sick children very distressing. Is it do-able to visit Angkor Wat from Battambang or do you really need a couple of nights in Siem Reap?
Tuesday 23rd of February 2016
You'll be fine in Siem Reap Keri, lots of people love it. No, impossible to do from Battambang, very long way. The kids with hydrocephalus were only at that one temple.
Friday 20th of March 2015
Oh my! What a week!! Eating a tarantula is crazy! Did you eat one too?
Friday 20th of March 2015
I had a nibble on a leg.
Wednesday 18th of March 2015
Good choice to leave for power and water:) We loved our time there but our longer stay in Kampot/Kep was more rewarding. The floating village trip was interesting but very touristy and beggars.
The children with hydrocephalus are sad. Our amazing driver became quite a friend (still connected on FB etc) and he shared that sometimes they inject water purposefully into the child's head to look distorted. He claimed physical maiming was common. I read a little about it from one of the charities but I don't know how widespread.
The children carrying babies and asking for money to buy milk was also sad and a complete scam. The stores were in on it and even if people go in and buy the milk, it is just returned minutes later -- revolving door. Seeing them at 10pm on Pub Street area with prostitutes and drunks around was difficult (hard for our family too so we got out of there fast).
Tough place to grow up for sure:(
Thursday 19th of March 2015
Yep, seen it all before. But never in Cambodia.