A Challenging Week in Siem Reap Cambodia

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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.

Siem Reap With Kids

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

Siem Reap's modern Pub Street
Pub St. in Siem Reap. We gave it a go, we even watched the “traditional” dancing over a pizza. We’re not keen, but you may love it.

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”.

Deep fried tarantulas.Night Market Siem Reap
Eating tarantulas in Siem Reap’s modern NightMarket. It had to be done.

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.

Old Market Siem Reap Cambodia
The old market in Siem Reap, just as it was 15 years ago, selling everything from meat to T-shirts.

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.

Visiting Angkor.

Siem Reap Cambodia, visiting Angkor with kids
A thre- day ticket, 2 half days and a sunset visit were enough for us. A brilliant, wonderful, magical experience with kids. The temples and ruins are a playground from a distant time.

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 worked 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.

Siem Reap Killing Fields
Siem Reap has its own Killing Fields and monument. Well worth a visit, but be cautious with sensitive children.

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.

Siem Reap with Kids AngkorA
Angkor Wat and the whole complex is stunning.

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.

Read about Battambang, our next destination in Cambodia after Siem Reap. We liked Battambang a lot.

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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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

11 thoughts on “A Challenging Week in Siem Reap Cambodia”

  1. 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.

    • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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:(

  5. Hi Alyson – you know I love your posts on the blog far more than the “snapshots” on FB, and this one is not an exception! I just feel like being there when I read it.
    I know what you feel about going back 15 years later. I told Chef about our going back to Bulembu in Swaziland after 15 years, and it was just so confronting to realize ALL of the indigenous forest had disappeared – there is not one tree left. They have all been replaced by timber-plantations … sad for us, but I suppose a necessary economic reality for the Swazis.
    I smiled at your “full half days” at Angkor Wat. Gosh, I could never join an organised trip where they do two full half days and even a full evening of “touristy things” … we need time for ourselves, to hang around, feel the country, do nothing. What else do you travel for?! So good on you!
    Keep up the good work! (what link do we have to click on to make you earn some cents? I’m not sure I got that one … so I clicked on all of them?!)


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