Take the family trip of a lifetime to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom with our on-the-ground travel guide and itinerary
Why is Angkor with kids a trip of a lifetime for one of your family vacations?
A powerful empire built the massive city of Angkor, then they abandoned it for reasons we still don’t fully understand. Trees grow out of the walls. If you describe Angkor to someone, it could quickly sound like you’re describing an adventure movie. Angkor is an ancient city in the middle of a jungle… and you can go there. Angkor with kids is a family trip of a lifetime!
As you may have seen in our family travel blog, we’ve had some pretty cool experiences as a digital nomad, world traveling family. But visiting Angkor with kids has been one of the most amazing things we’ve done, and it has given all four of us memories we can cherish always.
Is Siem Reap, Cambodia family friendly?
Similar to Thailand, it’s easy to think that Cambodia is full of young, drunken backpackers looking for the next club. Sure, that scene is out there. When traveling with your kids, though, odds are you’re looking for something quieter.
Siem Reap is family friendly. We found folks to be mindful of our children and were amazing at helping us look out for our kids.
The city itself is a city that’s coming up, but has its rough patches. There’s a lot of kindness in the place, but keep your regular parent smarts and street smarts.
Before you go to Angkor with kids
Angkor is open throughout the year. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you plan your Angkor family trip:
Cambodia’s official currency is the riel
Typically, US dollars have been welcome, but folks are very particular about US bills being in excellent shape. The Cambodian government is currently working on a public campaign to move off dollar usage though, and go fully to the riel. You can use most ATMs, and many places accept only cash.
Apply for an e-visa in advance
Depending on your nationality, technically you can get a visa on arrival, but waiting in line can take a while. We found it much more convenient to get e-visas in advance directly through the Cambodian government (but first check visa guidelines for your country of citizenship; we’re coming at this from the perspective of US citizens). Cambodia says it issues visas within 3 days of application, but try to apply at least a week before you plan to come. You can apply up to 3 months prior to your arrival date. You’ll need to print a copy of the visa. When you arrive at the Siem Reap airport, inform an immigration official that you have an e-visa, and it may help you get through immigration faster.
Sunscreen, bug spray, and hats are your friends
Pack sunscreen and bug spray, and everyone will probably want some sort of head covering.
What’s the best way to get around Angkor?
Some folks like to ride a bicycle to and around Angkor. Definitely an option (and your accommodation may offer free bikes to guests). The heat, humidity, and traffic conditions can make it pretty challenging, so be realistic about your condition—and pack plenty of water—before pumping those pedals.
Hiring a car or tuk-tuk for the day is very much worth it. We arranged a tuk-tuk with our hotel to shuttle us there from the airport, and we also worked it out with the driver to transport us around Angkor with kids. Our driver was considerate with Jodie and wonderful with the kids. Typically, it’s pretty easy to arrange transportation with your hotel. Arrangements vary, of course. For ours, our driver charged us about US$20 per day for Angkor, which included transportation to and from our hotel, all the driving through the park, and him waiting for us while we visited places.
When is the best time of year to visit Angkor with kids?
It’s usually recommended to visit Angkor with kids with the during the dry season, which typically runs November to around mid-April.
Angkor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s amazing. It’s huge. And you’re going to have a brilliant time visiting Angkor with kids.
How to get to Siem Reap, Cambodia
Getting to Angkor in Cambodia can be a little tricky, but doable. Regional budget carriers such as AirAsia have regular flights to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Some people like to travel overland via bus or private car or shuttle.
We flew via AirAsia, but other flights may be available:
Or, check out 12Go Asia for overland options
If first coming to Phnom Penh, you can travel overland to Siem Reap. Or, consider traveling by river! If we’d been flying into Phnom Penh, we likely would have chosen the boat option to get to Siem Reap. Or, if we’d been staying in Cambodia longer, we likely would have taken a boat from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.
Family travel tips for where to stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia with kids
Cambodia has a range of accommodation, from hostels to fancy hostels and plenty in between.
We love looking for rooms that include breakfast. With so much going on during the day, especially during an Angkor day, we like not having to worry about the first meal of the day.
There are accommodation options throughout the city. Some are much closer to the northern end of Siem Reap, which can put you just minutes away from Angkor.
We stayed at the Bou Savy Guesthouse, near the city center of Siem Reap. Besides a lovely pool and spacious lobby where we could hang out or have meals delivered, the Bou Savy had tasty breakfast options and helped us sort out anything we needed while in town.
Check out the Bou Savy Guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Getting your Angkor park pass: No, you don’t have to queue at the office in person
Passes to Angkor are their own thing. You’re not getting them through Agoda (and typically, if you’re working with a tour company, you’ll still have to get your Angkor pass yourself). When going to Angkor back in the day, often your first stop had to be the Cambodian government’s ticket office in Siem Reap. There you’d wait in line. (Oh, and you remembered to bring two passport photos, right?) You still can do that. However…
Buy your Angkor park pass online instead
It is much, much easier to buy your Angkor pass online. The only official way to buy your pass is through the Angkor Ticket Office, Angkor Enterprise:
Ordering is pretty easy. When visiting Angkor with kids, only adults or children 12 and up will need passes. You’ll need to upload a passport-style photo of each person getting a ticket.
Save your digital Angkor pass in an easy-to-get-to spot on your phone.
Even better? You don’t need to print your passes.
Once we received the email from the Cambodia government with my and Jodie’s Angkor passes, Anthony saved them to his phone. Not the cloud, either. Cell reception can be spotty in the park sometimes. We saved our passes to the device itself, so we didn’t have to worry about whether the files would load.
Whenever we stopped at a checkpoint, Anthony pulled up the file, showed it to the officer, and soon we’d be on our way.
Yes, hire a car or a tuk tuk for the day
We paid about US$20 per day for our own personal tuk-tuk driver’s services. It was worth every penny. No matter your age or condition, exploring Angkor with kids requires a lot of physical exertion. Being able to sit back and relax on our ride was wonderful.
We also loved the tuk-tuk experience. We could really look out and take in what was happening around us. Plus, our driver had a cooler full of chilled water bottles, so it was easy to stay hydrated and cool off all day long.
Sunrise, sunset, or both?
This is tough and depends more on what matters to your family travel bucket list. Sunrise at Angkor is really popular. The views are spectacular. It’s really special to experience the day’s first light brightening up the trees and the stone structures. The light on the water of the moat surrounding Angkor is especially resplendent. It’s beautiful. If you’re trying to get particular photos or videos, sunrise, of course, can be ideal for that image work.
Sunrise also has the advantage of getting you to Angkor at the coolest part of the day—or, at least, as cool as it gets in a notoriously steamy part of Southeast Asia.
But honestly? We couldn’t care less about sunrise. It’s just not our thing.
For our Angkor days, we breakfasted around 7 and left around 8, for the 15-minute drive to the park.
However, mornings are wonderful there, especially when wandering Angkor with kids. Plus, you can knock out more of your sightseeing earlier, leaving you the option to take some downtime in the afternoon, or power through more, depending on what everyone is up for.
But as for us, you’ll find us at Angkor more around 8 or 8:30. We’ll be there until around 2pm, and we might head back for something around sunset.
Do I need to buy an Angkor pass for my kids?
For children under 12, there is no charge to visit Angkor. However, an adult needs to carry the passport for each child. Officers at checkpoints throughout the park check passes. They also might ask to see your children’s passports, to verify that they are in the correct age range for free admission.
From our experience, we only had to show Aster’s passport the first time we entered the park. At eight, she’s pretty obviously a younger kid, and no officer asked to see hers again. However, Connor was on the cusp of 11. If Jodie and I got asked for our passes, typically we also needed to show Connor’s passport to prove that he was still on the kid’s side of free Angkor admission.
Angkor is not just Angkor Wat. Here’s how it breaks down
Often people talk about going to “Angkor Wat,” but really they’re talking about going to the full Angkor complex. This can get confusing. For example, the Sistine Chapel is part of Vatican City. If the Sistine Chapel was called Vatican Chapel, people would probably do the same thing they do with Angkor.
For deep dives and more history, details, and context on Angkor, Hello Angkor is an invaluable resource. Anthony used it regularly as we planned where to go inside Angkor with kids.
Angkor breaks down like this:
- Angkor Wat is a temple that was part of the urban area known as Angkor Thom. “Wat” means temple. The Angkor Wat temple complex is often referred to as Angkor or Angkor Temple, but it’s very much its own thing.
- Angkor Thom was the capital city of the Khmer Empire and was at its heyday in around the 1100s and 1200s. “Thom” means city. (If someone refers to the Angkor Empire, they mean the Khmer Empire.)
- Angkor… is the whole shebang. Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, outlier structures, the massive reservoirs, and everything that’s inside the grounds but isn’t part of Angkor Thom: For simplicity’s sake, we like to call it Angkor. And yes, it can be confusing. Like how there’s no Angkor Thom temple, but there are lots of temples inside the walled city of Angkor Thom.
Here’s a little more detail:
Angkor Wat: Huge temple, globally recognized symbol
Angkor Wat is a massive temple complex built on a square island surrounded by a moat.
The temple’s profile is so iconic, a flattened version of Angkor Wat even appears on the Kingdom of Cambodia’s flag. It’s often depicted at an angle that makes it look like it has three towers. There are actually five: one on each corner, and a higher central tower. The tower’s shape evokes the lotus blossom, a symbol of enlightenment, as well as Mt. Meru, the Hindu equivalent of Mt. Olympus when talking about divine homesteads and real estate.
Fun fact: Khmer engineers didn’t put in the moat just for looks. The ground Angkor Wat is built on technically can’t really hold the weight well. Angkor Wat should be gradually squishing down the land, a little like what would happen if you set a cinderblock on top of a cake. The water in the moat provides support and counter pressure that stabilizes the island.
Angkor Thom: The remains of an ancient capital that was once the world’s largest city
Terrace of the Elephants. Bayon. Gate of the Dead. Baphuon. Seriously, if you went to Angkor Thom simply for the names, you would not be disappointed.
Walls 8 meters high enclose the 9 km² area of Angkor Thom. That’s about 3.5 sq miles, just a little smaller than the area of downtown Atlanta, GA, or about the same size as arrondissements 1–6 of Paris.
Angkor Thom was the capital of the Khmer Empire. Scientists currently estimate that at the city’s apex, it had a population of at least three-quarter million people—and probably upwards of a million. In the 1200s. That means that for the time, the world’s most populated city was not in Europe (London had only around a hundred thousand residents). It was in Southeast Asia.
This area is also big. Lots of structures are still ruins or are in various stages of evaluation and restoration. There’s a lot you will not see. And that’s okay.
Angkor… Everything else
There are lots and lots of other places to experience in Angkor that are not Angkor Wat and that are outside the walls of Angkor Thom. Two of Angkor’s most iconic spots are Preah Khan (just outside the northern wall of Angkor Thom) and Ta Prohm (east of Angkor Thom, and famous for being a location in the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movie). Many of the trees-from-stone images we associate with Angkor come from these places.
Angkor is also the forest that has reclaimed the land after the Khmer left. Part of the joy of being at Angkor with kids is also being in a green space.
And even this is not all of Angkor. From jumbled ruins to magnificent complexes like Angkor Wat, there’s about a thousand individuals sites and temples—plus, there are some that are technically part of Angkor, but are over 20 km away.
You won’t see it all. That’s okay. Here’s why.
Angkor is big. The total land area is bigger than the island of Manhattan. Just like you ain’t going to see all of New York City in one trip, you won’t see all of Angkor.
You don’t need to.
How old should kids be to get the most out of Angkor?
This is tough. When we visited Angkor with kids in December 2022, we saw parents with babies in carriers, and we saw a few families with teenagers.
The short, quippy answer is that the best time to go to Angkor is simply whenever you can make it work for your family.
Personally, we’ll suggest that the best time to go to Angkor with kids is when the children are old enough to get around on their own, follow safety instructions well, and can understand at least some of the history and context around the place. Connor was 11 and Aster was 8 at the time of our visit, and they seemed to have taken it all in pretty well. Older kids and teens will probably be able to absorb and appreciate even more.
How much time should you plan to spend in Siem Reap?
Overall, we’d suggest spending at least one more day in Siem Reap on top of your time visiting Angkor with kids. So, if you’re going to Angkor for only one day, have at least one more day in Siem Reap. That could be a rest day, or you might also take in some of the other sights of the city, such as the Angkor National Museum. There are also day trips people take from Siem Reap, such as visiting floating villages on the Tonle Sap, the massive lake between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
We spent a week in Siem Reap (including 2 days at Angkor with kids), though if we’d needed that time to be shorter, 5 days would have been fine. Here’s how much time we’d suggest you spend in Siem Reap, including your corresponding days at Angkor:
- 1 day in Angkor, 2–3 days total in Siem Reap
- 3 days in Angkor, 4–6 days total in Siem Reap
- 7 days in Angkor, 8–12 days total in Siem Reap
You don’t have to use all your days in a row, either:
- The 1-day ticket is valid for 5 days
- The 3-day ticket allows 3 days of entry during a 10-day period
- The 7-day ticket allows 7 days of entry during a 30-day period
That takes the pressure off. Your first day at Angkor with kids, especially, will be pretty intense. So if you need a rest day in between, or simply want to do something else, the passes give you some wiggle room.
Other activities while in Siem Reap
Our sole interest in Siem Reap was visiting Angkor with kids. However, while you’re in this part of Cambodia, here are a few other things work in:
- Angkor National Museum
- Floating village
- Check out the bar scene on Pub Street
- Take a tethered hot-air balloon ride at Angkor Balloon
How many days should my family choose for visiting Angkor with kids?
Passes are available for 1, 3, or 7 days. You don’t have to do 3 or 7 days in a row, either (like we mentioned above, the 3-day pass allows 3 days in a 10-day period, and 7 days in a 30-day period).
If one day is all you can manage, it will do, and we’ll go over what we recommend for that one day.
A full week—7 days—could be a great fit for someone who really wants to dig into Angkor. If you want to go to every spot you can manage, and maybe revisit some favorites, while also having more time in the area, a 7-day pass could be just the thing.
We consider a 3-day visit to Angkor to be a sweet spot of not having to rush through things, while experiencing the most important sites. Most kids won’t want to see every pile of rubble. We find 3 days to be the way to see the best Angkor offers—with one day that takes you a little farther afield, to some other places that you probably won’t get to otherwise.
Again, we’ll go into the itinerary suggestions below.
The itinerary our family followed
Before we break down our suggestions for visiting Angkor with kids, we’re going to show how we did our own visit.
The timing of our visit to Angkor was in December 2022. This coincided with the Cambodian government tacking bonus days onto their various Angkor passes, a tourism promotion that finished at the end of 2022. During the special, the 1-day pass became a 2-day pass, and the 3-day pass became a 5-day pass.
We’d originally planned to get a 3-day pass. Now that we could essentially do 2 days at Angkor for the price of 1, we instead got the 2-day pass. So as talk about what we did at Angkor, we will also share what we would have done had we had a third day.
Day 1: Angkor National Museum
Our first Angkor day wasn’t Angkor itself. Instead, we spent a few hours visiting the Angkor National Museum. The different galleries, displays, and exhibitions give context on the vast history, culture, architecture, and meaning behind Angkor and its buildings.
The museum is a fairly family friendly place. A good flow takes you from top-floor galleries down back to ground level. Along the way, there are galleries full of Buddha sculptures, film rooms (also great for a sit down and a breather), and detail on everything from Khmer dress and costumes, to the incredibly intricate stories and carvings in the stonework of Angkor.
Bonus: A little over halfway through the museum, you wind up at the museum’s cafe. It’s a good spot for a beverage, a break, and maybe a cup noodle.
Day 2: Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm
There’s a time to warm up to the feature presentation, and there’s a time to start with a big wow.
Our lead-up to Angkor was going to the museum the day before, combined with stories Anthony’s told of his wonder from his first visit in 2003.
For our first day going into Angkor, we beelined for Angkor Wat. That way, we could tackle the star of the complex while we were still feeling fresh. After Angkor, we visited Ta Prohm, then had lunch. Though we would suggest a slight tweak. The kids needed more food and rest after Angkor than our short break allowed. Doing it over, we would have gone to lunch after Angkor Wat, then gone to Ta Prohm.
Day 3: Rest Day
Our family travel itinerary had us in Siem Reap for 7 days. Since we’d be doing so much walking during our days inside Angkor itself, we knew we needed to intersperse our Angkor days with a rest day.
Whether you have kid legs, adult legs, or a prosthetic leg, Angkor days are intense days. Besides how much walking you do to get to many of the structures, the area is simply sprawling. Plus, there are not only lots of staircases, but many corridors—we’re looking at you, Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat—have one or two-step thresholds every few meters.
During our rest day, we just hung out at our hotel. It was a good day to do a few school and work tasks, and have some overall downtime together as a family.
Day 4: Angkor Thom and… one final spot
For our final day, we focused on the big one: Angkor Thom. The Khmer capital isn’t just one site to visit. Within its walls rise dozens of structures, temples, and ruins.
Plus, after lunch we visited one other wee spot. We’ll dig into that as we talk in more detail about why we chose the spots we chose.
Dat 5: Rest Day… and a sunset balloon ride
On the fifth day, we played in the pool. However, we capped off our time at Angkor with a special evening trip.
Angkor Balloon is a tethered hot air balloon ride. You’ll find it before Angkor’s entry checkpoint, a little to the west of Angkor Wat. The view of Angkor Wat, the jungle, and the Khmer-era reservoirs is amazing.
Tip: The “sunset” ride—usually the last of the day—can fill up fast. Aim to get to Angkor Balloon earlier, and odds are you can go up on an earlier time slot. We rode the balloon on the ride just before sunset. Besides seeing Angkor in the early evening light, we got an amazing view of the sun dipping below clouds and nearing the hills below.hot-air
Our top picks for Angkor’s can’t-miss spots and why they’re a priority for your family trip
Whatever your itinerary or visit length for Angkor, here are the most important spots we’d suggest you include:
No lead-up. No preamble. Start with the big one—especially when visiting Angkor with kids. Wow them from the start while those legs are full of energy!
Experiencing Angkor Wat in Cambodia is on the same scale as visiting the Taj Mahal in India, the Empire State Building in the USA, or the Eiffel Tower in France, except there’s even more to see. There is nothing quite like it in the world. The distinctive architecture, the incredible condition of the structure, and the vast, intricate carvings all make Angkor Wat a must-see.
When we visited, our guide dropped us off at the west entrance. “Don’t come back here,” he added. “If you do, it’ll be a long walk. I’ll be at the east gate.”
Crossing the moat takes you to an amazing entry that leads to a huge green space. We loved this approach. With every step the temple towers got closer, and that anticipation gave us a lot to look forward to.
Here are a few tips to get the most out of Angkor Wat with kids
- When entering Angkor Wat through the west gate, there can be some great family photo opportunities between the courtyard and entering the main castle complex.
- The top of the wooden staircase before the causeway is a great spot for a photo of Angkor Wat, a family photo, or both.
- If you need to cool down a little, get out of the sun by walking through the corridors.
- The famous mural on the northern wall is worth every moment. Stories of Khmer culture and history abound in every panel. It makes for great discussions, or at least a fun art scavenger hunt with your kids.
- The central tower’s Bakan, or uppermost terrace, is incredibly cool to experience, but you have to be at least 12 years old to go up. Plus, the steep staircase is almost a ladder, so extra safety awareness is essential. We divided and conquered: Jodie and the kids took a break, while Anthony went up the tower and got lots of photos and video.
Do what we should have done: After Angkor Wat, get lunch
If we could do one thing differently, it’s that we would have taken a lunch break after Angkor Wat. While we took a decent breather before going to Ta Prohm, a longer break would have been more restorative all around, but especially for the kids.
The Angkor complex area has lots of restaurants and food stalls. We followed our driver’s recommendation—and liked it so much, we went there for lunch on our second day at Angkor.
The Khmer Angkor Kitchen Restaurant had an extensive menu. Besides the excellent Khmer dishes (the stir-fried vegetables were especially yummy), the fish and chips were a kid pleasing favorite. Plus, you can really cool off. If you want to sit under a fan and be outside, the upper balcony has a great view of the Srah Srang reservoir across the street. But if you really want to cool off after a morning in the Southeast Asian sunshine, the inside air-conditioned room is especially lovely.
Whether the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movie, other research you’ve done on Angkor, or pretty much any photo of Angkor that’s not Angkor Wat, odds are you’ve seen Ta Prohm. For evocative, jaw-dropping images of trees growing out of the walls and gates, Ta Prohm is iconic, stunning, and has come such a long, long way since Anthony’s first visit in 2003.
While evaluation and restoration continue, the site has a signed directional path to make it easier to navigate. Corridors that were mostly full of rubble in 2003 are now cleared and navigable. Rebuilt gateways show you what they really looked like.
Some areas also have wooden platforms and walkways, especially around particularly photo-worthy spots where trees emerge from the stone walls.
Be ready for a decent choof to and from Ta Prohm. A wide dirt path winds through the forest, giving some relief from the sun, and adding to the impact when you reach the first walls, gates, and huge trees that await you.
Similar to Angkor Wat, you can enter from either the western or eastern gate. We went west-to-east. On both sides, at some point you might also pass a group of musicians playing traditional Khmer music from a covered shelter. A sign notes that many of the musicians have lost limbs because of the ongoing countless number of landmines in Cambodia, and they have adopted music as a trade to help them earn a living. Please drop off a bit of cash to show your support.
Something to keep in mind: the eastern path is longer, and at one point there is a staircase that goes over the stone wall.
The moment you approach the wall surrounding Angkor Thom, you know you are in for something amazing. Rows of stone figures line both sides of the road. From high up the top of the stone gate, a carved face gazes down on you—and there’s another on the other side.
The walled complex of Angkor Thom is where all the religious and government bigwigs of Khmer Empire’s Angkor era would have lived and worked. Today, many stone structures remain. Plenty of wooden structures for other businesses, residences, or other functions would have dotted the landscape. Those buildings are all gone, but it’s a great thing to talk about with the kids, so they can imagine what the city might have looked like in its heyday.
Angkor Thom has a few notable places. Depending on how long you are visiting Angkor, you can really geek out on these but you can also pass them by, or at least snap a photo. Renovation and excavation work is also a regular occurrence. When we were there, workers were excavating a site near the Terrace of the Elephants. At the Bayon, a tree crew was trimming branches. Just as building the city was a work in progresses is Angkor’s preservation.
Fortunately, it’s easy to prioritize what to see in Angkor Thom. If you had to pick one place to visit with your kids, it’s simple: The Bayon.
Quite simply, there is nothing quite like the Bayon temple.
Dozens of stone pillars rise over this massive structure. And at the top of each pillar, a face stares down from each side—which is aligned with north, east, south, and west. Pretty much anywhere you go through the passages and courtyards of the Bayon, one of those faces will be simultaneously staring at you and at the surrounding worlds. It’s impressive. And it’s a touch spine-tingling.
We also appreciate that the Bayon is easy to take in as much or as little as you want. The full route going through the Bayon can take at least a couple of hours. However, you can also go along the earlier part of the route, check out some amazing bas-reliefs (with interpretative signs), and see many prominent towers and faces. If you want to keep going, you can. But it’s also easy to turn around and head right back out the way you came.
A parking lot and a modern restroom building are also nearby.
If you make your way along the Terrace of the Elephants, off to one side you’ll see a stone gate, a long causeway, and what at first might look like a small hill. It’s actually the Baphuon, an example of the “temple mountain” common in Khmer architecture.
The Baphuon is stunning to see. There are lots of passages to explore, plus a temple within the temple that has a riveting climb up steep stairs. The view of the forest is more than worth it. However, the Baphuon is unnecessary for little legs to undertake.
We visited Angkor Thom on our second day in Angkor. From the Bayon, we wandered along past the Baphuon. After meeting up with our driver at the parking lot past the Terrace of the Leper King, Jodie and the kids took a rest (and watched monkeys get up to garbage-raiding antics) while Anthony took a solo trek over to the Baphuon.
Terrace of the Elephants
Speaking of the Terrace of the Elephants, this is a great spot to stop with kids. It’s close to the entrance to the Bayon, and you can reach it from a path lined with tall trees.
The carved elephants are an amazing sight, and it’s fun to go up the steps. Kids can get right up to the elephant trunks.
After a morning exploring Angkor Thom, we ducked back to the Khmer Angkor Kitchen Restaurant for lunch. That gave us a solid break and refresh time so we’d be ready for what we had decided was our Angkor finale.
Just outside the main complex off the northeast corner, this small, fairly flat temple area quickly became a family favorite. Ta Som lies just beyond the main Angkor area. If coming from the Ta Prohm area, you drive through the vast reservoir of the Eastern Baray to reach Ta Som.
This small site isn’t as highly visited either, so crowds can often be smaller. Plus, Ta Som doesn’t require a ton of walking. The entry gate is just a few meters off the side of the road. Most of the area if pretty level. There are passages to wander, but you can also stick to the courtyard and grounds if you prefer. Throughout, though, the stonework and carvings are striking. Wandering the passages feels like you are wandering back through time.
Angkor’s introvert haven
We decided that Ta Som was actually the Khmer’s introvert haven: small, out of the way, and not crowded. Just what we needed.
The finale of Ta Som is what makes it especially worthwhile. When you go through the east gate at the far end, you’ll meet one of the best examples of intermingled tree and stone that Angkor offers.
In short, this quiet temple has cool trees like Ta Prohm, but a fraction of the crowds. We consider Ta Som to be the introvert haven temple of Angkor.
Our favorite memory of Ta Som, though, will be when the kids were playing “the sand is lava” near one gateway. One of the god-king carved faces was staring down at them—and we’re figuring it’s not every day some divine royal stonework gets to do that.
1 day at Angkor: All the highlights in one very busy day
There are many ways to slice and dice a visit to Angkor. If one day is all you can allot, let’s get something clear: It’s going to be a packed, busy, tiring day. Please plan accordingly. Try to build in some downtime, especially so the kids can rest up in between temples.
Early start, midday break, return in the afternoon
Plus, you will probably want an early start. Aim to get to the park right when it opens at 5 a.m. It’ll be a big morning. However, you could also have the option to go back to your accommodation for a midday break, then come back in the afternoon.
If we were attempting to visit Angkor in one day, here’s what we would have done:
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
We’d head to the eastern entrance. Cross the moat and beeline to the wall carving, then head into the main temple complex to see the temple courtyard. We would then backtrack to the eastern entrance, instead of crossing the full complex. If catching the sunrise on the water is a big deal to you, check sunrise time and adjust your whereabouts depending on when you’re there and where you want to be.
After Angkor, take a second breakfast. The extended break will do everyone good.
Angkor Thom and the Bayon
From Angkor Wat, you can head north to the southern gate of Angkor Thom, then head straight to the Bayon. We would have used the same strategy we mentioned above: Go in partway to the middle of the Bayon, check out some towers, then backtrack out.
After the Bayon, you could choose to walk or ride alongside places like the Baphuon, the Terrace of the Elephants, and the Terrace of the Leper King. If you opt to ride, you can always ask your driver to let you out for some time at any place that catches your fancy.
By the time you’ve finished in Angkor Thom, it’ll be useful to have another meal break. Depending on when you started, this could be an early lunch, but it will be worth it. Use lunch both to fill bellies and to rest for a while.
After lunch, if everyone needs a longer rest, it could be worth talking with your driver about going back to your room for a couple of hours, then heading back to the park later in the afternoon.
Whenever you resume your family’s Angkor explorations, pick things up with Ta Prohm. Angkor’s scale is impressive. The Bayon’s uniqueness is striking. But there is nothing like seeing huge trees growing out of stone walls, and that is what Ta Prohm is all about.
Ta Prohm can also make a fitting finale for your day at Angkor. The sight of the trees and stone will stick with everyone.
If after Ta Prohm you feel up to some more Angkor experience, here are some ideas:
- Loop from Ta Prohm across the Eastern Baray to Ta Som, and have some recharge time here. There are also souvenir and beverage/snack stalls out front.
- From Ta Som, take the northern road west and check out Preah Khan. It’s similar to Ta Prohm, and a bigger exploration, but if everyone is up for it, go for it.
- After Preah Khan, head into Angkor Thom via the northern gate. Everyone can relax during a scenic drive through a different part of the city. You can take the eastern gate out, then make your way back to your room.
What about sunset?
If you want to finish your big day with a view of Angkor Wat at sunset, consider seeing the evening light on the Bayon. The most popular spot, though, is Pre Rup, east of Ta Prohm. Climbing the temple mountain gives an amazing sunset vantage, but it can be crowded.
Or, between Ta Prohm and Pre Rup, Srah Srang and Banteay Kdei are two other popular choices.
Our favorite though, is the Angkor Balloon, and we’ll talk about that more soon.
3 days at Angkor: Our suggested 3-day Angkor family itinerary
We’ll recap our suggested 3 days. It breaks down as 2 days in the main Angkor area, with one day a little farther afield:
- Angkor Wat
- Ta Prohm
- Optional: Sunset at Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang, or Pre Rup
- The Bayon (with a stop at Angkor Thom’s gate for photos)
- Optional (and probably just adults and/or teens): Baphuon
- Terrace of the Elephants. Go up the steps to wander the wide, elevated stone walkway (you’ll also get good views of the Baphuon). You’ll finish around the Terrace of the Leper King, and your driver can wait for you in the nearby parking lot
- Optional: Preah Khan (but take a breather first)
- Ta Som
- Optional: From Ta Som, drive along the northern road back toward Angkor Thom, come in through the northern gate, and take a scenic drive through the former capital on your way back
- Sunset: Angkor Balloon. The tethered hot-air balloon ride is amazing. And yes, we really are going to talk about it more.
Most people spend their time in the main Angkor complex, and with good reason. However, if we’d been doing a third day of Angkor, we would have headed about 25km north:
More Hindu in style, this fascinating carved temple complex is from the 10th-century. The carvings, overall stonework, and even the red sandstone itself are all different from what’s in the main Angkor complex. It’s also much smaller in scale than the grand Angkor complexes, which can feel more relatable to kids.
Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre (BBC)
This interactive butterfly exhibit is home to thousands of butterflies, all from species native to Cambodia. It’s supposed to be the largest outdoor butterfly habitat in Southeast Asia.
Cambodia Landmine Museum
We mentioned that an unknown number of unmapped landmines dot Cambodia. The museum documents the history and the suffering related to all these landmines, as well as the ongoing efforts to find and safely remove these dangerous weapons.
7 days at Angkor
Honestly, you’re on your own. Or you are such a next-level Angkor aficionado, that we should probably ask you for advice. But if you go for 7 days, please tell us what all you did!
About the Angkor Balloon
We wanted to dedicate some space to the Angkor Balloon for two main reasons. It’s an amazing experience. It’s also tricky to figure out online. Here’s what we figured out, and why we suggest you take a float.
What is the Angkor Balloon?
The Angkor Balloon is a tethered, German-made hot-air balloon, about a kilometer west of the Angkor checkpoint. It’s also outside the Angkor park itself, so you don’t need an Angkor pass to ride the balloon.
The balloon doesn’t float around (especially since air traffic over the park isn’t allowed). Since the balloon is tethered, it simply goes up and down, and you’re in the air for about 10 minutes. The balloon goes up to about 120m (394 feet), and can hold up to 30 people in a donut shaped platform.
Rides are available from sunrise to sunset every day.
The tricky bits
If you search “Angkor balloon,” things get tricky. A lot of info about the balloon is out of date. Apparently they used to have a website but don’t anymore. They haven’t updated their social media accounts in a while. They have an old listing on Trip Advisor, but you can’t book a tour through TA anymore.
If, like us, you’re used to vetting places online before you give them your business, all this can be disconcerting.
However, Angkor Balloon is very much in operation.
Ticket to ride
Angkor Balloon is reachable by phone at +855 92 765 386. Especially during the high tourist season, it may be a good idea to reserve a time, especially around the more popular ride times at sunrise and sunset.
If those are booked, try the next-closest time slot. We aimed for sunset, but a tour group had booked it up. Instead, we took the time right before, and still got an incredible view of Angkor and the setting sun.
Why it’s amazing
The view from the balloon gives you a sweeping perspective of just how incredible Angkor is. To the east, Angkor Wat rises above the jungle like a small mountain. It looks like some sort of eternal part of the world, not something that people built.
Plus, from the air you can take in the amazing scope and size of incredible reservoirs built by the Khmer. If the weather is clear enough, you may even see Cambodia’s huge lake, the Tonle Sap, to the south.
Being high over Angkor and the forest also has a calm, peaceful quality to it. We found our balloon ride to be a perfect finale to our time in Angkor and in Cambodia. It’s majestic. It’s serene. And you can truly see Angkor from a unique perspective as you wind up your time in this awe-inspiring place.
Angkor with kids: A trip of a lifetime awaits in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Our second day visiting Angkor, we had finished up at Angkor Thom after seeing the Bayon, the Terrace of the Elephants, and the Terrace of the Leper King. But as we loaded up in the tuk-tuk and started driving, Anthony said there was something he had to do.
“That big temple, the Baphuon,” he said. “It… I feel like it’s calling to me. If you all want to stay, no worries, but I would really like to check this place out, even if it’s on my own. I’m fully aware that I’ve been fortunate to see Angkor not just once, but twice. I’m not banking on a third time. If we leave and I don’t go see this, I just feel like I’m going to regret it.”
So he went (while Jodie, the kids, and our driver all got a chuckle at a bunch of monkeys raiding garbage cans in the parking lot).
Angkor is full of wonder. Of past ingenuity, of the transience yet perseverance of human imagination and endeavor, of, simply, big amazing temples overgrown with ridiculously huge trees. This is a place that you will never forget. A place that you can proudly say you have experienced—and a family trip to Angkor with kids is something that will be part of your children’s lives forever.
To explore Angkor with kids is amazing. We feel lucky to have visited—especially Anthony, who’s gotten to go twice. We hope our guide helps your family have amazing travels at Angkor as well.
Now get going!