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Large family traveling to Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Our Big Family at Angkor Wat in Cambodia
So you're planning to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World with your big family? It'll be a challenge - particularly the heat - but you can do it! Here are our 10 tips for seeing Cambodia's awesome Angkor Wat temple complex with your big family...

#1:  Expect Heat Like Nowhere Else
Our friend, who has visited Southeast Asia a couple of times and who has a grandmother from Cambodia, told us just a few days before our trip:

"Bangkok is going to be hot. But when you get to that 
heat in Cambodia? Boy, you are going to DIE!" 

She wasn't really laughing when she said it, either! It kind of felt more like a curse than a warning. Still, I thought she was kidding. Probably.

In hindsight, and considering that she's a paramedic who drives an ambulance for a living, I think she may have been thinking almost literally, warning us that the heat in Cambodia was going to be, least potentially deadly. And yeah, it was definitely the hottest spot out of everywhere we went in Southeast Asia. That heat was the real deal. We basically had to plan our days around it.

With the heat, distance between sites, and conditions of the area, seeing Angkor Wat with a big family is a little more adventurous than some other destinations in Southeast Asia, but is still definitely doable.

Traveling with young children to temple sites in Angkor Wat
Cambodia - About as Hot as Anywhere We've Ever Been
I remember one time when I was young and dumb(er) I was hiking through a canyon trail in Death Valley, California - the canyon where they filmed R2-D2 being zapped by the Jawas in Episode IV: A New Hope. I was (quite stupidly) hiking uphill alone, in the hottest place in North America, in the middle of summer, without telling anyone where I was going, without bringing any water or food...

And in that already dangerous situation, I found myself getting dizzy and disoriented. It was about an hour before sundown, and I tried to sit down on a big rock in the shade, but the rock was still so hot from when the sun had touched it earlier, that I had to leap up instantly. I looked around at where I was, and it finally occurred to me how easy it would be to actually, literally die in that place. Cambodia was hotter than that.

#2:  Air Conditioning
The first order of business for your big family's visit to Cambodia will be to arrange to have air conditioning, in as many situations as possible. When you first get off the plane and walk down the stairs directly onto the tarmac, that heat hits you like a solid wall. It's staggeringly hot.

Your home or apartment rental may advertise air conditioning, but check twice. This often just means that the bedrooms have it. We rented a small "villa" with its own pool, and air conditioning (for a price that was less than the cost of staying at a hotel for 6 people). However, after arrival we learned that only the bedrooms were air-conditioned. In this kind of heat, this basically made all the other rooms (living room and kitchen) unusable, at least during the hottest parts of the day (say, 9am till sundown!).

#3:  Private Minivan (with Air-Conditioning)
The rental came with free airport transfer, which is always a nice feature to have for a big family (as we discussed in this post). The minivan that picked us up did not have air conditioning. This 15-minute ride in the afternoon was enough to convince me that there was no way we should go anywhere else (such as seeing Angkor Wat) without air-conditioning in the vehicle, to cool off between sites. Angkor Wat is very spread out, and there is ample driving time between the temple sites, during which your family can either cool down a little bit, or not.

So I contacted the person (in this case, our lodging host) who had arranged our tour the next day to specify that we needed a van with air-con, and he said the same guy (and same van) that had picked us up from the airport was to be our driver the next day. However, he would run out and get some freon added, so that the air-con would work.

Hiring private transport for your big family's trip to Cambodia
Hiring a Private Minivan for Transport to Angkor Wat for a Big Family
I'm sure there are larger bus options available in Siem Reap, but most people seem to opt for either a minivan or tuk-tuk. The issue with the tuk-tuk is that it will be open to the dust (and heat), and since many/most of the roads are made of dirt, you'll be in for a hot, dusty ride if you elect to spend the day in a tuk-tuk.

A minivan is a great option for a big family, and if you shop around and negotiate, you should be able to get a private, air-conditioned minivan at a reasonable rate. Tourism being the big industry that it is in Siem Reap, more than likely your host will already be prepared to offer you local transportation options at the time of the booking of your lodging.  (More on why you shouldn't attempt to walk everywhere in this post, and see our 8 Reasons Why a Big Family Needs to Hire a Private Minivan in this post).

#4:  Get Tickets a Day Ahead
There is no reason to try to book tickets from outside of the country, or before your trip. Buying in advance can only add to the cost and complexity - and may result in the purchase of a fraudulent ticket.  (Signage at the actual ticket office warns that tickets purchased elsewhere are not valid).

Plan your day so that you can arrive early enough to buy your tickets the day before you plan to see Angkor Wat. The Ticket Center is for some reason not located near Angkor Wat or any of the sites. They built a nice, but remote, ticket office over 7 km (4 miles) away from the main temple. It is necessary to drive over to the ticket office to get tickets. Tickets are not sold at the temples themselves.

The Ticket Center involves some bureaucracy and queuing up - it's a bit like going to the Department of Motor Vehicles, or getting through immigrations at an international airport.

Getting tickets in person, the day before going to Angkor Wat
Ticket office closes in late afternoon
Bring passports for each person to the Ticket Office. Also, bring enough cash for each person - they'll be quoting prices (which are nothing like Thailand prices!) in US Dollars. Watch out for closing hours at the ticket office. We arrived about 10 minutes before closing and we barely made it - they had to start our transaction just as the last window was trying to close. But they were nice about it and made sure we got our tickets.

#5:  How to Decide on Which Tickets to Get
Deciding which tickets you need for Angkor Wat is obviously a matter of your family's level of interest, and number of days you'll be staying. However, even though we had budgeted 3 nights in Siem Reap, we chose to spend just one day seeing Angkor Wat - which many people would say is "not nearly enough time" but which was just right for our family, considering the age of our kids.

#6:  Making the Most of a 1-Day Ticket
Take advantage of the chance to see one of the minor temples on the day of the ticket purchase - for example, at the time of our visit, both Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup Temple were open till 7pm, and our "next day" tickets were valid for a visit to these on the same afternoon that we purchased the tickets, as long as the tickets were purchased after a certain hour, which at the time was 4pm.

Traveling with small children to Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples
Seeing Pre Rup Temple at Sunset with a Big Family
Going to at least one of these other temples as soon as you purchase your tickets will make your long, hot day of seeing Angkor Wat that much shorter tomorrow, and will give you a chance to see a temple that you might not otherwise be able to fit into your schedule the next day.

#7:  Skip the Sunrise Hordes
As you may already know, I generally go the other way when I see a multitude of people all lining up to do something. Crowd behavior is something that makes me leery - I don't think crowds of people are generally going to make the best decisions. When I see a crowd in public, anywhere, my first thought is, "Uh-oh."

When I see a whole bunch of people all waiting in line for something, or all hoping to do the exact same thing as everyone else in that line, for me that means it's time to rethink whether I really want to do that thing.

Our lodging host, who arranged our Angkor Wat tour by minivan, had assumed we would want to be at the main temple, Angkor Wat, just before sunrise. The point would be to get a gorgeous picture of the sun coming up over the temples. Presumably this would take place at such an early hour that no one else would even be there, right? The only problem with this idea is that 5,000 other people all have that same exact idea, every single day.

Fortunately, before our trip, I found a few photographs of that scene:  images of dozens of busloads of tourists, shoulder-to-shoulder, all standing together on one stone path, all jostling one another for position, all taking the exact same picture of the exact same sunrise from the exact same angle.

So when our driver picked us up in the wee hours on the day of the tour, I asked him to bring us somewhere else. I didn't know where we wanted to go exactly, but I just knew we didn't want to be where 95% of the other tourists were going to be.

Seeing the temple ruins of Angkor Wat with a big family with small kids
Seeing Ta Prohm with a Big Family

So we skipped the sunrise tour (which has a hefty surcharge anyway, from every seller I checked). We started our tour a little later in the morning, and ended up going straight to Ta Prohm (a.k.a. The One with the Tree Growing Through It, a.k.a. The Tomb Raider Temple - Angelina Jolie version, not Alicia Vikander), which, unfortunately, wasn't open quite that early. But we only waited a few minutes, and they opened it up.

Then, of course, as you're touring your alternative starting site, hopefully just about finishing up and ready to go on to your second site - that's when the busloads will start arriving at your location. No problem - you already had the place to yourself - just make a run for it, and hope that you choose wisely for your second site.

 #8:  Stick Close to the Kiddos
Speaking of crowds, we did get separated at one point in Angkor Thom. The pathways inside the temple were twisty and narrow, and at one point half our group headed downstairs and to the left, while the other half of our family turned right and went up a long, steep flight of stairs. We spent a good 10 minutes looking for each other. Fortunately there was one parent in each half of the group.

Some of the temples - notably, Pre Rup - have steep, unmarked drop-offs where a person could fall 50 feet or more if they took one wrong step. So be sure to tell your kids to be mindful of where the levels end, and never to get too close to the edge. Your youngest ones may even need to hold on to a parent's hand in certain spots.

Visiting stone temples in Cambodia without falling off
Our son enjoying the view from the top of Pre Rup temple in Angkor Wat
...note the steep drop-offs on all sides

#9:  Finding Bathrooms
Be prepared to pay something (in US Dollars) for each bathroom visit. Bathrooms are few and far between, but they will usually be found near the food and drink vendors. You may need your own paper, and hand sanitizer, as facilities at some of the sites are pretty limited. (See our travel tips for coping with bathroom breaks while traveling with children in this post.)

#10:  Support Education
As our local host told us, don't encourage children to drop out of school by buying souvenirs and tchotchkes from the children who hang around the entrances to the sites. We saw them at every site, but it was the worst at Ta Prohm. If these kids didn't have paying customers, they wouldn't be crowding around every minivan that stops there, trying desperately to sell faded postcards and t-shirts, pleading and insisting on a sale.

I've also read that these sales are organized and tightly controlled by a criminal syndicate, which makes the children beg-sell rather than being where they belong, which is in school. It's awkward and a nuisance for tourists, and your purchase does nothing to help the children, and of course, the situation is only going to get worse if you pay to support it.

#11:  Be Selective
As usual when traveling with a big family, it's not going to be possible to see everything and do everything imaginable. It's going to be necessary to whittle down your "must list" to a much shorter list. You might want to start with a question like:

"If we could only see 3 sites today, which would they be?

Obviously Angkor Wat (that is, the Angkor Wat main temple itself, one of the many sites of the Angkor Wat complex) is what brings people to the area, but for us it was not the most impressive of the temple sites, by any measurement. It was much more of a crowded, touristy experience than the others - even though we did not go at its peak hour. We can't advise skipping it, of course - it is Angkor Wat after all! This system of ruins is, collectively, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the main complex is not to be missed.

Touring the Angkor Wat temple complex with a big family
Seeing Angkor Thom with a Big Family
For us, Angkor Thom was among our favorites, and Ta Prohm was really something to remember too - which was at least partially because while we were there, everyone else was at Angkor's main temple. Pre Rup was a good introduction to the complex also.

#12:  What to Eat in Siem Reap
We tried three places to eat in Siem Reap during our 3 night stay, but far and away our favorite restaurant was Try Me Restaurant. They have a good selection of Khmer food, along with a few familiar favorites from the U.S. We always had pancakes as part of our order, every time - and freshly-made juice.

Eating with a big family in Cambodia's Siem Reap, Angkor Wat area
What to Eat in Siem Reap with a Big Family:  Try Me Restaurant
Note that since the above picture was taken, they have changed their facade a little bit - the sign is smaller now, and written in white letters rather than black. They also have an upper balcony area too, which is visible from the street. The owner and his family are very nice and welcoming, and we hope they continue to have great success in their restaurant.

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