Aleney de Winter ©
Cambodia Family Adventure
Temples, tuk-tuks and tomb raiders:
Aleney de Winter finds Cambodia
makes for a great family adventure.
I’m going first,” declares my eight-year old,
Rafferty, as he bites into an enormous
black tarantula. We watch, fascinated,
before gingerly attempting the same feat,
one crunchy leg at a time.
"Come on, Mum, they’re not bad,” he
encourages as he devours a protein-packed
platter of silkworms, giant waterbugs and
grasshoppers. When I flinch at the texture of a
silkworm, he laughs uproariously, admitting
they’re “kinda gross”.
But the rest of our meal at Bugs Café, the
first insect tapas restaurant in Cambodia and,
probably, the world, is surprisingly palatable.
The chef skilfully turns the local delicacies on
their creepy crawly heads using gourmet
techniques to serve up everything from feta
and tarantula samosas to scorpion salad. It’s
not for the faint-hearted, but it’s an eyeopening
introduction to Siem Reap for Rafferty
and his five-year old sister, Marlo.
Cambodia stole my heart 15 years ago and
I’d promised to return when my kids were old
enough to understand the country’s many
layers and history. But my curious son, after
watching ‘Tomb Raider’ a few times too many,
fast-tracked our adventure.
We return from dinner through Siem Reap’s
tangle of tuks-tuks, my plan to explore by
air-conditioned vehicle tossed to the wind as
they giggle their way through the city from their
chariot, shouting “dtou dtrong” (go straight),
even when we need to turn left or right.
Aleney de Winter ©
Tomb raiding and treetops
In the morning, that tuk-tuk careers wildly
through the darkness in an effort to beat the
sunrise. The pre-dawn start proves worthwhile
as the 1000-year-old Angkor Wat temple
appears majestically from the morning mist to dropped jaws. Our hotel, Sofitel Angkor
Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort, has packed
us breakfast, so while tourists return to their
respective hotels, we nibble on pastries and
explore the vast temple complex, which we
have almost to ourselves.
We cross a causeway lined with Hindu
deities and demons to Angkor Thom to marvel
at The Bayon with its 200 giant stone faces,
each smiling at us with Mona Lisa coyness.
The kids declare their undying love for the
labyrinthine temple as they play a game of
ancient hide and seek.
Worried that temple fatigue will set in, we
visit Angkor Zipline. Rafferty spots a gibbon
as he gleefully flies through the course of
ziplines, platforms and skybridges, but his
mind is elsewhere: “Can we see more temples
now, Mum?” he asks.
Wait, what? To my surprise, both kids are
clamouring for more temples, so we head to Ta Prohm, best known for its starring role in ‘Tomb
Raider’ and the muscular tree roots that wind
throughout its crumbling walls. The most
atmospheric of Angkor’s temples, it is also the
most crowded, but this doesn’t concern my
adventurers, Little Lara and, her brother “Larry”
Croft, as they bound through the jungle-clad
ruins, chasing butterflies and creating their own
imaginary world of treasure-hunting heroics.
While I could be sharing tales of Angkorian
civilisation with them, I instead allow them to
create their own magic moments in history.
Lounging among lotus
We spend the afternoon relaxing Sofitel-style.
One of Siem Reap’s most family-friendly
resorts, it oozes French colonial elegance and
is surrounded by lush gardens and lotusstrewn
lakes where the kids are invited to fish
with traditional bamboo rods. Our sizable
adjoining rooms are sublime, with high ceilings, elegant period furnishings and traditional
artworks. However, the kids are most interested
in the pool, a sprawling lagoon-style
extravaganza that is the biggest in town.
Rafferty lolls decorously in a hammock as he
sips mocktails, while Marlo slips on the slide
before kicking back in Villa des Enfants – a
breezy wooden pavilion packed with toys.
Aleney de Winter ©
Mountains and Monks
Phnom Kulen is a place of ancient secrets and
the birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire. Of
deep significance to Cambodians, it is home to
the sacred River of a Thousand Lingas and the
giant reclining Buddha of ancient monastery,
Preah Ang Thom. There’s also a pretty waterfall
flanked by ruins, where Rafferty and Marlo
paddle happily as ribbons of orange-robed
monks snake their way through the
ankle-deep waters, stopping only for
selfies with my curly-haired cuties.
The lure of another temple proves
irresistible. The ridiculously pretty
Banteay Srei boasts some of the most
elaborate stone carvings in Cambodia
and its rose-hued stone beckons
warmly in the afternoon sun. Marlo
adores the girliness of the temple’s
dancing Apsaras, who she’s thrilled to
see come alive later that night in a
magical performance at our hotel.
I’d heard that an influx of tourists had “ruined”
Siem Reap. Instead, I find it has lost none of its
charm, but has shaken off its traumatic past to
transform itself from a small, laidback town into
a flourishing city.
That’s not to say that there aren’t sights that
cause some confusion for my children, but we
turn our experiences into positives by
demonstrating that we can help our new friends
in sustainable and practical ways. Rather than
giving money to beggars, we make a donation
to the Cambodian Children’s Trust, the kids
adding their pocket money, and give blood at
the Angkor Hospital for Children.
The result is my children leave Siem Reap
eager to return, subtly changed and as
determined as their mother to give a little
something back to a place that has given them
new perspective on their privileged lives.
Aleney de Winter ©
This article appeared in volume 51 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.