“Did you know there are landmines there? There was a big war there you know…” are the first things my dad asked me when I told him we were taking our kids to Cambodia.
But you can travel to Cambodia with kids safely – here is what you need to know – plus answers to the most frequently asked questions about travel to this area.
Are There Landmines in the Town of Siem Reap? or at Angkor Wat?
The thing is, people live there, and they are not all tippy-toeing around landmines every day on their way to buy groceries, Or dodging explosions as they drive down the street.
And unlike what you might have heard, there are many places in Cambodia that have been cleared of landmines completely – The town of Siem Reap, home of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat, is such a place. We spent a glorious 19 days there, and it’s unanimous – we’d all go back again in a heartbeat since there is still a lot left to explore for us.
Now I wouldn’t suggest treating Cambodia like some tropical playground, going for a long drive, and choosing some random spot at the side of the road to go off exploring into the jungle – THAT could get you maimed or killed by a landmine if you do it in the wrong place. True.
But if you avoid doing silly things like THAT, and instead stick to the tourist circuit that has been cleared of landmines, then yes, you can completely avoid landmines while in Cambodia with your kids. 🙂
We went to Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Beng Melia, and many others – all were cleared of landmines and unexploded ordnance. We also spent a lot of time in Siem Reap town, which was also cleared. The roads that lead to and from the temples were cleared too.
I’m not suggesting these are the only places you should travel to within Cambodia if you’re bringing your kids along, but I mention them since they were where we chose to spend our time on this first visit.
Basically as long as you stick to areas that lots of people have trampled before you, there are lots of interesting places to explore in Cambodia. And I’m sure we’ll be checking some of those out eventually too!
Can You Catch Malaria in Siem Reap?
Apparently the risk of catching Malaria in Siem Reap was low when we were there, but our travel doctor still recommended we take the anti-malarials, and my own research confirmed that it would be a good precaution to take. From talking with people once we arrived, it seemed that many (maybe most?) long-term expats living in Cambodia don’t bother with anti-malarial medication, but we didn’t feel comfortable taking a chance, so opted to use it.
We were fortunate in that all 4 of us tolerated the medication we took just fine (it was Malarone, in case you were curious) – the only weird thing we noticed was a slightly metallic taste in our mouths for a few hours after taking a dose. Strange, but ignorable since it was so mild that it didn’t affect the taste of our food.
Can Children Take Anti-Malarial Medication?
Yes, children can safely take anti-malarial medication, in fact, there are even liquid formulations available for young kids who can’t swallow tablets.
Tip: Teach your kids to swallow pills before you leave for Cambodia. We used Tic Tacs for them to practice on, and even my 5-year old was able to master it. He can now swallow tablets almost as easily as an adult, and this meant we could bring the more compact anti-malarial tablets, rather than the less convenient liquid formulation which would be at risk of leaking or spilling during our travels.
Getting Medical Help in Siem Reap
One of our first priorities when we arrive in a new country, especially with kids, is finding out where we can see a good doctor if we need to, and if we’d need to fly out of the country for anything serious.
There are lots of medical clinics in Siem Reap, and luckily there was a decent one very close to where we were staying. But, if anything serious had happened, we’d have had to fly to Bangkok (Thailand) for care.
So, knowing that, we were extra conservative in our food and activity choices – we wanted to totally minimize the chances of any one of us getting seriously hurt or ill.
One of the best ways to avoid the dreaded traveler’s diarrhea is to adopt a policy of not eating anything that isn’t cooked, or peeled (if uncooked). We did not drink the tap water (bottled water is easy to find). And we didn’t participate in any particularly risky activities – we stuck to exploring temples, exploring town, a museum, and a Cambodian circus. It was a pretty tame, child-friendly, landmine-avoiding, itinerary.
Is Crime a Big Problem if You’re Traveling to Siem Reap, Cambodia?
Honestly, we had no issues with crime whatsoever during our stay in Cambodia. But we did take precautions.
First, I think it’s wise to look up what your home country advises in this regard. When we left for Cambodia, Canada’s travel advisory for Cambodia warned of the following things:
- Street crime (even during daylight hours), such as pick-pocketing, that targets foreigners – Siem Reap was specifically mentioned
- “Armed assaults along the riverfront in Phnom Penh and on isolated beaches in Sihanoukville also occur.”
- Drive-by thieves on motorcycles that steal your bag as they zoom past you
- Having your belongings stolen, even if you lock it up in your room, “particularly in low cost accommodations.”
- Luggage being stolen from the luggage compartments of buses
- Banditry, mostly at night “in rural areas and on routes between Snoul, Kratie and Stung Treng in the northeastern provinces.”
- Poorly disciplined military personnel and police
- Exercise a high degree of caution at all times
- Do not travel alone, especially at night
- Guns are often used in robberies and personal disputes
- There have been cases of sexual assaults
- Beware of scams, some unfortunate travelers were forced to withdraw their money from ATM machines and hand it over to their robbers
So how does all that scary stuff translate into real life? All you do is take reasonable precautions to that ensure you’re not the easiest, most obvious target for criminals and thieves. And remember that most people are honest.
I don’t know if this made a difference, but we left our wedding rings in a safety deposit box home in Canada, so didn’t have any valuable jewelry on us – and we don’t dress very flashy.
We didn’t waltz around with super expensive cameras dangling from our necks. Maybe you can do that and have no issue, but we didn’t feel the need 🙂 Most tourists we saw that did have fancy cameras kept them stowed away discreetly until they would actually use them when photographing the temples.
We left our credit cards, bank cards, and passports locked up in the Pac Safe bag in our room – we used cash to pay for everything when out.
If we needed to withdraw cash, we used the bank machine located inside the local grocery store, where presumably all the witnesses around would make it less appealing for a thief to rob us as we withdrew money, or tamper with the machine to steal people’s bank card information.
We kept excess cash and bank cards in our money belt when out and about – this was only something that came up when we needed to withdraw money from a bank machine. Otherwise we only carried small amounts of cash and didn’t worry about wearing the money belt.
What is a Pac Safe portable safe? It’s basically a tamper resistant portable safe in bag form. You stash all your valuables in it, lock it up, then attach it via steel cable to something in your room that cannot easily be removed. We love ours – it’s one of the best purchases we made for this trip in terms of peace of mind when leaving our valuables in our room. To steal your stuff from this thing the thief would need wire cutters or bolt cutters (and presumably most casual thieves don’t carry those around… err, I nope not anyways). So it’s not fool proof, but it at least makes it harder for someone to steal your valuables from your room compared to leaving them in a suitcase that can be easily removed from the room and rifled through later.
For tuk tuk rides to the temples in Angkor National Park, we used the drivers that worked at the hotel where we stayed – they were incredibly friendly and helpful people. Random tuk tuk drivers that we used within town were also great.
We only traveled outside of the town of Siem Reap during daylight hours – our kids go to sleep early, and temples are not easy to sight-see in the dark, so we didn’t feel like we missed out on anything by doing this. 🙂 I did take the tuk tuk alone with my kids (Paul was holed up with kidney stone issues… long story…), but only during daylight hours, or if in the evening, it was on a familiar route within the town of Siem Reap.
Based on my experience, if you use the same common sense that you would at home, and combine that with a little bit of extra caution, you’ll be fine.
And for good measure, I’ll say it again – we saw no sign whatsoever of any issues during our stay in Cambodia. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but just that our stay was safe and crime-free. Would it have been that way if we didn’t take a few extra precautions? I don’t know. But at least now you know it’s possible to come here with your kids, see the amazing sights, and be perfectly safe.