Cycling around Angkor Archaeological Park with children
Whether you’re visiting Cambodia and the temples for the first time or are an expat in the country or region visiting for nth time, cycling in Angkor park with kids without a tour guide is not only possible and recommended, it’s also fun. Done right, it’s certain to be an unforgettable adventure for the entire family.
In our guides to several short, child-friendly cycling routes, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to plan a short (1 hour) to medium (3-4 hour) length trip with your kids. We include detailed routes and useful tips on how to manage expectations, avoid whining and whinging or at least minimize it, and get the most of your journey.
If your aim is to see all the main temples on a one-day pass with a primary school aged child on a bike, this is not for you. Don’t attempt that. Unless you are with your 14-year-old long-distance running champion child, biking with young children in Angkor Park is for those who have the time for a leisurely visit. These routes are slow, side journeys, aimed at the 4 to 10 year olds, taking in the countryside and nature. If you’re in Siem Reap for a few days, enjoying a short bike ride each day is the ideal way to explore the vast, ancient complex, one bite-sized adventure at a time.
The paths and routes
Angkor Archaeological Park has always been open to and friendly for cyclists and it has only gotten better in recent years. Most roads around the park have a bike lane and drivers are accustomed to cyclists. The forests around the temples have been well preserved, making for shady riding at most times of the day. The terrain is almost completely flat, making it ideal for even the most novice, or lazy, rider as well as for kids.
There are two routes in the park we recommend for young children, each of which can be broken down into shorter treks. The first is the newly inaugurated and purpose built 23-kilometer cycle path. Opened in early 2021, the path starts from the old ticket booth/main check point along Charles De Gaulle and weaves around the west of Angkor Wat temple, past Kravan temple. After this it branches into one path that goes past Ta Prohm and then ends at Ta Keo temple and the other branches first east and then north around Jayataka Baray, past Preah Khan and ends at the northern gate of Angkor Thom.
These paths run mostly inside the forest, 5-25 meters away from the main road. In most sections, it is 2-meters wide, paved path, well maintained, and built with sustainability and low environmental impact in mind. The paths are ideal for cycling with young children as in theory they are open only to pedestrians and cyclists (but do expect to see a moto or two along the way) making it safe and generally worry-free. Expats who live in Phnom Penh and other towns in Cambodia, will find this a welcome change and a great chance for hassle-free, safe cycling with kids.
A second route that is ideal for exploring with children is a well-known secret path that runs along the top of the ancient walls of Angkor Thom complex. Don’t let anyone tell you this path is closed or difficult or inaccessible; it is none of these things and in fact, is one of the most magical and memorable routes you can explore in Angkor Park. It being perfectly flat, well graded and devoid of traffic makes it perfect for enjoying with children.
Routes we have tried, tested and written up:
- Ride to Angkor Wat Temple
- Ride to Prasat Kravan
- Short Jungle Ride to Ta Prohm
- Ride along the ancient walls of Angkor Thom
- Short Jungle Ride to the back of Preah Rup (coming soon)
The map below is the only one currently available. It’s not the best quality image and we’re looking for a better version or will create one ourselves. The paths are not yet marked on Google maps.
There is almost no signage along the cycle paths to guide you or let you know distances or directions, except in a handful of places. It’s best to have offline maps downloaded onto your phone so you know where you are, where you’re going and how to get back. Connectivity is ok in some areas of the Park and non-existent in others, so be prepared.
Note, there are no rest stops along the cycle paths and no benches to sit on. You can stop at the various informal cafes or restaurants along the way for a rest and cool drinks. The locals running these small businesses will be more than happy to serve you and maybe even point you in the right direction.
Know your child and be realistic
When planning your cycling adventures, keep your expectations within the realm of possible for your youngest, smallest, least athletic or most whiney child. Certainly, don’t plan out what you want to see or where you want to go, unless you have extremely athletic young children. If you are all to have a good time or if you want to avoid too much complaining and ‘are we there yet?s’, you need to plan for the (s)lowest common denominator in your group.
While the trails and paths are generally flat and easy, kids under 10 have shorter legs, less stamina and limited endurance or interest for long rides. For many, Cambodia is much hotter than back home. Unless you are an expat living in the region or come from a similar climate, your kids, like you, will find it hot, humid and get tired faster despite the lack of hills or rough terrain. The younger or less sporty your child, the shorter your route should be.
Snacks, snacks and more snacks
Do not underestimate the power of, and need for, snacks, no matter how short a trip you are planning. Pack lots of snacks and don’t aim for strictly healthy. Chocolate goes a long way towards bribery of “just 10 more minutes,” and “we’re almost there”. Pack lots of water (local tip, freeze a bottle the night before, it will stay cold longer this way) and consider adding in some Royal D for more of a boost. Granola bars and power bars are great if your kids like them. Fresh fruits and trail mix are also nice, but throw in some favourite candy or chocolate bars. There are places to stop for drinks and snacks along the way, so make sure you have some cash with you.
It’s ok to cheat
In order to maximize the time that everyone is having fun, not being tired, whinging, begging to go home or even crying, start or finish your journeys on a tuktuk. All of our suggested routes begin from the trailhead behind the ticket checkpoint on Charles De Gaulle. Rather than cycling there from town, throw the kids and their bikes into a tuktuk and unload at the starting point. Biking through the city, especially if you are not from around these parts, can be harrowing. Traffic rules are more suggestions than hard rules for the majority of drivers and you will find your nerves frayed trying to keep your children safe even before you reach the park.
The large, traditional remorque style tuktuks can easily hold 2-3 small children’s bikes or one child’s and one adult bike. You can connect to a tuktuk through your hotel, by using the Grab or PassApp apps or hire a TukTuk Lady: a super way to support women’s employment.
You can hire a tuktuk to drop you off, pick you up, both or even to follow your route as a backup, should one of your children completely implode at an unexpected moment. Whatever you decide, make sure you have your phone with you so you can connect to drivers. You can sometimes flag a tuktuk down, but most drivers will already be contracted and on tours so it’s best to have a backup.
Help your child along
For the youngest of kids, you can opt for child’s seat on the back of your bike or a tandem bike, both of which you can rent at the many bike rental shops in Siem Reap. If you decide, or your child is old enough or insists on being on their own bike, there may be times you need to help them out. Most of the hills along the path are almost unnoticeable for adults but can seem insurmountable for your kids. Don’t make a big deal of everyone having to get off and pushing their bikes up hill.
You can also bring along a bungee cord (cheap and easy to find at the local markets) enabling you to drag your tired child behind you, while allowing them to stay on their own bike. You can also ride alongside your child and give them a bit of a push. Smaller, less experienced kids will slow down your group, so be patient and give them a hand to keep going.
Remember, if you’re feeling tired, your smaller, less fit child is likely feeling exhausted. As mentioned above, it’s ok to cheat. It’s also ok to completely bail and call it quits. Sometimes staying friends with your children is more important than seeing that one more temple or making it one more kilometre.
The bike routes we recommend are mostly without traffic, however there are sometimes rogue moto drivers that use the paths, so be alert. These drivers are usually slow and careful themselves as they seem to know they are not supposed to be there. The path that runs from Ta Prohm towards Ta Keo has regular traffic from motos so be careful here. This is Cambodia, so don’t try to argue that the path is only for bicycles and pedestrians, even if that is what all the signs say.
As the bike paths are relatively new, not everyone is fully aware of what they are intended for. One group of friends riding the paths came around a corner at 20km/hr (they were without children) to find a family picnicking on the path. A dramatic and painful crash was avoided by a hard break and narrow margin. Don’t expect the path to be always clear.
There are sections of the path where you’ll need to cross a road. Get everyone off their bikes and do so carefully. Motorists here do not give way to cyclists.
There are monkeys around the park, usually in troops of 20-40. While cute and often entertaining, be careful around them. They are used to humans and to being fed, but it is best to keep your distance.
Getting ready to go
In addition to preparing your bike, your route and snacks (never forget the snacks!) it’s good to pack the following:
- Small first aid kit in case of minor cuts and scratches from tumbles; fill with kid friendly band-aids and disinfectant.
- Sunscreen; while most of the paths are shady, you will be in the sun enough to potentially get a sun burn
- Bug spray; the mosquitoes will make themselves known; you don’t need to worry about malaria, but dengue and chikugunya are no less terrible and bites are annoying and best avoided at all times
- A well-charged phone for communication and for taking photos
- Depending on the age and clumsiness of your kids, you may want to pack a change of clothes (for them, maybe for you)
- If you’re biking in the rainy season, a raincoat for every member of your family
Wear comfortable, light and breathable clothing and remember that if you are planning on entering the temples, all adults in your group will need to have their shoulders and knees covered. You can bring a sarong or light wrap of some kind to wear a make-shirt skirt or throw over your shoulders. Young children are generally excused from having to be as well covered up and we have visited both small and major temples with our eight-year old in shorts. Running shoes will be the most comfortable for both biking and for climbing around temples.
When to go
The best time to visit and bike around the Angkor temples is from November to February. This is called ‘the cool season’ with evening temperatures sometimes as dramatically low as 18 degrees Celsius. You’ll see locals shivering in hats and jackets and sometimes children are packed off to school with scarves and mittens. If you come from a climate with four seasons, this may seem melodramatic but you’ll be grateful for the cool temperatures.
From March to late May, it is the hellish hot season, when you really won’t want to be moving outdoors too much or for too long. June to October is the rainy season, but don’t let that dissuade you. Rains are intermittent and the weather is cooler, so you’ll get some reasonably nice days for riding.
Check the calendar for annual festivals. Locals visit the temples in large numbers during holidays so if you are hoping for a quiet visit, it’s best to avoid these times.
If possible, get started as early as possible in the day, when it is cooler. While the routes we describe here are mostly shaded, it can still get very warm and muggy mid-day, when you’re better off relaxing by the pool. Shorter trips in the late afternoon and aiming for sunset can also be pleasant.
You need to have an Angkor pass to use the bicycle paths, whether you intend to enter any temples or not. The only place to purchase ticket is through the Angkor Ticket office on the corner of Apsara Road and Street 60. You can purchase tickets online also. The cost for a 1-day pass is $37, a 3-day pass is $62 and a 7-day pass is $72. Until the end of 2022, you will get double the extra days with whichever pass you purchase.
Since September 2022, all foreigners who have lived in Cambodia for two years or more are eligible for a free annual pass. This means unlimited access to all the temples including Ko Ker, all the time. You can apply for the pass online or at the Angkor ticket office. You will need a 4cmx6cm photo (of yourself), a photocopy of your passport and photocopies of two years worth of residential (not tourist) visas. The annual pass needs to be renewed each year.
Kids under 12 get in for free, no need for a ticket but carry proof of age if your child looks older or is near that age limit. Cambodians are also free as are all people who have a K visa in their passport (special visa for other nationalities with a familial tie to Cambodia).
Where to rent a bicycle in Siem Reap
There are dozens of bicycle rental shops in Siem Reap. Often your hotel can arrange one for you or may even include it with your room rate. You will want to check the quality of the bike you are getting the day before. There are two main types of bikes available for rental: simple city bikes with none or a handful of gears, or mountain bikes with upwards of 21 gears. Either can be used on the terrain around the temples as the majority of the way is flat and with kids you are likely to be going at slower speeds and will not be in need of a full range of gears. Decide which you will find more comfortable.
If your hotel can’t arrange bicycles for you or you’re not happy with the quality of the bikes they provide, simply Google ‘bike rental Siem Reap’ on the Siem Reap Google map and a plethora of options will appear. Some rental shops will even deliver bicycles to your hotel or guesthouse. Prices range from $2-$7 a day.
We have rented from Bicycle Plaza Siem Reap on Street 60 (which has limited information on maps) because it is close to where we stay. Their bikes have never let us down, but their selection is limited. The Smiling Frog in central Siem Reap, has a huge selection of bikes including small ones for the under 5s and bicycle with bike seats. They can also arrange a trailer to bring your bike to the starting (something with highly recommend).
Dealing with breakdowns, bike or child
It’s possible your bike will have some problems, the most likely being a flat tire. You can call the hotel or rental shop where you got your bike and hopefully they will send help. You can also look out for informal roadside mechanics. They can usually pump up a tire for 0.12 cents (500-1000 riel) or replace a busted inner tube for $3.5-$5, depending on your bargaining skills.
It’s more likely your child will breakdown or start complaining. You can try bribery with chocolates or other favourite snacks you brought along (see above on the vital importance of snacks). Or you can make promises of forthcoming ice creams. Use whatever negotiating tactics you have up your sleeve, from your regular arsenal. At the same time, be empathetic. Chances are, your child is hot and tired. They don’t have the same insights you do into how much further to go or how soon this will end. Be patient, take a break and relax before pushing on. If you need to quit and go home via tuktuk, that’s ok too.
Celebrating after the journey
You’ve done it! Your kids have done it! You all made it there and back and are hopefully still on talking terms with one another. It’s great to celebrate the adventure with some relaxing, cooling activities after you get back to your accommodation. We have a few suggestions:
- Relax by the pool. If your hotel doesn’t have a pool, The Aviary hotel pool is open to the public for $5 per adult, $2.5 for children, which can be spent on food.
- Go to the movies. Legend Cinema at Heritage Walk Mall is a modern, comfortable theater that plays the latest movies. Check what kid’s films are playing and enjoy the icy cool air-conditioning (you may even want to bring something warm, it’s that cold). And at $3 for 2D and $5 for 3D films, it’s a great deal.
- Eat ice cream. The Gelato Lab near the Old Market has the best ice cream in Siem Reap.