The following article first appeared in the ‘Next Generation’ column of the January 2009 issue of AsiaLIFE magazine. Photos are the author’s own and did not appear in the original article.
Only as a last resort, on a rainy day in the middle of winter, would any self-respecting Australian choose an indoor play centre over a park or playground. But a year in Phnom Penh with a toddler has given Angela Savage new appreciation of the merits of playing indoors.
A list of ‘Instructions for the Tourist’ in English at the entrance to the Paragon Centre’s indoor playground warns “If the tourist has heart disease, infection disease, psychosis disease, stupid disease, any disease is forbidden to play in it.”
It’s one of several gems guaranteed to entertain you while your children entertain themselves in ‘Toys Land’, one of several indoor play centres Phnom Penh has to offer.
Coming from part of Australia known as the ‘Garden State’, I was skeptical about taking my child to play inside an air-conditioned shopping mall. But with limited options for entertaining an active toddler, especially during the hotter months, I had nothing to lose.
What won me over was seeing how much my daughter enjoys these places. She can interact with local kids her own age and easily play for an hour or more without getting bored. ‘That was fun!’ she told me after a recent foray-high praise coming from a nearly three-year-old.
Sometimes known as ‘Naughty Palaces’, indoor play centres combine brightly coloured, padded vinyl climbing equipment and slides with tunnels, suspension bridges, obstacle courses and the highly popular pen filled with coloured plastic balls, which kids can jump and/or slide into.
The play areas are fully enclosed and make the most of limited space by extending up several levels, like a three-dimensional game of snakes and ladders. They are cleverly designed for children to safely explore and practice a range of motor skills-climbing, balancing, rolling, crawling-and they are more likely to get ‘stuck’ than hurt. Most centres have employees who will come to a child’s rescue, but you should also expect to supervise.
Toys Land on the second floor of the Paragon Centre is among the cleanest and quietest places in town and costs 2,000 riel (USD 50 cents) per child.
When it comes to the Naughty Palace at the back of Pencil Supermarket, getting there is half the fun. Tickets cost 2,000 riel at the check-out counter at the rear of the supermarket. Then go out the back door, up the stairs on the left, through a dimly lit bar called Mr M Café, through another door at the rear of the bar and up another set of stairs to the play centre. The Naughty Palace is popular with local and expat families and contains a trampoline and some fun obstacle courses, as well as the usual slides, tunnels and pen full of coloured plastic balls.
The first-floor playground at the Sydney Shopping Centre on Kampuchea Krom (2,000 riel) has room to run around. In addition to a jungle gym, a free-standing unit with four slides, caterpillar-shaped tunnels and a helicopter, the playground contains two deep tubs of plastic balls for jumping into. There are also small seesaws and rockers. A section next door offers video games and toddler-friendly rides, including an incongruous Mickey Mouse armed with a pistol. Tokens-actually old 50 cent coins from Hong Kong-cost 500 riel at the ticket window.
The ‘Space Ship Zigma II’ upstairs at the Big A shopping centre on Monivong Boulevard (1,000 riel) has seen better days, though its pint-sized patrons didn’t seem put off by either the shabbiness or the smell. In a variation on a theme, the entire floor is covered with coloured plastic balls.
Supermarkets and shopping malls are not the only options for indoor play in Phnom Penh.
The playroom at the Living Room café contains a doll’s house and toy car-park, books, blackboard and chalk, and pencils and pictures for colouring in. There’s a change table for babies, plus a footstool in the toilet to help toddlers reach the seat.
Children are made to feel welcome at Annam Indian restaurant, where a staff member is generally on hand to play catch the ball, balloon or inflatable animal in the air-conditioned playroom. Our toddler likes to watch her dosa being made in the glass-fronted kitchen.
City Suki on Monivong Boulevard has a jumping castle netted off at the front of the restaurant, though this was deflated when I went to inspect it.
Fresco on Street 306 has a room at the back for kids, with beanbags, books, puzzles, a magnetic whiteboard and a large flat screen TV and DVD player. Popular for ice cream.
#1C, Street 282, open 11am-3pm, 6-11pm. Closed Tuesday.
Big A Superstore
#266-272 Monivong Boulevard. Open 8am-9pm
Around #400 Monivong Boulevard
Cnr Streets 306 and 51. Open 7am-7pm
#9, Street 306. Open 7am-6.30pm Mon-Thur, 7.00am-9.30pm Fri-Sun
#12 Street 214. Open 9am-9pm
#15, Street 214. Open 8am-9pm
Sydney Shopping Centre
139 Kampuchea Krom (St 128). Open 8.45am-8.00pm