Phnom Penh with children – Part 1

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Fun Fair 5I’ve planned for some time to blog about Phnom Penh with children, and the great day we had last Sunday was the inspiration I needed to turn my good intentions into action. We didn’t manage to pull off everything in this post – it describes more an amalgam of Sundays than a day in the life – though we came close.

Having a child who wakes around 6 on Sunday morning puts you in a position leave the house early and walk to the nearest market, which will already be bustling by that hour and is best visited before the day heats up. Tash and I walked to Boeung Keng Kang Market on Sunday to buy fruit for the week. Our neighbourhood market has the added attraction of catfish that leap out of trays and wriggle around on the muddy market floor, live crabs, and a fabulous array of cheap plastic toys.

Having worked up an appetite at the market, you can set out for one of Phnom Penh’s many kid-friendly cafes. Tash and I chose The Living Room, which has pancakes on the kids’ menu, a playroom, story-telling and craft activities twice a month, and strong Mondulkiri coffee to offset the effects of the 6am start. Tash and I can easily spend a couple of hours over a leisurely breakfast and reading stories.

Mid-morning we’re back at home for an hour or so to play teddy bears’ picnic with some of the toys we’ve bought at the market, or maybe to draw pictures of tigers with Daddy/Roo. Then it’s off to lunch at Annam, the Indian restaurant just over the road from us in Street 282, which specialises in South Indian food: thalis at lunchtime and at night, idli, dosa and uttapam served with freshly made chutneys, as delicious as any you’d eat in Southern Indian (and our Bangalore-born friend Shalmali agrees). Annam has an airconditioned playroom and a grassy garden for kids. But more than the facilities, it has a genuinely family-friendly atmosphere. The owner, Murgesh, lets us order a plain dosa for Tash even though it’s not strictly on the lunch menu, then invites her to sit up next to the glass-fronted kitchen and watch her ‘pancake’ being made by the expert Indian chefs.

After lunch it’s time for a bath and siesta – Tash sleeps 2 hours on a good day – and some down time, maybe watching one of the Sesame Street DVDs we’ve bought at the Russian Market (Psar Toul Tom Pong), ‘The Little Mermaid’ or ‘Poppins’.

Tash & Ang dodging spray at the fountainTowards 5pm we head out by tuk-tuk to the fairground on Sisowath Quay, just south of the port. The place is full of Khmer families, and unless you’re paranoid about safety standards, it’s a fantastic place for kids to run around and have fun. Tash tried most of the rides, which ranged in price from 1,000 to 2,000 riel (25-50 cents): the electric train was her favourite, so long as she was in the driver’s seat, and the jumping castle, duck and plane rides got the thumbs up; but the dodgem cars proved ‘too scary for Tasha’ (though Roo had a ball!).

From the fun fair we headed south to the park at the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Monument. While Phnom Penh’s parks are more like what we’d think of as wide traffic islands, what they lack in greenery, they make up for in atmosphere. Sunday evenings the whole city seems to come out to promenade, chat and snack, play soccer and badminton or the traditional oriental sport of ‘throw the thong’, and hang out. Young couples sit close on park benches. Old ladies do stetching exercises. Little kids run around in squeaky shoes and hassle their parents to buy them balloons and inflatable toys.

But the big attraction for us on Sunday night was the re-opening of the Chinese-built fountain near the monument. We’d taken Tash there once before on the King’s Birthday and she’d gone crazy for the coloured lights and water effects, until fireworks started and freaked her out so much, we’d had to take her home. (It was almost a relief for Roo and I to discover something that made Tash afraid).

Roo, Tash & balloon at the fountainYou can’t miss it: in addition to coloured lights and jets of water than leap 20 metres into the air, there’s now loud Euro-pop music that comes on for a light and sound show around 6.30pm. Not to be missed.

Tash danced up a storm and when we were all ready to drop, we staggered across Sothearos Boulevard to An Nam (not to be confused with Annam, the Indian place), a family-friendly Vietnamese restaurant with great food, a wild fish-tank and rocking horses to play on – perfect for winding down after all the excitement.

All that remains after such a day is to go home via the Independence Monument to see more coloured fountains, before falling asleep to the sound of rose apples hitting the tin roof.

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5 Responses to “Phnom Penh with children – Part 1”

  1. sooz Says:

    Sounds like fun!

  2. Steve Says:

    Apparently your lives revolve around food as much as ours do!

  3. karin Says:

    Thanks for this! Any more advice — activities, places to visit, things to do, websites with listings and info, recommended playgroups/preschools — would be hugely appreciated as we’re about to move to PP with our 2-year-old…

  4. Zpollon Says:

    Hello —
    I can’t find the date on this and was wondering if you’re still in Cambodia? I’d love to speak to a parent about child issues in Phnom Penh and such. Are you available? As with the last posting, am about to move over and need advice for a 3-year-old!
    Many thanks,
    Z

    • angelasavage Says:

      Hi there Z,
      We left Cambodia in January 2009 (and I still miss it). However, there is a Yahoo group called Cambodia Parent Network, which is a great source of information and networking, and a forum where you can ask any question related to parenting in Cambodia. You can sign up here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cambodiaparentnetwork/
      You’ll also find lots of tips on how to enjoy Phnom Penh & Cambodia with a toddler/small child in other posts on my site. If you have any specific questions, feel free to contact me again.
      Good luck – and enjoy!
      Angela

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