This post first appeared as ‘The Next Generation’ column in AsiaLIFE Cambodia September 2008. Photos are the author’s own taken by Andrew Nette (except fleeing catfish, taken by me), and did not appear in the published article – although a lovely shot of Tash with the Siamese fighting fish did!.
The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre in Takeo province is a wonderful day trip for families with children of all ages. But there’s enough animal life closer to home in Phnom Penh to occupy your toddler, as Angela Savage discovers.
For a small child, a Cambodian fresh produce market can seem like a zoo—or at least a farmyard—with its live chickens and ducks, piglets riding in baskets on the back of motorbikes, and fish of all descriptions flapping around in tubs of water. Even in metropolitan markets, there can be plenty to see, especially if you visit early in the morning.
If your toddler is up at dawn, head for the nearest market (phsar), which will be bustling by then. Our local is Phsar Boeung Keng Kang on Street 380, which has a large fresh fish section. Your child will marvel at the live catfish leaping from their trays and wriggling around on the muddy floor in what’s sure to be a short-lived bid for freedom. They may also see live crabs, eels, frogs, shrimps and turtles.
Keep a packet of wipes or a face cloth handy, as the markets can get muddy, especially around the fishmongers.
Street 174 between Monivong Boulevard and Street 63 alongside Wat Koh is home to numerous open-air stalls selling birds and animals, including rabbits, pigeons and an array of chickens and roosters, the prettiest with gold-feathered faces graduating to black from the neck down.
Also eye-catching are the shelves of colourful Siamese fighting fish, each in its own glass bottle. Playing cards are inserted between the bottles to block the fishes’ view of their neighbours and thus prevent them from fighting. Ruby red, sapphire blue, aquamarine and amethyst, they look like jewels with fins.
Most stallholders seem happy to have photos taken, and they might even give you a demonstration of the fish fighting by briefly removing one of the playing cards. Best time to go is mid-morning.
Around the corner at 86D Street 63 are several shops selling everything you need to set up your own aquarium. The walls are lined with tanks featuring a range of fish species from common carp to exotic arowana. With many tanks at eye-level for toddlers, these are fun shops to wander through and play ‘I spy’, e.g. ‘I spy a striped fish, I spy a pink fish…’ etc. Again, the stallholders seem to tolerate spectators.
The reputation of the monkeys at Wat Phnom as food-stealing, bag-snatching villains inclined to scratch if not bite may make some parents reluctant to let their infant or toddler get too close. An alternative is a leisurely cyclo ride around Street 94/Wat Phnom circle to view the macaques at a safe distance. You’ll often see them walking the tightrope of electric cables overhead, mothers carrying their babies on their backs, and your cyclo driver will be happy to slow down so your child can take it all in.
While some toddlers may be too frightened to ride Sambo the elephant around Wat Phnom, chances are they’ll enjoy watching her walk home between 4 and 5 pm along Sisowath Quay. Her mahout sometimes stops to give Sambo a shower from a spigot in the grassy area on the riverfront opposite Pon Loc restaurant at 319 Sisowath Quay. Alternatively, wait a little further south towards Street 240 and watch street vendors throw treats of fruit and popcorn as Sambo ambles past.
When travelling by road in Phnom Penh, keep your eye out for animals in the traffic. The sight of a fluffy white dog riding upfront on a motorbike can be a source of great amusement and long conversations for a toddler who is new to Cambodia.
Also novel are the ox-drawn carts laden with pottery, which come into Phnom Penh from Kompong Chhnang province, where the chhnang (claypots) are made. They can be seen every so often around Phsar Kapko near the intersection of Streets 6 and 294.
If you have the sort of child who can keep it together after sunset, consider ending the day at the FCC, 363 Sisowath Quay. With luck, the wall of geckoes will keep your toddler entertained long enough for you to catch your breath over a cold drink.
Tip: Collect photos of the animals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects your toddler sees in Cambodia and put them in a small album. She or he will enjoy looking through the pictures, naming the animals and re-living the memories.