Phnom Penh with children – Part 4

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The following article first appeared in the ‘Next Generation’ column of the November 2008 issue of AsiaLIFE magazine. Photos are the author’s own and did not appear in the original article.

Green spaces

Phnom Penh boasts more green space and parkland than first meet the eye, as Angela Savage reveals.

Playground 3A new public playground recently opened near Wat Phnom, the first of its kind in the Cambodian capital.

For local and expatriate parents alike, the Western-style playground, bordered by Streets 94, 19 and 102, is a welcome addition to the city’s facilities for children.

Designed for kids up to ten years old, the playground contains two sunken areas lined with spongy tiles, one filled with jungle gym equipment. Kids can climb steps and ladders to access suspended bridges, monkey-bars and slides of different heights and shapes. There are plans to fill the second space with more playground equipment.

A Cambodian friend who studied in Sydney said his children were thrilled to visit the playground, described by his son as ‘just like the ones in Australia only better.’

As the only one of its kind, the playground tends to get very crowded, especially during peaks times mid-morning and mid-afternoon. This can be part of the fun for some, overwhelming for others.

On sunny days, the ground may be too hot for little barang feet by about 9.30 in the morning—shoes have to be left outside the play area—although busloads of Khmer kids arriving at this time seemed unperturbed. Cold drinks and food can be bought nearby and there are shady places in the surrounding area to sit and eat.

It’s early days yet, and the municipal government, which is behind the initiative, is still ironing out issues like parking, security, supervision and waste disposal. But for now use of the playground is free of charge. It is open from sunrise until well into the evening.

Phnom Penh’s other public parks are not specifically designed with children in mind but can be very kid-friendly.

The relative cool of the late afternoon and evening sees Khmer families and friends gather to dahleng¬—literally ‘walk-play’—in the green spaces east of the Independence Monument and south of the Royal Palace. Young couples flirt, babies toddle in squeaky shoes, friends chat and snack on peanuts and clams, elderly people do stretching exercises. Men and boys play chequers on makeshift boards scratched into concrete or penned on park benches, one player on twigs, the other on shells.

More spacious and less hazardous than the riverfront, these are some of the best places to take an evening stroll with small children, who will be made to feel welcome and admired wherever they go. You may even find yourself posing for photos with complete strangers so they can snap your cute child.

Wat Botum Park is particularly popular for soccer, volley-ball and badminton. Children wandering through makeshift playing fields are often invited to join in. Or you can bring your own equipment and stake out a patch here or on the lawns of Independence Monument Park. If you forget your ball, a roaming vendor will be on hand to sell you one.

As the winds pick up towards the end of the rainy season, kite-flyers are out in force in these parks, too. You can buy kites in the shape of phoenixes, bats, sharks and superheroes for US$1-$3 from yet more vendors and join in the fun.

Also worth a mention is the section of Hun Sen Park opposite the Hotel Cambodiana between Sisowath Quay and Sothearos Boulevard. This modest grassy triangle features two large concrete elephants and a statue of Khmer poet Uk Ou surrounded by a pond perfect for floating paper boats. Late afternoon sees Khmer picnickers feasting on noodles and unidentified frying objects prepared in temporary cafes set up on the garden’s perimeter.

What little shade there is in these parks tends to be over benches on the footpaths, making them unsuitable for playing in the heat of the mid-morning or mid-afternoon.

The green space in front of the National Museum off Sothearos Boulevard between streets 178 and 184 offers some shade during the day, as does the leafy garden surrounding Wat Phnom. Just watch out for the villainous monkeys.

Alternatively you can retreat to one of Phnom Penh’s garden cafés such as Le Jardin (cubby house and sandpit), Gasolina (BYO tricycle), The Living Room (kid-sized outdoor seating), Elsewhere (not-so-kid-friendly pool but great garden) or Romdeng (kid-friendly pool and garden).

Other options may open up once construction of the promised public gardens along the Tonlé Sap is completed.

Update January 2013

A Phnom Penh resident says: ‘There is a gorgeous new kids play area near the Russian market, located inside Sugar & Spice Garden cafe, the newest outlet of Daughters of Cambodia. St 430, House 130a, a few doors south of Total gas station on corner of St 432.’

Another says: ‘You should see the state of disrepair the first park near Wat Phnom is in – the black tiles just kept coming apart (usually stuck to someone’s foot as they would get soooooo hot they were like tar), the monkeys reaped havoc on some of the equipment (or maybe it was the kids?), and most of it is just damaged from the weather here… Luckily they do replace sections. There is [now] an even bigger playground at the Vietnamese Friendship Park.’

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