While Phnom Penh is definitely an adults’ playground, parents are often at a loss with what to do with the kids. Writer Eve Watling takes a look at some activities to keep boredom at bay and the whole family entertained. Photography by Lucas Veuve.
In Phnom Penh’s dusty, concrete landscape, parents may have to wrack their brains a little harder in order to find ingenious ways to unglue their child from the nearest screen. Once the few green public spaces have been exhausted and hotel pools have become boring, it seems there aren’t many weekend activities in the relatively child-unfriendly city.
Luckily, there are some failsafe options out there for a fun weekend with kids of all ages. Whether it’s befriending wild bears, riding go karts or exploring ruins, parents are guaranteed to end up with a bunch of content – and exhausted – children by the time Sunday night rolls around.
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center
Although the illegal trade in wild animals is booming across Asia, Phnom Tamao is working to slow the trend. Home to about 1,200 rescued animals, the 6,000 acres of protected area also houses education centres for visitors, and provides alternative employment for ex-poachers. Park entrance is $2 per child, and guarantees a good half-day of wandering around the large sanctuary, which holds everything from magnificent moon and sun bears to native Cambodian deer, which are much hunted for their spectacular antlers. Gibbons, lions and pythons are also in residence, and for parents with higher budgets, Wildlife Alliance gives behind-the-scenes tours, which includes getting within a whisker of tigers, monkeys and elephants. Wildlife NGO Free The Bears, which rescues endangered sun bears from the clutches of poachers and illegal trade, is also based here and offers tours of its operations.
No such list would be complete without Kids City, the go-to spot for action and adventure right in the centre of Phnom Penh. Kids City is age-inclusive, offering bumper cars, laser tag, climbing walls, go karts and an 800-square-metre indoor playground. There’s interactive learning activities too; the science gallery and science discovery floors are genuinely high-tech and entertaining, covering everything from electricity to human biology. Meanwhile, younger children can explore the ball pits and giant soft toys in Toddler Town. Don’t let the name fool you: it’s fun for grownups too – the climbing wall stocks adult-sized harnesses, so there’s no excuse not to join in.
Although Phnom Penh doesn’t have a big, centralised children’s library, the city does hold a few book-crammed nooks that are welcoming to children. Open Book is a small, volunteer-run NGO library on Street 240 (conveniently located next to The Shop cafe, where parents needing some caffeine and R&R can hide out while their child reads). As well as a good selection of kids’ books, the library has puzzles and games for children to play with. Borrowing books is encouraged, and lifetime membership is $15. The library at Pannasastra University has a Children’s Corner, with story-reading sessions every Sunday. The French Institute library doesn’t have any English-language books, but its incredible comic book selection compensates for that, easily absorbing younger and more visually inclined kids. Older children can enjoy the great historical selection in the Buddhist Institute’s library, although books cannot be taken home.
This underrated city getaway provides a surprising number of child-friendly activities, especially for slightly older children. It promises an old-fashioned family excursion, with the option to either navigate the island in the shade of a tuk-tuk or on bikes. Ultra-friendly locals will be thrilled to show the kids the ins and outs of traditional silk-spinning, an endangered skill that is the lifeblood of the island’s community. River swimming and exploring ruined pagodas are other Blyton-esque adventures on the cards, and no trip is complete without a visit to the small beach to the north of the island – although be aware, it’s not the cleanest seaside spot in Southeast Asia. Join local families hanging out in the shady beach shacks just beyond the shore, and flag down the floating ‘bars’ (vendors wading waist-deep with polystyrene iceboxes) selling drinks and sliced fruit.
Child Friendly Cafés
Parents are adventured out, exhausted from work, and want to let the children do their thing while they spend some quality adult time with friends. Luckily, there’s plenty of cafés in town that cater to both adults and kids. Conekla is an exciting Willy Wonka-lite experience, with giant lollypops in the sweet shop downstairs and X-Box rooms upstairs, as well as a chic interior and a great menu for the grownups. If the kids are too little to navigate a controller, Java Café, BKK’s Café Fresco and Will’s Café all have playrooms suitable for younger children. Farm to Table is another child-friendly option, offering great healthy food, and leafy open space complete with a tractor – the perfect spot for the kids to play while the grownups catch up.