City guide to travel to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, with kids. Anaïs Pagès-Peeters is the Creator of Kids Weekly, (a newspaper for kids in Cambodia), baby accessories business Globe-Crawlers and mother of two kids Emile (3) and Madeleine (1). The French native has been based in Phnom Penh with her kids and husband for 6 years and, while the city is still developing, she says there is still a lot to offer travelers looking to see a different side of Cambodia from the Siem Reap tourist trail. She tells suitcases&strollers her travel tips for how you can and should visit Phnom Penh with kids.
Why should parents plan a family holiday in Phnom Penh with kids?
Phnom Penh is safe and pleasant for a short stay. It’s easy to get around and there are a few things to do and see.
Phnom Penh has less tourists than Siem Reap so you don’t get hassled by tuk tuk drivers and shop sellers as much. It’s a great place for shopping and for a more urban holiday. You can also do short day trips to more rural areas to get a feel of a different lifestyle in Cambodia.
Where is your favourite place to take kids in Phnom Penh?
I love to take them to the Royal Palace on a late afternoon. The King recently closed the road that goes past it to traffic, so it is one of the only place in the city where you can go for a stroll, push a stroller or let your kids let off a bit of steam by running/biking around safely.
It’s got a great vibe. I love being among all the other Khmer families who are also there to hang out with their kids, buy balloons, feed pigeons. It is one of the rare moments I feel a little like I’m part of their community. A parent, not just an expat.
You can start your stroll at the Independence Monument. Walk east through the Hun Sen “park” (more like a traffic island but that’s as good as it gets in Phnom Penh). When you get to the end turn left and cross the road. Walk north pass the Vietnamese Friendship Monument and past Wat Botum playground, cross street 240 and that’s where you arrive at the beginning of the cut-off road that goes past the Royal Palace.
Where are your kids’ favourite places in Phnom Penh to hang out?
Their favorite place is Kids City, an indoor play centre that has tons of activities for all ages. We always go to “Toddler Town”. It is pretty amazing. But I can only handle it for about 1 to 2 hours every once in a while.
The Kingdom Resort and Spa on National Road No.1. is a little bit outside of Phnom Penh but it’s got a great pool for kids with all kinds of slides and a children’s playground.
What is the best free activity to do in Phnom Penh with kids?
The Royal Palace or Wat Botum playground. It’s a little run down in parts and can get very busy but kids love it. Don’t go there before 5pm or you’ll roast (unless you’re travelling in December or January).
Others include taking bikes, putting them on the ferry and going for a tour of Silk Island (Koh Dach). It’s a real countryside experience. There is a great hotel/restaurant there called Kroma Villa which has hands down the best pizzas in the country. They have an infinity pool which looks over the Mekong. Nice way to recharge before biking back. Also a very relaxing place to stay a couple of nights. The couple who just opened this place are extremely friendly and helpful. They also have kids so they know how to help!
Where is the best place to take kids in Phnom Penh when the weather is bad?
There is also Think Big, a place for more civilised fun. Kids can play with LEGOs, kinetic sand or beads. The great thing is that they are supervised by the staff there, so you can sit and have a coffee while they play.
What are some of the city secrets that tourists might not know about but shouldn’t miss on a family holiday in Phnom Penh with kids?
The Olympic Stadium (Charles de Gaulle Blvd., Phnom Penh, Cambodia) is a great place to have a stroll after 5pm. Join Cambodian ladies doing their aerobics to blasting music (my kids love to join in) and just watch the sun set in this beautiful vestige of pre-war architecture. Rumors say this place will be completely torn down soon to leave space for another empty mall, so go there now!
On Koh Pich island there is a new fun park for kids. If you’re not paranoid about safety standards, they will have a blast. It’s KHR1000 per ride for airplanes, trains, helicopters, animal bumper cars… You will most likely be the only foreigners there; it’s a very local experience.
Where are your top 3 places for family-friendly restaurants for
kids in Phnom Penh?
Java Café on Norodom: on the ground floor they have a children’s playroom and they have a kids’ menu with many healthy options.
Will’s Brunch Café has a playroom upstairs and a great menu for both adults and kids. (Adults: try the chicken, quinoa and avocado salad!)
If you’re up for a little ride to Tuol Kork on the other side of town then The Shop Too (38 Street 337, Toul Kork, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, +855 12 952 839) and Joma Toul Kork have great spaces for kids.
As for Khmer restaurants, there is the Raksmey Bayon Soup on the corner of Streets 262 and 51. You can eat phnom pleung (literally “mountain of fire”), a local barbecue in the middle of your table. You order plates of raw meat and fish and they serve it to you with crunchy cold vegetables and white rice. You fry your meat on lard-greased barbecue and enjoy it with the lemon and black pepper mixture and the rice and veggies. They have a playground downstairs.
The chain Master Suki Soup, which is extremely popular with locals (same sort of concept but instead of placing your meat and fish in a barbecue, you get a pot of boiling broth), also usually has kids’ areas.
But generally, any Khmer restaurant is family friendly in that they are always over-staffed and Cambodian always likes to play with small kids.
Which is the best place to find family friendly accommodation in Phnom Penh with kids?
It’s convenient to stay towards the Royal Palace or in BKK1 area.
Villa Langka is a lovely hotel and is quite family friendly (it has a kids menu, a high chair and the staff are great with kids).
The Kabiki is also known for being family friendly. They have a kiddy pool.
What is the ideal time frame for a holiday to Phnom Penh with kids?
A minimum of 3 or 4 days. Travellers don’t usually stay long in Phnom Penh but if you want to take it easy and let your kids enjoy the hotel’s pool in the afternoons then it’s best to factor that in.
When is the best time of year to visit Phnom Penh with kids?
December and January when it isn’t so hot. But the rainy season (May to October) isn’t that bad. The torrential rains always entertain my kids and they definitely freshen the air up.
What is the best way to move around Phnom Penh with kids?
Tuk tuks. They are everywhere and quite fun for kids. But they will very often try to scam you.
Rule of thumb for tuk tuk rides: 1km = USD1. Don’t hesitate to pay in Khmer riels. If the driver moans that he wants USD2 and not one, give him an extra KHR1000 or KHR2000 with a smile and a thank you and walk away. Never show anger or start shouting.
For trips that can be planned in advance, taxis are actually cheaper than tuk tuks, and you don’t have to breath in exhaust fumes and, when you’re stuck in traffic, at least you have the air con.
What are your top family travel tips for families travelling to Phnom Penh with kids?
1. Make sure you deal with the jet lag ahead of time. For example, if you’re travelling from the west during a daytime flight, try to make sure they sleep as soon as they get on the plane. When you arrive at dawn local time, have some activities planned so that they are not tempted to sleep all day (playing in the pool is probably the best thing to keep them awake.) A 1 to 2 hour nap is OK but not longer until at least 8pm.
2. Forget your stroller. Apart from the Royal Palace stroll, you won’t ever use it. There are no sidewalks in the city; it will drive you crazy. Sidewalks (when there are any) are for garbage, cars, food stalls, shops…anything but pedestrians. You’ll end up pushing it on the street trying to dodge motos.
3. Carry your stuff in a backpack. Your hands will be free to handle the kids and it is safer as bag snatching is common.
4. Never underestimate the sun over here. Lather the kids with sunscreen all the time and make sure they wear sunglasses and hats (and you too). Bring long sleeved bathing gear. Sunburn happens in 5 minutes and you only realise it hours later.