In this expat series about raising kids in Cambodia, we talk to parents about the finer points of parenting in the Kingdom of Wonder.
English expat Dan Riley has been living in Phnom Penh since 2004, and is currently the editor of Stuff Cambodia magazine. He’s also the father of a 3-year-old girl who enjoys expending her boundless energy at the public, pedestrianized places around his local neighborhood. I asked Dan a few questions about expat parenting in Phnom Penh.
What’s the best part about raising kids in Phnom Penh?
Some things here are so much more affordable than in the West, so you can enjoy doing them more often without fear of breaking the bank. For example, why buy a car and do all your cooking at home when you can regularly get tuk tuks to and from various restaurants across town? I’ve found the local people are really friendly and interested in Westerners with kids; families are everything out here. And nearly everyone in town speaks English, or has someone nearby that does, so new arrivals can get things done from the off.
Astroturf pitches (with plastic pellets instead of sand or water) have sprung up all over in recent years, providing a safe and clean environment for kids to get into sports. And of course there are many swimming pools and bars/restaurants with kids play areas and gardens. Did I mention air-conditioned cinemas, bowling alleys, laser tag, climbing walls, etc? This place has come a long way, baby makers.
What’s the worst part about raising kids in Phnom Penh?
There are no quality free schools and the free health care is pretty limited and not particularly pleasant. There are some decent clinics and hospitals, but anything really serious still requires a trip to Thailand or Vietnam, so health insurance can be a (financial) lifesaver. Phnom Penh can also be quite noisy, dirty and hot. Making excursions out of town can certainly remind you of that.
What are your favorite activities for kids in Phnom Penh?
I deliberately chose a rental house that was located within walking distance of the riverside and Wat Botum park, as they both offer large public spaces for kids to run around safe from traffic. The entire perimeter of the Royal Palace is either pedestrianized or with pavement (generally without obstruction) and there are tons of families with young kids enjoying the front of the palace area every night: cycling, playing badminton, football and other games. My daughter got a scooter for Christmas and just the other night was racing it, safely, with another scooter boy along the front of the palace. You often bump into your friends and your children can make new friends. There are snacks and cool, cheap drinks for sale all over, its well lit up at night, and there’s usually a nice breeze coming off the river.
Wat Botum playground is bigger and better than anything I saw growing up in England. Saturday and Sunday evenings can be a bit tricky trying to find your little ones amongst the throngs in the murky light (the lamps are not great) but its mostly fenced off and there is a security guard patrolling. Outside of the playground there is a musical fountain and a super smooth area around the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Memorial that can be used for rollerblading, scootering and dare I say it skateboarding. I feel comfortable taking my daughter there anytime, except of course in the midday sun.
If you could give one piece of advice to new expat parents in Phnom Penh, what would it be?
Make the most of the cheap child care, transport, restaurants, sporting facilities and entertainment options. I believe it’s much easier to maintain a social life as a parent here than it is in the West, or at least a more varied social life. Now there are so many more young families of all nationalities living in Phnom Penh, so you and your kids can make new friends and enjoy your leisure time together on a regular basis. Pretty much everything to do with raising a child is now available in shops, and there are networks and forums you can browse and ask for advice.