In this expat series about raising kids in Cambodia, we talk to parents about the finer points of child rearing in the Kingdom of Wonder.
American expat Greg Bloom has been living in Phnom Penh since 2008, where he writes for Lonely Planet and other travel publications. He’s also the father of an adventurous 7-year-old daughter who often accompanies him on his research trips around the country. I asked Greg a few questions about raising kids in Cambodia.
What’s the best part about raising kids in Phnom Penh?
Life is easy in Phnom Penh, and that extends to raising kids. Housing and and help are both cheap. Not that this should be a reason to ignore your parental duties, but in Phnom Penh it’s more realistic to have a life outside of parenting than in, say, the US, where a live-in nanny might cost most if not all of your own salary. Leisure activities like tennis and football are also very affordable here, so parents have an opportunity to get their young ones started with a variety of sports at a young age. It’s also nice to be relatively close to the ocean, which is just 3-4 hours from Phnom Penh depending on where you go. Of course, it would be nice to be closer. In short, Phnom Penh is just a very pleasant place to live, kids or no kids.
There are also, for whatever reason, a remarkable number of kids here, especially of elementary age, so there are plenty of playmates for your rug rats. Healthy competition to provide an education to all of those kids has resulted in some excellent international schools. And of course those kids come from all over the world. This multinational exposure is something you can’t put a price on, and you can’t teach at home. Exposure to a foreign culture in the form Cambodia has to offer is another horizon-broadening benefit.
What’s the worst part about raising kids in Cambodia?
Lack of parks and open-air recreational spaces, and it’s often too hot to enjoy the few parks that exist. Outdoor activities that you might enjoy at home — like camping, hiking, river rafting, biking – are not so viable here either because it’s too damn hot or they just aren’t accessible. Those aforementioned beaches are just a little too far away to enjoy on a regular basis. The traffic and bustle of the city also won’t appeal to all.
What are your favorite activities for kids in Cambodia?
Phnom Penh & around (viable day trips):
- Seeing a movie in an air-conditioned theater
- Browsing books at Monument Books
- Taking the Naga World ferry over the Mekong and biking the rural roads and trails on the other side
- Strolling the riverfront promenade or Wat Botum Park at dusk
- Kid’s City/Monkey Business
- Get-togethers at restaurants like Le Jardin that have space for kids to play while the adults socialize; these places rarely exist back home.
- Temple hopping at Oudong or in Takeo: Phnom Chisor, Phnom Da, Phnom Bayong
- Kayaking and swimming at the Kampot River. (Les Manguiers is arguably the most kid-friendly resort in the country.
- Escape the heat at Kirirom National Park and hike or bike amid alpine pine forests, plus there is decent accommodation.
- Kep for a host of good resorts and pleasant seaside beach, although beaches are disappointing here.
- Sihanoukville (Otres Beach) and Cambodia islands (Koh Rong, Koh Rong Samloem) for beaches and snorkeling.
- Siem Reap/Angkor Wat for temples. Kids really love temples once they reach six years old or so!
- Chi Phat ecotourism program in Koh Rong for birdwatching (my daughter loves it), biking, hiking, kayaking.
- Stung Treng/Laos border for kayaking with Irrawaddy dolphins.
- Kratie has a nice island resort and more dolphins (unfortunately in motorized boats, not kayaks).
- Ratanakiri for waterfalls, elephant rides, lake swimming, gibbon spotting deep in forest for older kids and decent accommodation with pool at Terres Rouges.
- Preah Vihear for Preah Vihear Temple. Preah Vihear Boutique Hotel in Sra Em has a pool.
- Mondulkiri for Elephant Valley Project (mostly an option for older kids) and birdwatching.
If you could give one piece of advice to new expat parents in Phnom Penh, what would it be?
Cambodia is fun, don’t be scared to move here. Just do it. No place is ever as dangerous as you might assume. Relax and enjoy all Phnom Penh has to offer!