Today we have a post from Rachel Band about an area she specializes in, activities and things to do for young children in Siem Reap. Rachel has lived in Cambodia for 8 years and is the mother of a two-year-old and an almost-four-year-old. She also co-owns Rosy Guesthouse, a kid-friendly accommodation in Siem Reap.
RB: “I didn’t move to Cambodia with children, but now after eight years in the Kingdom and two kids later, my priorities now are firmly focused on activities to entertain my children, who are both under five. I was champing at the bit to find some classes to enrol the kids in once they started playschool/school, and disappointingly–but perhaps not unsurprisingly–found that the majority of the after-school activities offered by the international schools are for children aged five or six and over. I have since however found several locally-based activities for my little ones that keep them, and us, more than occupied.
With the virtual guarantee of good weather year round (even during the rainy season months the mornings are normally clear and dry) swimming is a popular and obvious choice for those with children, and something that we try to fit in once a week as a family. My oldest has recently started group swimming lessons with Siem Reap Swimming Academy (SRSA), run by a British swimming instructor with five years experience. Affordable private and group classes with a maximum of six students per group are available for children from four years old, with some of the classes being run through international schools. Swimming lesson day has become the best day of my daughter’s week, and I can see her confidence and technique improving with each class.
Many hotels and restaurants with swimming pools will allow outside guests to use them for a day fee or with money spent on the menu. Our favourite is the aptly named River Garden which has a salt water splash pool with waterfall at one end and a deep plunge pool at the other surrounded by a dense garden setting and sun loungers or shaded seating options. Entrance is free with any food or drink order from their mouth watering menu; Western-style swimwear is requested, noodle floating aids and floats are available and towels are available for hire.
Similarly, Kanell Restaurant offers free use of their chlorinated garden swimming pool with $5 spent on the menu, the burgers and Khmer curries are recommended. Even at midday shade is provided by the trees surrounding the pool and there are again sun loungers and shared daybed seating options and towels are provided. Both The River Garden and Kanell have other water features in their gardens so young children will need to be supervised both in and out of the pool.
A popular hotel pool, and one of the largest in Siem Reap, is the womb-shaped pool at Angkor Era Hotel; I kid you not, check their website. For US$8 ($2 for under 12s) you can make use of their pool, sauna and steam room, and gym. The price for adults also includes a one-hour Khmer massage. While the hotel is popular with Asian tour groups, the pool is normally quiet midweek in the daytime, just don’t think of the womb shape while you’re swimming!
All children love bouncy castles, and Happy Hop Playground has five of them conveniently located on the same grounds as Angkor Wat Putt, a 14-hole mini golf course through miniature replicas of the Angkor temples. For the modest sum of US$2 (expats get a reduced rate of $1), children have unlimited use of the Happy Hop bouncy castles and other playground equipment all underneath a shade cloth to keep them cool. My children enjoy jumping and playing on the bouncy castles when we go, with the Thomas the Tank Engine bouncer being a favourite with my two-year-old son. The bouncy castles are also available for private hire off site and are a popular choice for children’s birthday parties.
Angkor Wat Putt itself is fun for the whole family. They have golf clubs in three different sizes (our two had no problem using the smallest size when they played) and their staff will gladly assist children to play, if needed. Children’s attention will be held by the differing ways to navigate the ball around each golf “hole”; through tubes; between posts; around corners and even avoiding water; be prepared for delighted splashes! The garden at Angkor Wat Putt is still in its infancy so shade is not in great supply and midday mini golf is not recommended. There is a central covered seating area for little legs to rest in the shade or with a cool drink if needed; a free drink is offered for every “hole in one” scored, however I wouldn’t press this too much on your children’s first visit.
Angkor Wat Putt has drinks and snacks for sale but allow customers to bring outside food and drink as well. Our children loved the mini golf when we went but neither made it through all 14 holes. I’m sure with our planned regular visits they will both become quite adept at it, and if their interest does wane there is always the Happy Hop bouncers to jump on while the rest of the family finishes off their game. Angkor Wat Putt is US$5 for adults, US$4 for children 3-12 years and free under 3 years old. Expats get a discounted rate of $4 and $2 for adults and kids 3-12 respectively.
One of the only purpose-designed activities for children in Siem Reap is Jungle Junction, a house of fun for kids with an outdoors playground, sand pit, large bouncy castle and trampoline, all with added shade. Outside shaded seating is in ample supply too. Indoors they have a soft play room with ball pit and a cinema room with seats specifically made for little bottoms. Spend $10 per table and children can play for free, otherwise child entrance is $2 each. What sets Jungle Junction apart as a children’s centre in Siem Reap for our family is the availability of baby changing units in both upstairs and downstairs bathrooms (downstairs offers more room), it makes a huge difference to changing our son on the floor or when still seated at the table as we normally have to when out and about.
While no high chairs are currently available, Jungle Junction has a children’s menu (the Pink Panther pepperoni pizza and Spider Man spaghetti bolognaise are our kid’s favourites). All kids menu items come with a milkshake and dessert). Adults are more than catered for too on their menu with recommended ribs and a popular Sunday roast. Jungle Junction can organise children’s parties on site, taking the hassle out of planning and clearing up at your own house.
We recently went to The Happy Ranch for a 30 minute lead ride for our oldest, who is just shy of 4 years old, to see if it’s an activity she would like to take up and an opportunity for our younger child to spend time with some of the 46 horses and ponies at the Ranch to develop his confidence around the as-yet-unfamiliar animals. Children from approximately three years old can enjoy lead rides US$14 for 30 minutes, small size horse riding helmets are available. Our son was desperate to get on the horse too after seeing his big sister do it, and we were advised that if he’s confident around the horses and is able to sit on the saddle solo then there is no reason for him not to try too. He will be getting a lead ride next time we go, although I’m sure mum or dad will be walking alongside the horse too, just in case.
Horse riding lessons are not currently offered at The Happy Ranch due to no one currently working there being a fully qualified instructor, however any of the international staff will be happy to offer advice and direction for correct posture and sitting position whilst on the horses, which we were told will set the stage for lessons in the future. While it’s not a cheap option in Siem Reap, this is an activity that would be price prohibitive in our home country, and if it’s something that our children enjoy I see this as one of the many advantages to growing up in Cambodia.
One activity that has unfortunately finished but I’m seriously considering actively campaigning for a return of, is kids yoga at the Peace Cafe. In March this year the Peace Cafe ran a short series of midweek and weekend kids yoga classes with a visiting yoga teacher which was very well received. The Peace Cafe have suggested that this may resume later this year…our fingers are firmly crossed.”
Siem Reap Swimming Academy (SRSA)
T: 089 66 42 66
The River Garden
West River Road, North of National Road 6, Siem Reap
T: 063 963 400; 089 351 571
7 Makara Road, (High School Road), Siem Reap
T: 077 20 71 00; 099 630 644
Open daily, 10:00-22:00
Angkor Era Hotel
T: 063 968 968
National Road 6, Siem Reap
Happy Hop Playground
7 Makara Road, (High School Road)
T: 097 640 4268
Open Monday to Saturday, 16:00- 20:00
Open Sundays and holidays, 8:00-20:00
Angkor Wat Putt
7 Makara Road, (High School Road)
T: 012 302 330
Open daily, 7:30-23:00
The Happy Ranch
Group 4, Svay Dangkum
T: 012 920 002; 016 920 002
7 Makara Road, (High School Road)
T: 098 293 400
Open daily, 8:00-23:00
Street 26, Off East River Road
T: 063 965 210; 092 177 127
Open daily, 7:00 to 21:00