Monday, April 20, 2009

Ten ways to cool down your kids in Phnom Penh - (Asia Life April column)

As we brave the hottest months of the year in Cambodia, Georgie Treasure-Evans offers ten ways to help both you and your children keep cool in the city.

We all know it is coming, yet every year we still cannot quite believe just how much it is possible to sweat in this city in April and May. No matter how breezy our Tuk-Tuk, or how cold our car, by the time we have made it inside the school gates any pride we ever had in our personal appearance has long since melted away, never mind our ability to be calm and forgiving with our kids. Red faces, wet hair clamped to foreheads, tempers rising... Parenting with kids in Phnom Penh loses its appeal somewhat at this time of year. Here a few ideas for how to get ourselves and our children through the hot season.

The most obvious way to cool down is, of course, to go for a swim. Phnom Penh has many child-friendly pools. But if you are in need of a change of scenery and a little adventure I recommend you brace the Water Park. Although the health and safety standards may not be as high as many of the hotel pools in the city, your kids will have a lot more fun! There are baby pools with fountains and mini-climbing structures, a wave pool, a lazy river and tubes, curly wurly water slides for the more daring and, what might possibly be the longest pool in Phnom Penh so parents can sneak off for a few laps of their own. There is also a fun fair with a range of rides suitable for all ages. The pools are mostly un-shaded though so beware of the sun!

And when the effort of applying sun cream and enforcing the rule of sunhats and UV suits all seems too much, a trip to an air-conditioned salon for some nail art or massage is a great alternative. Let your children try a hair wash, head or foot massage. The chance to escape the heat and relax will really improve everyone’s mood. If they are not into it this, you could always let the staff take them off your hands for a bit while you receive a bit of pampering of your own.

Another place to go where your parental input is minimal is the wonderful, shady Le Jardin. Of all the child-friendly cafés in town I find this the most comfortable, beautiful and relaxing. There are trees to climb, a great play area and sand pit, the kids are allowed to run free and burn off some energy, and, crème de la crème, there is a gate on the door to keep in wandering toddlers. Of course there is also ice cream, which becomes obligatory eating unless you are prepared to see your child suffer the misery of being the only child in the place not allowed one. But you could balance it out with their delicious and cooling cold cucumber and feta soup, which many kids love.

One of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon in the heat is to cancel all social plans and just hang out at home with the children. Just organising my daughters’ social life requires more energy than I can muster, let alone carrying out the plans. Staying home is often much more relaxing for everyone, but it does require a few essentials to make it work, especially if you were once into cooking and crafts but the idea of heating up the house with the oven or battling with paper and glue under high powered fans is now out of the question. In the hot season it requires ice cream or lollies, body painting outside under a tree, a hose pipe and a paddling pool big enough for at least two adults.

The way it works is: you kill an hour or so making ice cream together. My most child-friendly ice cream recipe could not be simpler: Just mix equal amounts of condensed milk and either yoghurt and cream (or any combination of the two) in a bowl and then add either lemon juice and rind to taste, or raspberries is good too. Children love watching the cream thicken when you add the lemon, it’s like magic. And then you can break up the afternoon with regular trips to the freezer to inspect and stir.

Healthier options which are also fun include making ice-lollies out of watered down juice or even better, use orange flavoured Royal D electrolyte. Our bodies are 77% water and when we dehydrate we easily become irritable and snappy.

If all goes according to plan you get to spend the rest of the afternoon sitting back and watching the kids cover themselves with paint, wash off under the hose and splash about in the paddling pool, safe in the knowledge that when things get out of hand there is always the lure of ice cream to make them listen!

If all this feels like too much hard work the heat is always a great excuse to lie low and read books, especially when your child stops napping but you still need that quiet time in the day. If you want to resist the TV option, try cooling down one room, and lying down in bed and reading all your favourite stories for a while. When you run out of good books the Reading Room on St 240 has some lovely books and games and is a peaceful refuge to curl up and spend time with your kids.

When you need to get on with real life I recommend making an activity out of your weekly supermarket shop. During the day they are cool and quiet and the child-friendly nature of Cambodia means that unlike in the West, the combination of supermarkets + kids does not = tantrums. Try giving them a shopping list and letting them loose in the aisles as they try to find all the things you need. If they still have energy to burn you could take them up to one of the many air-conditioned soft play areas in the main supermarkets in Phnom Penh.

A really perfect way to end off a sweaty day with the kids is to take a sun-set ride in a cyclo down some quiet Phnom Penh streets. There is something about a cyclo ride that instantly calms the mind, body and soul. The shaded seat at the front is just big enough to sit back comfortably and wrap your arms around your child. The breeze, as you move silently through the streets, makes this much-needed physical closeness bearable sometimes for the first time all day. All irritation and petty squabbles are soothed away by the gentle, healing rhythm of the cyclo. A nice route is to do the length of St 21, and take a walk in the peaceful gardens of Wat Svay Propei.

If none of this works for you I have one more tip that every parent should know about –it is called the Sitali breath, or the Really Cool Breath as it is better known. Perfect this with your kids and you can lower soaring temperatures and even fevers. Stick out your tongue and curl it as much as you can. Then ‘suck’ up the air as though your tongue were a straw, and breathe out through your nose. Do this for a few minutes and your tongue will feel cool. It is very detoxifying so at first your tongue will taste bitter. When it tastes sweet you know it is working. Good luck!


Kirsty said...

Believe it or not you're making me miss the steamy summers of SE Asia - thanks for some great ideas to help us though our scorcher summer in Abu Dhabi - if only we had a garden... but the ice cream making will definitely be happening soon!

Schiffmans said...

I just moved to Phnom Penh with two small kids and wanted to thank you for this blog post! It's been quite helpful!