On a recent Wednesday afternoon at the country’s first authentic ice-skating rink, which opened this month, children were bundled up in sweatshirts, gloves, warm socks and hats.
Teenage girls in tiny shorts held onto one another, moving across the ice like a train with many carriages. A little girl in a sweatshirt and hat posed for a photo in front of her big brother. Parents watched from the bench. Some joined in, moving each foot with trepidation, as they gripped the edge of the rink with one hand.
The rink, which is made from real ice – frozen water that melts in your hand, not the “magic ice”, mere slippery plastic – is making it possible for many Phnom Penh residents to slide on ice for the first time in their lives – and feel cold.
“Before, I had never experienced cold weather,” said Touch Phuthy, 33, who recently braved the frozen surface. “I thought it would be really scary and dangerous, but actually it’s not. It’s like learning to walk or learning to drive.”
The rink requires room temperatures to be kept between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius, but the ice itself is cooled to minus seven degrees, said Meng Hieng, the owner of the rink, which is located on the top floor of the Kids City building on Sihanouk Boulevard.
Hieng, the Cambodian businessman who also owns Monument Books and Toys, decided to build a rink after his four children tried out the sport in Korea.
“At first we tried skiing and liked it, and then we put the children to skate – they enjoyed it as well. After the children learned, I wanted to try too,” he said.
Hieng said the new sport will provide an exotic activity for children in this tropical country.
“This is a sports activity that didn’t exist in Cambodia, and I thought it’s a good idea to get children to do this activity so that in the future Cambodia could become part of the ice-skating federation,” he added.
Although Hieng would not reveal how much it cost to build the rink and keep it running, he said a company from the United States called “Ice Rink Supply” carried out the project, which included a chiller, insulation, and a humidifier system.
Previous ice-skating ventures in the city have used white plastic as a substitute. In late 2011, Ice City Skating Rink was opened in Sovanna shopping mall, and Magic Ice at City Mall offers $2 jaunts on their slippery surface.
At Kids City, however, it’s the real deal.
More about Kids City Asia
An ice-skating rink isn’t the only unique feature of Kids City, the multi-coloured building that opened on Sihanouk Boulevard this month.
The indoor children’s entertainment centre is also home to a science gallery, which features a bicycle ride on a wire, a ball floating in mid-air, exhibits on light, sound, magnetism, gravity and electricity, and a planetarium that illustrates how planets rotate around the sun. Kids City also has a climbing gym with 28 climbing walls, which are between eight- and 10-metres tall.
Built by a New Zealand company called Clip and Climb, there is also a wall that simulates ice climbing.
Both the mini-science museum, which the company hopes will attract local school groups for some hands-on scientific demonstrations, and the climbing gym are in Cambodia for the first time, said Kids City Asia’s marketing manager An Delphine.
“The building is not only for fun, but also for science and sport,” she said.
A visit to the Science Gallery or the Clip and Climb costs $8 for children, and $10 for adults.
A professional figure skating coach arrived from the Philippines to teach local roller- skating pros to ice-skate. Ricardo Nonato, who came here from Ice Skating Institute Asia, is currently training Cambodia’s first ice-skating coaches and will soon be giving private ice-skating lessons as well.
“The ice is much more slippery. You don’t need too much energy to push like in roller-skating,” said Nonato, who learned to ice-skate from an American coach when the first rink opened in the Philippines 14 years ago. Since then, his students had participated in figure skating competitions in Malaysia and China, he said.
So far, the only person wearing figure skates at the rink is Nonato himself – only recreational hockey skates are currently available for rent at the rink, but the company is promising to bring in figure skates soon as well.
Last week, the new rink was shared by skaters of many nationalities, ages and abilities as fast-beat songs encouraged everyone to overcome their fear and lights threw beautiful shadows down on the ice.
“I just want to learn to skate,” said Heng Kheng, a housewife. “It’s my first time on the ice. It’s fun but very difficult.”
Fifteen-year-old skater Nicole Gitobu, who is from Kenya, said she was surprised to find a rink here.
“I didn’t know if it’s real or what. I thought the ice would melt, but no,” she said. “I think it’s hard the first time, but if you get used to it, it’s fun. It’s my second time here, and I’ll come again in a few days.”
Cambodia is not the first country in the region to build an ice-skating rink. There are also rinks in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.
“We see that it’s not only kids who enjoy it, but also teenagers and adults,” said Kids City Asia’s marketing manager An Delphine. “Everybody is crazy about ice-skating.”
The ice-skating rink at Kids City is located at 162 A Sihanouk Boulevard and is open from 8 am to 10 pm seven days per week. One hour and 15 minutes of skating costs $10 for children and $12 for adults. Private skating lessons, school trips and ice-skating shows on the rink are being planned. The rink can accommodate 50 people and it’s possible to make music requests. Children have to be at least 5 years old to skate. For more information, visit www.kidscityasia.com .