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Phnom Penh picks: keeping busy during the Khmer New Year holiday

Cambodia’s capital becomes a veritable ghost town during the March festival as most head to the provinces, but there is still plenty to do for those who do decide to stick around in the city. Why not try some of the following options?

Find some sun on Koh Dach beach.
Find some sun on Koh Dach beach. Scott Howes

Beach trip to Silk Island
Nothing says “holiday” like a trip to the beach, but there’s no need to go all the way to Sihanoukville if you want to feel sand between your toes. Just north of Phnom Penh in the middle of the Mekong River is Koh Dach (or Silk Island) which has a nice stretch of sand perfect for sunbaking, castle making and having a cooling dip. To get there, travel out of the city over the Japanese Friendship Bridge and onto National Highway 6A for a few kilometres. There are two main ferry crossings leaving from the villages of Kdey Chas and Bach Kheng for about 2,000 riel per person.

Chill out by the pool at Smango House Resort.  PHOTO SUPPLIED
Chill out by the pool at Smango House Resort. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Kandal staycation
Why brave the traffic-clogged highways when there’s a holiday to be had much closer to home? Smango House Resort, a Kandal hotel set on the banks of the Mekong, is a short drive from the capital. It costs nothing to relax for a day by the pool – just order something from the menu, which features both Asian and international options as well as locally grown fruit and vegetables. The kitchen closes at 8pm but the bar is open late. If you want to stay overnight, a standard double is $25 per night, while the emerald suite goes for $80.
Smango House Resort, Prek Bongkong village, Svay Chroum district, Kandal province.

Kambol Kart Raceway.  PHOTO SUPPLIED
Kambol Kart Raceway. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Kambol Kart Raceway
If weaving your motorbike in and out of Phnom Penh’s traffic gives you a thrill, perhaps you might like a bigger space in which to let loose. Kambol Kart Raceway, 8km beyond the airport off National Highway 4, is very much a hidden treasure in the city’s sprawling suburbs. The kart racing track’s circuit is up to international standards at 980m long, and drivers are free to race around at speeds of 65-70kph. Racing costs $12 for 10 minutes.
Kambol Kart Raceway, National Road Number 4, Kambol Village, Phnom Penh. Open 9am - 6pm

Phnom Chisor offers fantastic views and interesting temple ruins.
Phnom Chisor offers fantastic views and interesting temple ruins. Shane Worrell

Phnom Chisor
You don’t need to stop at Oudong for mountain temples around Phnom Penh. Phnom Chisor in Takeo province is 62km south of Phnom Penh and pretty straightforward to get to in a car or on a motorbike down National Road 2. Once you’ve had a good work-out by climbing up the hundreds of steps up the hill, you’ll be treated with stunning panoramic views stretching for miles over the rice paddies of Takeo province. The ancient ruins of the temple, built in the 11th century by King Suryavarman, aren’t bad either.
Phnom Chisor, Sla village, Rovieng commune, Samraong district, Takeo province

Paintball contest
Gathering your friends together and shooting each other with dye capsules can be great fun, and Nytro Paintball park on the city’s southern outskirts provides everything you need for a full-on competition. Paintball guns, safety equipment and ammo are all offered on-site at Nytro’s arena, and other recreational activities, such as football and fishing, are also available. Use of the paintball arena costs $5 for the entire day (which includes guns and safety gear), while balls are sold at $5 for 100, which is enough for around two games. The centre will be open by appointment only throughout
New Year.
Nytro Paintball, behind Cambodia Beer Brewery just north of the Killing Fields. Call 076 658 8888 for bookings.

Khmer New Year: the perfect opportunity to try out sack racing?
Khmer New Year: the perfect opportunity to try out sack racing? Pha Lina

Traditional games
While most Phnom Penh residents flock to their native provinces for the holiday, a few remain either because they must work or they happen to have their whole families in Phnom Penh. For the duration of the New Year celebrations, Wat Phnom serves as a meeting point for Cambodians wishing to partake in the festivities.

Among the most quintessential New Year rituals is the playing of traditional Cambodian games. A particularly famous one, called Angkunh, involves two teams taking turns throwing angkunhs (the seeds of a wild fruit that grows mainly in Kratie and Stung Treng) at the other team’s angkunhs to score points. When you are on the defensive, your angkhuns are lined on the ground, like bowling. Although a more complicated version divides the game into six phases, both the simplified and extended versions end with the winning team members individually tapping the knees of the losing team. Games more familiar to Westerners, such as sack racing and tug of war, are also played.

While the game playing proceeds throughout New Year at Wat Phnom, morning is your best bet.
Wat Phnom, Daun Penh District.

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