When I arrived at the Ice City Skating Rink at Sovanna Shopping Centre, a gang of teenagers were gathered around the edges, watching young women slide around with varying degrees of grace.
Two girls holding hands tottered slowly around the field, while others blazed by at high speeds.
Ice City opened last month, promising Sovanna shoppers the only authentic ice skating experience in the Penh. However, it’s authentic only when it comes to the sensation of ice skating – the white floor is actually made of plastic, not frozen water.
Ice City is open from 9am to 9pm every day, and costs $5 per hour for adult and $4 per hour for children.
Ice skating in Cambodia is not as cool as skating in Europe during winter – both figuratively and literally. But after an hour of trying it out, I was hooked, and determined to improve my skills.
The first time I buckled up the skates I was nervous, but Cheng Sambath, the 25-year-old manager, was ready with a helping hand.
“Skating on ice and skating in this plastic rink is about 90 per cent the same,” he said.
“I cannot say it is easier than rollerskating, because it is a bit stickier, but it is easy enough to start learning.”
Cheng Sambath should know; despite being a skilled rollerskater, his ice skating experience dates back only to the launch of Ice City.
“By the time the place officially opened I had only skated on ice around 20 times.
“The most talented skaters take only about fifteen minutes to learn, even if they have never tried it before,” he said.
Sure enough, it was not as hard as I expected. The ice skating boots felt more comfortable than the rollerskates I used to wear, though I didn’t want to let go of the railing until being sufficiently tutored by Cheng Sambath.
“It is just the same as real ice skating,” he instructed. “Put your legs in a V shape and take it step by step, pushing along with your thighs and keeping balanced.”
After a spell of standing firmly and balancing my body, I decided that it wasn’t that hard, and slid around the rink until I became quite sweaty.
I studied the way my newfound coach skated, and tried some faster moves, only to immediately fall down.
“When you are about to fall down, you should release your body naturally, rather than going tense,” was his only remark. “It will be a lighter fall that way.”
Sovan Mery, a 19-year-old worker at the rink, said that there are between 20 and 30 skaters there every day, with up to 50 coming on weekends and holidays.
“Most skaters are young people, but sometimes we also get old people who are experienced skaters and want to give our rink a try,” he said.
If enough people do give the rink a try, Cheng Sambath said his company plans to build another ice skating rink – and this time, with genuine ice.