Home to intricately decorated Buddhist temples, French colonial buildings, historical monuments and unique Khmer architecture, Phnom Penh boasts a rich culture worthy of exploration.
While many city dwellers might overlook the beauty of the colourfully congested capital, some expats and travellers have been busy searching out secret locations and hunting the city’s hidden treasures through an interactive game that plays out like a detective investigation.
Urban Tales, a series of quests designed to bring out everyone’s inner Sherlock Holmes, was created by Ubiquest, an urban game and event agency with offices in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Lisbon, Portugal; and Phnom Penh.
In Vietnam, Ubiquest’s offerings include a quest to hunt for an electronic safe in Ho Chi Minh City, an app-based scavenger hunt, a vintage car ride quest, an exploration of the forgotten Mui Ne bay, adventurous crime scene investigations, a role-playing game called deadly casino, and urban food and flavour runs.
After a five-year run of success in Vietnam, Ubiquest landed in Cambodia.
Emeline Beneult, a product manager at Ubiquest, tells The Post: “Urban Tales was the first product of Ubiquest in Cambodia which was introduced about two years ago.”
The company offers live-action games with scripted events and improvisation workshops for international companies in need of team-building events, private groups and individuals.
According to Beneult, Urban Tales participants are tasked with finding the missing notes of Anatole Pasquier, a French explorer from the 19th century.
During his 11-month expedition to Cambodia in 1881, he wrote descriptions and drew pictures of various places in the Kingdom. In June the same year, he had to fetch supplies in Phnom Penh, where he spent only one day.
Beneult, who has worked in Cambodia’s tourism industry for four years, says: “Our games will immerse the players in a scenario in which they will be the main actors. It’s a walking tour mixed with an escape game and a treasure hunt during which they need to find statues.”
Urban Tales offers two daily departures – one at 8:15am and one a 9:15am – and participants are expected to walk about 3km and complete the game in around three hours.
The mission starts at the National Library with an introduction by a specialist working for the Department of Archaeology at the Royal University of Fine Arts.
Participants are then asked to search for an ancient relic and bring it to the Department of Archaeology.
Beneult says: “The aim is to take the participants out of their daily routine while offering them new experiences. They can explore Phnom Penh’s old district at their own pace and experience the city differently.”
The game is ideal for groups of five to six and each team starts with clues, a compass, a map and a roadbook.
If they get stuck, the players can contact the game’s host to receive a hint. Several actors are stationed across the city to assist the players in their quest and lead them through bustling streets, unique neighbourhoods, mysterious buildings and ancient temples.
Beneult says the game has attracted a sizable group of curious travellers despite travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, and the feedback has been positive.
“They are happy to see new activities in Phnom Penh. Some have said this was a great way to explore the city and discover surprising places that they may not have known about before,” she says.
The players are excited to discover new parts of the city and have fun with their friends.”
To give back to the community, Ubiquest pays local families to engage with the game’s participants at secret spots throughout the adventure.
Ubiquest’s efforts earned them the first prize for the entrepreneur category of the French Business Awards competition in 2016.
In 2017, it was shortlisted as one of the most innovative start-ups in the Mekong region for their Urban Tales concept. The company was also invited to attend a Mekong Innovative Startups in Tourism (MIST) event.
Ubiquest hosted a Tuk-tuk Quest on October 3, during which four-member teams completed five challenges to compete for one night in an executive suite at the Rosewood Phnom Penh.
Beneult says: “During Covid we didn’t have much to do, so our director thought it was a good opportunity to create something new. That’s when the Tuk-tuk Quest came up.”