Even without El Niño affecting the climate in Cambodia, the dry season is undoubtedly the most miserable time of the year in the Kingdom. The extremely hot and dry weather distresses everyone, especially city residents, while daily power outages limits people’s ability to cool themselves down. But don’t despair. Phum Thnout, located just around 20 kilometers from Phnom Penh, recommended by Taing Rinith, is an ideal retreat where you can find natural coolness, swim in a pool and eat good country food on just a small budget.
You wake up on a Sunday morning and find that it is already sunny and very hot. You did not sleep well last night because of the heat. The power outages start in the morning and your fan and air-con are just as good as a slabs of rocks.
You are also bored since there is no internet or TV. You want to go to the countryside to cool down as well as to enjoy some good country food, but you do not want to drive for long in the hot sun, which may give you heatstroke. Also, you are a bit short on cash, since it’s towards the end of the month. So you have to sweat profusely, hoping the power will be back soon.
However, you do not really need to suffer. Phum Tnout, a small resort in Kandal province, not very far from Phnom Penh, may be the ideal getaway which can give you the chill time you deserve, without going over budget or too far from the crowded capital.
Phum Tnout translated into English means Palm Village and can be reached after a 30-minute drive to the south, either on National Road Number 2 or from Hun Sen Boulevard. You can also find its exact location on Google Map.
When you reach its entrance, you will find a large billboard displaying the resort’s name. Turning left and going on for another half a kilometer, you will reach Phum Tnout resort, surrounded by paddy fields and natural ponds. The compound covers an area of about 2 hectares, with a parking lot big enough for twenty cars, and is filled with various tropical trees and flowers. The whole area is pleasantly verdant with abundant vegetation.
The entrance fee is only 2,000 riel (50 cents) per vehicle and there are also restrooms which you can use for free.
The next you have to do is look for shade under the trees. For around $6, you can rent a hut with stilts, built over the lake. This hut is big enough for 4 people. If you need more space, there are the large-sized huts, costing about $12 dollars each for 7 to 10 people. If being in one of them is not cool enough, you can also turn on the ceiling fan.
You can order food, such as fried chicken or typical Khmer soups from the local restaurant, which will be delivered to your hut. However, the best experience comes from buying the food yourself from a small market in the resort.
Vendors in the market sell country dishes, which are hard to come by in the city. For only $5, you can get a few grilled fish, caught from a local lake, and some prahok kob, Cambodia’s signature crushed, salted and fermented fish paste covered with banana leaves and left to cook under pieces of rock beneath a fire or over the coals, along with steamed white rice.
Some of the food, such as fried crickets, fried pupae and grilled frogs, may not sound appetizing but are the favourites of many Cambodians. With a potato chip-like crunchiness, the crickets are both savoury and spicy, and with the kaffir leaves provide a soothing balance. Meanwhile, the pupae have great texture and the frogs have similar taste to chicken meat, except more tender.
As the vendors are wrapping the food for you with lotus leaves, you should ask them for some extra leaves. Why? Because you can use them as a plate for your food and eat the steamed rice using your hands. That was how Cambodian farmers ate their lunch in the fields in the past.
For a drink and dessert, you should try the sweet and cold palm juice, sold at 2,000 riels per cup and some palm seeds, with gelatin flesh inside.
After the meal and a rest, you should explore Phum Tnout’s Healthy Village. It has sculptures of humans, animal and other things, as well as a children’s playground. The playground contains swings, teeter-totters and metal slides and so on, most of which you no longer see on today’s playgrounds. It also has a public pool, which cost you $2.50 to get in for the whole day ($2 for children under 18).
Eating shaved ice, covered with fruit syrup, by the poolside, while her son is playing on a merry-go-round, Brian Resch, an American English language teacher, says his Cambodian friends told him about Phum Tnout resort, and his family fell in love with it at the first time they came here.
“Life in the city is a misery, and it gets worse during the dry season and with the daily power cuts,” he says.
“We were glad to find this place. It is very relaxing and spending $15 dollars to come here is not a bad deal at all.”