While there are plenty of smart swimming pools in town to cool off at, you might want to consider a more local option for something a little bit different. With a beautiful lake-side setting, hundred of bamboo salas (cabanas) to choose from, and plenty of cheap beer and food, Kien Svay is a little bit difficult to find, but once you get there a whole new world of peace opens up, away from the madness of Phnom Penh.
Kien Svay, also known as Koki Beach, is just 15 kilometres out of Phnom Penh, down National Route 1, on the road to Ho Chi Minh City. If you take a tuk tuk, they’ll most likely know where it is. If you’re travelling by bicycle or other means, keep an eye out for a Sokimex petrol station on the right, then on the opposite side of the road there is a left turn with a big, concrete green and orange panel beside it, and a big blue advertising hoarding beside that saying Wat Kien Svay Krao Tourism Site. There is a large pagoda complex and school — Wat Kien Svay — just after the turn.
Taking that left turn, you follow the road around another left turn and there you have your pick of which lakeside pitch you want to choose. Unless it’s Sunday. If it’s Sunday, you’ll be squeezing in among the hordes as Sunday is the one near-universal day of the week off for Cambodians.
During the week though, you are likely, as we were, to have the place almost entirely to yourself. There was one other family on the whole lake, who were incredibly kind and invited us to join them to share their beautiful roasted chicken. They were concerned about TF eating alone.
The cost for renting a sala will vary depending on where you are and the size, but should be around $3 to $5 — though you can negotiate. We had the most enormous plate of fried rice with pork and a soft drink, and the total was $10. Not the cheapest in the world, but still a good deal; or it would have been if there were more than one of us. Do check prices ahead of ordering and negotiate your sala price before settling in.
If you happen to want a wander around, there are boatmen who ply their way up and down the river and are delightfully charming — and all the more so if you pay $3 to $5 for a trip up and down the lake.
Depending upon the time of year, the water may be quite clogged with water hyacinth, an invasive species of plant that some bright spark though would be a good idea to bring over from South America because the pale lilac flowers are pretty. It has been clogging waterways and destroying plant and marine life ever since. We would not recommend swimming here at any time of year though. Analyses that we saw carried out at a similar location on the Tonle Sap found quite high levels of E-coli and more in the waters.