x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Without a crib in Cambodia

It's 2am in Phnom Penh and I'm wide awake. I'm not anxious or stressed; this isn't your typical insomnia. I have a sleep surplus.

It's 2am in Phnom Penh and I'm wide awake. I'm not anxious or stressed; this isn't your typical insomnia. I have a sleep surplus. This is how it started: Iola is jet-lagged the three hours between Cambodia and the UAE, and I haven't bothered to fix it because a) we're only here for a week and b) it's convenient. She's up with us until 11pm, out at dinners and meeting friends in garden cafes, and then we all go to sleep at the same time. It keeps us from staying out too late, and it allows her to meet people. The only thing is, Iola sleeps for 12 hours. Without her crib, my presence right beside her is the only thing that keeps her from waking, so I'm held hostage in a darkened room for 11 or 12 hours straight. As soon as I get up to read, write or just check my email, her subconscious sends out an alarm. A grown woman cannot sleep that much. Not to mention the two-hour nap from 4pm to 6pm when I also end up snoozing beside her.

Cribs are a wonderful invention, and I won't travel without one again. It does the unpleasant job of keeping Iola strapped in when she wants to get out, but it also does the pleasant job of making her feel safe and protected while she falls asleep. This time we came without the portable crib because every time we go on a trip I ask myself, "Do we really need all this stuff?". The answer is yes. We are hard pressed to find a taxi with seat belts in the city. I don't mind too much because the pace of traffic in Phnom Penh is 30kph at its fastest, and 70 per cent of the vehicles on the road are motorcycles or scooters, many with whole families aboard. It isn't a city of reckless drivers, though it can appear as such to the uninitiated, as motorcycles with four passengers steer fearlessly into intersections.

My husband John lived here eight years ago. He speaks Khmer, but no one is surprised, probably because of the number of long-term expats working for NGOs and development agencies. People immediately start talking to me in Khmer too, and they ask if Iola speaks it, expecting a yes. She barely speaks English, but at this age learning is not a linear process. In Cambodia she has become fascinated with geckos, examining walls for them and shouting "gecko!" even when she doesn't see one. She has started calling me Daddy, and my husband Mommy; she calls planes, helicopters, boats, contrails, flying birds and the moon "sky".

In between sleeping, Phnom Penh is a great place to travel with kids. With such an animal-obsessed toddler, we took a tuk-tuk to Wat Phnom, a temple on a hill in the city, three times in seven days. The temple is surrounded by a park with an elephant, monkeys and has a children's play park across the street. I also would have gone to the zoo with Iola, but I got an editing contract and had to find childcare in town. The Giving Tree Preschool has a darling afternoon programme that costs US$6 (Dh22). The swings, slides, dress-up costumes, face-painting and water tubs alone are worth it; the attentive childcare almost, almost, made me want to move to Phnom Penh. But perhaps I've been sleeping too much. travel@thenational.ae