Siem Reap’s bustling markets are a must for all those who love to haggle hard over a purchase, or even for those that don’t. You’re guaranteed to come across something unique and interesting.
There’s never a dull moment during a visit to one of Siem Reap’s many markets, but make sure you prepare your senses to be bombarded with the sounds, smells and sights that await as you set off on a mission to bag yourself a bargain. Once you get used to the verbal barrage, you realise the scarves are beautiful, cheap and just what auntie would like.
The Old Market (Phsar Chas) is one of the town’s most popular markets and is full of character, colour and bizarre items. Souvenir stalls litter the edges of the market, selling everything from Khmer art, crafts, and jewellery to bags, trinkets, carvings and statues. Venture inside and you’ll get lost in the rabbit warren of endless aisles flogging everything from pots and pans to homeware, and mountains upon mountains of clothes to wade through. No market would be complete without a food section and The Old Market is no different, with stacks of stalls selling local street dishes, as well as a rainbow of tropical fruit and veg, meats and fishes. It is also home to a range of strange smells, so its often prudent to keep your inhalations via the mouth as you pass some of the stalls.
The marketplace is a hive of activity, especially early in the morning
when restauranteurs and guesthouse owners buy their fresh produce for the day. If you plan to buy a souvenir here, however, keep in mind that many supposedly Cambodian handmade products are in fact mass produced in factories overseas. If you’re after a genuine Khmer product you might be better off at one of the specialist boutiques.
The Angkor Night Market not only has a good range of shopping, it also offers a host of entertainment to give shoppers some respite. The Landmine Victim Band welcomes you at the entrance playing traditional Khmer music, and in the Island Bar and Brick House Bar you can rest your feet over a drink. You can even go to the cinema; the Movie Mall screens cultural documentaries nightly.
The Noon to Night Market is clean and bright, but lacks the character of Old Market. Prices are roughly the same as the Angkor Night Market across the more than 100 stalls, though the latter offers a more pleasant shopping environment.
The Art Centre Night Market, located across the river from the Old Market in the Wat Damnak area, features various NGOs selling their wares in a bid to raise awareness, with many of them training and employing disadvantaged youths, women or men in a variety of skills. Osmose and the Silk Lab are two good causes to support, with some good products to buy too. This market tends to be a lot quieter than the others.
If you are looking for a more modern shopping experience, there has been an influx of shopping malls around town, the two main ones being Angkor Trade Center and Lucky Mall. They have been created mainly for the locals, who go there to experience their shiny newness, the escalators and fast food, but are worth a look if the heat of the local markets becomes too much to bear. Adidas also has a shop on Tep Vong Street selling the real deal if you’re after some genuine sportswear.
Center Market (Psar Kandal) is directly targeted at tourists and sells similar goods to Phsar Chas. However, trade here has dwindled, with most tourists hitting up the night markets and Old Market instead.
The last treat after a long, hard day trawling the market stalls is a massage… a fish massage. At $3, it’s a fun enough experience, if you’re not too ticklish that is. After a quick cleanse, you submerge your pinkies in a small tank of fish that, they claim, enjoy nibbling the dead skin. The sales banner says it all: “If we don’t make you happy you don’t pay”, but seeing as how the first five minutes is a sequence of “one toe first” nervousness and ensuing hilarity, refunds are presumably infrequent. Word of advice, though, don’t be first – the fish haven’t eaten overnight and they are rather hungry.