Eyes on the buys
We’ve heard about shopping until you drop, but there’s really no need to be such an amateur about it, particularly in Siem Reap, where you’ll find the full spectrum of shopping venues, from boutiques to malls.
With proper pacing, and regular refuelling, it’s possible to keep going for days without staggering, even in Siem Reap where your shopping options can be a little coy. But there’s a rich seam of clothing, jewellery, art and souvenirs to be mined, if you just know where to look.
Like Genesis, we’ll make our start in Garden of Desire, a jewellery store where women go to lust – original sin and all that – and men go as part of their basic survival strategy. The jewellery is the creation of Ly Pisith, an artist whose sensitivity and creativity are reflected in pieces that are practically essays on the complexities of human nature. You’ll need to speak to him to understand more about that.
While we’re on the subject of survival, Ammo Jewellery is made from spent bullet casings, a rather unsettling start for what British artist Madeline Green transforms into surprisingly delicate pieces. The studio is in Craft, a sort of cooperative on Wat Bo Road, with a vegetarian café set in a beautiful garden courtyard. See, shopping and fuelling in one spot; clever.
Artisans Angkor has jewellery too, using lots of Cambodian silver and semiprecious stones. But this monument to Khmer creativity is better known for their huge range of crafts, all the fruits of their work reviving Cambodia’s lost arts, including lacquer, wood and stone carving, ceramics and silk production. If you’re after some unusual fabric then check out Bambou Indochine on Alley West, which is not called that because it’s cute, but because they have perfected the art of turning bamboo into cotton and thence into soft and breezy clothing, especially perfect for the beach, and much else beyond.
While you’re there, you could drop in to Khmer Ceramics & Fine Arts Centre for a browse among their range of beautifully turned and finished ceramics, as well as a collection of stoneware. You can also keep the kids (or more likely your inner-kid) entertained at one of their ceramics workshops.
If that all sounds a bit too much like work, then maybe it’s time to hit up Senteurs d’Angkor, a fantastic place to buy aromatherapy products, featuring all the amazing natural scents of Southeast Asia like lemongrass, jasmine and frangipani. They produce a variety of soaps, candles, balms and massage oils that make great gifts for friends, family or yourself. Nearby, Bodia – Cambodian Apothecary has spent the past 10 years researching and developing a range of natural products, including oils, candles, compresses, natural mosquito repellent and more, all of which you’ll find instore as well as at a bunch of places around town including U-Care and Angkor Market.
But if you’re looking for the most diverse range of things to stuff your bags with – and don’t worry, your partner won’t notice until it’s too late if you empty their bag before leaving and fill it with goodies – then the Made In Cambodia Market is unmissable. Actually, it’s kind of unmissable full stop. At the King’s Road Angkor Village, this is a crafts market for products that have all been made and designed in Cambodia.
For the record, extremely little of what you see in the other markets actually comes from Cambodia. Most of it is from Thailand and China, and you’ll find the same dross in markets across the whole region. That also applies to those elephant pants, whose apparent enduring appeal is a greater mystery than the question of who shot President Kennedy.
Back at the Made in Cambodia Market, there are stalls by international fashion designers – yes, really – exotic drinks makers (Sombai), NGOs with a proven track record of helping young and disadvantaged Cambodians to develop their skills and build their futures, and many, many producers of jewellery, clothing, cosmetics, art, scents, and so much more. It’s open every day, and they often have live entertainment in the evening, so keep an eye or an ear out.
Shopping divas can head straight to the air-conditioned comfort of T Galleria, a retail Mecca for the discerning traveller, who should remember their passport and proof of forward travel to cash in on the duty-free discount on all items. Gleaming to the heavens with more luxury brands than you can shake a diamanté-encrusted stick at, this is heaven for those totally addicted to brands. Meanwhile, cultural brownie points can be picked up going to the National Museum next door, or you could say you’re going to the museum and, you know, just popped into T Galleria for a quick looksie – it would have been rude not to…
On the drive back into town, there’s another chance for a cultural, and indeed nutritional, feed-up at the FCC Angkor, which has its own little shopping complex including a gallery belonging to iconic Angkor photographer John McDermott (not to be missed) and an outlet for Madagascan-French fashion designer Eric Raisina, who is the poster boy for high fashion in Cambodian and whose vibrant, elegantly floaty designs has graced catwalks around the world.
Kandal Village is a recent development on the Siem Reap scene, that kind of grew up by accident but has turned into a real sort of bohemian quarter – without all the drama – and is definitely worth a look. Here, you’ll find lingerie at Tiffany (all the expat ladies say “ye-ah! ye-ah!!”), the most wonderful range of beautiful “things” at trunkh., gorgeously tailored and not-so-expensive clothes at Sirawan, sunglasses and eye glasses at Eye See (together with their French-trained optician), and fabulous scented things at Saarti. There is so much more to Kandal Village, but we’d be here forever – just go and have a look and you’ll see.
Shopping in Siem Reap is not always for the faint-hearted. Everything is kind of scattered. We think the best “areas” are definitely around Kandal Village, but if you want more things within easy reach of each other, then Alley West near Pub Street is also well worth a meander. There you’ll find Smateria, which for over a decade has been selling a delectable selection of colourful bags and accessories all infused with the elegance of Italian design, but with the added cool of Khmer craftmenship reviving and repurposing local fabrics. Popular items include flower key rings, laptop and iPad sleeves, pochettes, and shoulder and handbags. As a social enterprise, employees work in fantastic conditions, with their children given free preschool.