Cambodia is famous for its temples and beautiful landscapes, but did you know it is rapidly becoming a popular regional shopping destination? It is home to a number of unique or special goods such as krama and woven silks, as well as bargains on jewelry and crafts of all kinds.
Cambodia is becoming a shopping destination due to the diversity of products you can find there, as well as the reasonable prices you can purchase them for. Shopping can easily be accomplished while simultaneously enjoying and learning about the local culture.
Many travelers find that interacting with local tradespeople as they create or sell their goods can be a great way to experience Cambodian culture.
What to expect
For the people of Cambodia the market is a central part of daily life; and markets are where most foreigners prefer to do their shopping. Markets are micro-societies that seem to function almost independently from the rest of the country, as the vendors provide each other with everything they might need.
Markets are lively and busy places. There are Day Markets (usually opening around 7-8 am and closing around 6 pm) and Night Markets (opening around 6 pm and closing around 11 pm).
Some markets specialize in one type of good while others are massive bazaars selling everything from gold to trinkets. No matter what type of market, you'll be sure to find something interesting.
What to shop for
Cambodia is famous for its high-quality crafts at reasonable prices. Below are some of the highlights.
Textiles and clothes
The krama is piece of traditional cloth with a multitude of uses: scarf, face wrap, hair tie, and more. The krama's popularity in the country is understandable. Finding a hand-woven krama can be an excellent way to remember your trip.
Hand-woven silk cloth dyed in any color or pattern you can imagine are found liberally around the markets. Some older pieces can acquire value over time and newer silk can be taken to a local tailor and made into clothing.
No matter your intention, you should not miss the silk bargains that can be found in Cambodia.
Arts and crafts
Hand-carved statues and betel-nut boxes
Hand-carved statues of the Buddha are a popular craft amongst locals. Such statues can be found at any market and range in size from finger-length to life-sized. Artists spend hours creating these statues and the detail is clear and impressive.
Betel-nut boxes are small, carved vessels made of silver or wood. Originally used to store betel nuts (hence their name) these lightweight and expertly-designed boxes make great souvenirs and can hold anything from thumbtacks to candy.
An authentic hand-carved statue will look unique and show signs of craftsmanship. Replicas are sometimes made from synthetic material. Look for a seam along the bottom of the statue. If it exists, you are holding a replica.
Paintings and rice paper prints
Cambodia's streets are filled with talented artists who, without an art gallery, take to the markets to support their trade. At most markets you can find a quiet painter working on a new piece. If you have enough money, you can commission a painting on the spot or choose from the selection at hand.
A cheaper alternative to a painting would be a rice paper print. Capture Cambodia's stunning landscape by taking home a charcoal rubbing on rice paper of one of the country's famous temples.
Noble metals and precious gems
Like its neighbors, Cambodia is a popular destination for travelers looking for affordably-priced luxury items. If you are looking for gold, silver, rubies, sapphires, or any other gemstone you are likely to find them in Cambodia.
The country does not currently regulate the prices of these goods, meaning there are bargains aplenty to be found. Craftsmanship is very affordable, so having a piece custom-made might be a good idea.
If you are going after high-end items, make sure you research international prices before you set off.
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Where to shop
You can buy the above-mentioned items almost anywhere in Cambodia. Shopping, however, is mainly focused in the two major cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Prices in these two cities are competitive, as are the selections.
Siem Reap is the home of some serious markets: the Central Market, the Old Market and the Made in Cambodia Market. Expect crowds and low prices, as you test your bartering skills in one of these iconic locations.
Central Market (Phsar Kandal)
The Central Market is on Sivatha Blvd, right near the city center. This market is a great stop for the dedicated shopper and the curious tourist alike. The Central Market truly represents market culture in Cambodia, with its size and diversity of wares.
Stop here if you like handicrafts and handmade souvenirs, or if you just want to try food at one of the many Khmer food stalls. This is an especially good market for watching artists at work.
Old Market (Psar Chas)
After the craft-filled Central Market you might be in the mood for something a little more authentic. The Old Market is still widely used by locals and does not only cater for tourists, so you will see much houseware and furniture, and many groceries there.
The Old Market has fresh produce, seafood, and flowers, and is especially easy and fun to explore early in the morning. It is located west of the river on Psar Chas Road, Siem Reap and is open from 7 am to 8 pm, daily.
Made in Cambodia Market
If you only have time to stop at one market, then it might be a good idea to choose the Made in Cambodia Market, due to the diversity of goods and activities here. This market is only open at weekends and on Tuesdays, from 4 pm to 9 pm, so do not miss out.
The market sells, as you have already surmised, only goods made in Cambodia. Jewelry, paintings, clothing, sombai (local liqueur), star anise (a Chinese spice), makeup, and carvings are just a few of the choices. All items are locally-made, so you can help support the local economy while picking up a souvenir.
In addition to shopping, the Made in Cambodia Market has weekend performances that range from the entertaining to the educational. Get there just as it opens on a Saturday to make sure you catch that week's show.
Phnom Penh is a bustling city with an active shopping population: both local and foreign. The city's markets are world-renowned, but it also has many modern malls and supermarkets for your convenience.
The Russian Market got its name from the large number of Russian expats who lived in the area in the 1980s. Today you can find almost anything there: paintings, antiques, shoes, silk, souvenirs, and more. Keep an eye out for fakes and knock-down items.
This winding market is used by both foreigners and locals, which makes it a wonderful cultural experience. It is also a popular destination for those looking for a quick snack, though be careful. The wet floors can make the food stalls a bit treacherous.
The market is located at the juncture of streets 440 and 155, south of the Mao Tse Toung Boulevard, Boeung Keng Kang 3, and is open from 6 am to 5 pm, daily.
The Central Market
Less crowded than the Russian Market (some say) and equally packed with goods and snacks, the Central Market is a popular stop for shoppers. The market features everything you would expect to find at the Russian Market.
In addition, the Central Market is renowned for its selection of gems and jewelry, artists and painters, so make sure you stop here if such things attract your fancy.
The Central Market was designed by a famous Cambodian architect, so it is worth a trip even if you do not plan to do much shopping. It is located on street 130, one block east of Monivong Boulevard, and is open from 7 am to 8 pm, daily.
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Tips on shopping in Cambodia
When shopping at a market, make sure you carry lots of Cambodian Riel in varying denominations. Vendors prefer cash and if you plan to barter, having the exact sum can prevent an uncomfortable situation when change is required.
If you prefer larger stores and shopping malls then your credit card will work, as it should at most hotels. If you are buying an expensive item like gold or jewelry, using a credit card can be a smart way to record the history of the transaction.
Bartering is common and widely accepted in Cambodia. In modern malls and chain stores, however, do not expect bartering to get you very far.
Out on the streets and in the markets it is a different story: you are recommended to offer around 75% of what the seller is asking. Many sellers intentionally increase the price of their goods with the expectation that foreigners will barter.
If you are not comfortable asking for a lower price, try walking away. When the vendor sees you losing interest they will often yell out a lower price to get you to return. They will never sell you something at a loss, so as long as you are happy with the price, go ahead and make the purchase!
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