Memento moments: Cambodia’s best shops

With vibrant markets, unique boutiques and products galore, hit the shops and bring back more than just memories

Illustration by Natalie Phillips

Siem Reap

The starting point for any shopping extravaganza in Cambodia’s Temple Town lies in the maze of stalls that make up the Old Market, known as Psar Chaa in Khmer and set within easy reach of Siem Reap’s languid river.

Iluustration by Natalie Phillips
Iluustration by Natalie Phillips

Within the dim walkways of this square edifice, vendors sell myriad items, from flip-flops and T-shirts to fruit, vegetables and spices. With sights, smells and hubbub aplenty, it provides a great chance to get an impression of local life and hone your bargaining skills in the process.

From this central spot, it’s a short jaunt to another hive of activity: the alleyways that run adjacent to Pub Street. Home to a hodgepodge of fashionable boutiques, restaurants and bars, hours can be whiled away exploring its merchandise. The quality jewellery of Garden of Desire and the handmade pots and cups of Khmer Ceramics and Fine Arts Centre are just two standout spots.

Another burgeoning haven for shopaholics can be found at Kandal Village, centred around Hup Guan Street, a five-minute walk from the river. A world away from the hustle and bustle of market life, visitors can amble along a peaceful road, lined with colourful two-storey shop-houses, while discovering the diverse wares offered by this close-knit, and ever-creative, community.

Trunkh contains a veritable treasure trove of eclectic products, and every carefully sourced item tells a story, from the animal figurines crafted from Kampot river mud to tin pigs inspired by a hand-painted shop sign found in Pursat province. Sirivan and Louise Loubatieres are just a couple more of the unique shops that will tempt the village’s visitors, who can wash away a hard day’s shopping with a potent coffee at a local favourite, the Little Red Fox Espresso.

Siem Reap is also a centre for traditional skills, a fact perhaps best demonstrated at the fascinating workshops of the long-running organisation Artisans Angkor. Wander through its gardens to see stone, metal and wood specialists practising their crafts. Beautiful silk scarves, lotus-inspired jewellery and large statues are just some of the quality items available at the connected showroom.

Senteurs d’Angkor, a purveyor of perfumed products that launched in 1999, offers another eye-opening learning experience. From its central shop, visitors can hop in a free tuk tuk to its production facility, where friendly guides explain processes such as making soap, weaving containers and shaping incense. Back at Psar Chaa, Kaya Boutique, an offshoot of Senteurs, offers a range of quality natural and essential oil-based products, including scrubs and creams, for skin, body, hair and home.

Pride in local products is also abundantly clear at the Made in Cambodia Market. Held regularly in the grounds of the Shinta Mani Resort, stallholders offer a variety of quality wares, including hand-woven blankets and imaginative artwork. And, if your feet can take the strain, why not finish off the day at the atmospheric Angkor Night Market. Another sprawling labyrinth awash with local stalls, it’s the perfect spot to haggle the night away.

Phnom Penh

As the Kingdom’s commercial centre, it’s no surprise that the city has a thriving shopping scene. At the core of this, however, are the capital’s vibrant markets.

A must-see site is the soaring art deco architecture of Central Market, or Psar Thmei, which translates as ‘new market’ in English. Despite its name, this fascinating building is far from modern. Dating back to the 1930s, it consists of a four-armed, yellow building linked by a central dome. The well-ventilated wings brim with knick-knacks, electronics, clothing and fresh produce but in this well-zoned bazaar it’s the jewellery sellers who claim the best spot – under the dramatic high ceilings of the market’s light-strewn central hall.

In contrast, the atmospheric Russian Market, known as Psar Tuol Tom Poung, is a more claustrophobic affair, with shoppers often elbow-to-elbow while navigating its dark passageways. Nevertheless, it’s the best spot in the city for purchasing collectables, with art, vintage posters, the classic chequered krama scarves and traditional animal-shaped silver betel nut boxes decorating overflowing stalls.

And, if you’re strong of will, Orussey Market perhaps provides the ultimate, and most intense, consumer experience. Tourists might not be the target market for its dizzying array of kitchenware, sewing supplies and seeds, but the heaving, warren-like environs of this multi-storey monolith are a fascinating insight into city life. Just try not to get lost.

For those who prefer a more tranquil experience, the wide boulevards of the capital house plenty more boutiques and smaller stores that provide a recipe for a relaxing day of retail therapy.

Bodia Nature, which has two outlets around town and sells its produce in the popular pharmacy chain U-Care, offers bath and beauty products packed with natural ingredients to soothe and relax. Its Ratanakiri coffee scrub and turmeric bathroom pack make perfect gifts.

Fashionistas can also sate their appetites thanks to a clutch of inspired designers operating in the Kingdom. Tonlé, set on the riverside, is a purveyor of casual, ethical fashion, whilst Tamarind-lined Street 240, near the Royal Palace, is home to a range of sophisticated stores and friendly cafés. Check out the original designs of Daisy Boutique and the bohemian style of A.N.D for a fashion kick.

And no shopping guide can be complete without mentioning the latest kid on the block: Aeon. This Japanese-run mega mall is the height of modernity with branches of Mango, Monument Books and many, many more gracing its gleaming, air-conditioned interiors.

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