How To Enjoy Phnom Penh's Phsars

In Khmer, Phsar is a market and Phnom Penh has great traditional markets that are really fun and really international.....well....sort of! Some of these, like the Russian Market and the Central Market are very popular to tourists as they are colourful and filled with better products, too. These two are part of every tourist itinerary in Phnom Penh as they not only offer the avid shopper lots of really inexpensive souvenirs but also glimpses of the local culinary culture from deep fried cockroaches to sparrow like Colonel Saunders imitations.  You get even more of color in the even more traditional markets not frequented by tourists but just as lively and more colorful, as Cambodians  buy their everyday needs from these places. In fact, when you take a walk in the city, you often come across street or neighborhood markets. From pots and pans to cloth and shirts and every tropical vegetable and fruit imaginable....they sell them really local prices. But if you are only visiting, try exploring any of the following....AND TAKE YOUR CAMERA!

Step 1

Central Market. Constructed in 1935, this Art Deco gem is one of the city's landmarks. To the Khmers, it is called Phsar Thmei, which means New Market but to the foreigners, Central Market just caught on. As you enter, you are met by street hawkers selling all kinds of souvenirs, curios, post cards and t-shirts. Look at the delicacies on display and get your camera out. You will see fried insects and cockroaches. In the center are all the stalls selling gold, watches (of somewhat suspect provenance) and jewelry. As you go past the jewelry, you will see clothes, fish, meat, fruits, flowers, vegetables and tables serving cooked food. You will also find tailors and seamstresses lined up sewing all kinds of things. This market is an easy walk from the Sisowath riverfront.

Step 2

Russian Market. Phsar Toul Tom Poung to the locals, this market is not at all an architectural landmark with its small alleyways and chaotic roofs but it offers better selection of curios and  DVDs and CDs (once again, of dubious provenance). Just like the Central Market, there are rows of tailors and seamstresses ready to do anything you want from simple alterations to elaborate gowns. There are food stalls, paint (fine arts) stores, hardware and housewares made of ceramics, paper mache, wood, lacquer, and other local materials. Some of the items are well designed and crafted. You can also buy silk here, glorious locally hand-woven silk and other fabrics as well. The locally woven cotton from the Kampot PTC (Provincial Training Center) is worth buying as it is made of natural fiber and dye. It does not wrinkle much and is very comfortable to wear made up into shirts.

Step 3

Old Market. Phsar Chas to the locals, this market is mostly for the locals who come here to buy fruits, vegetables, housewares and hardware, motor cycle parts and religious items. If you want to have a glimpse of the local culture, visit this one.

Step 4

Phsar Kandal. Almost like the Old Market especially in the things it sells as it caters mostly to locals. However, as it is not far from the riverfront, tourists often find their way to the noodle shops around here. As there are many Vietnamese living around the area, so Pho abounds and the market reflects the Viet influence.

Step 5

Olympic Market. So named because of its location close to the Olympic stadium, this market sells clothes especially those coming from Hong Kong and Korea, food, textiles, shoes, jewelry and other items popular to the locals. It also has end-of - roll textiles from the local garment industry so you can get amazing bargains in fabrics here.

Of course, with the increase in tourist arrivals, a night market was started to cater to the expectation that there be a night market. This one is located close to the riverfront in the park between Street 108 and 106. For now, it only opens on weekends starting at around 5 p.m. The more interesting shopping options if you are a serious shopper are the Central and Russian markets. But if you want to get some interesting photos, try the ones less frequented by tourists. Ask permission to take photos of people. Do NOT take a wallet or purse. Do NOT take a back pack. Phnom Penh can be almost as bad as American and European cities when it comes to pocket dipping. But it is safe and a great place to taste some Asia.


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