Shopping is perhaps the other best thing to devote time to besides sightseeing. It is always good to take home a souvenir or two and for that, you would want to consider something native or perhaps something you can start a conversation over.
Cambodian fine silk pieces and textile materials are world renown. Moreover, Cambodia is a treasure trove for sculptures, carvings, silverwork and paintings. There are just so many things to shop for here in Cambodia.
Hand-woven Cambodian silks, stone and woodcarvings, statues and castings, contemporary Cambodian art, Cambodian handicrafts and traditional musical instruments, temple rubbings, silver betel containers, colored gems and basketry are among the most popular souvenirs. The most useful and one of the cheapest souvenirs that you can buy is a traditional checkered Cambodian scarf (Krama). If you don’t mind looking like a tourist, wear it around your neck like the locals to keep the intense tropical sun off the back of your neck.
What to buy
- Cambodian Silk – Cambodian silks are prized by silk collectors the world over. Most of the silk available in Cambodia is hand-loomed using the traditional ikat method of dying the threads and looming in the patterns. Both raw and fine silks are available in the form of bolts, sarongs, clothing and various handicrafts. Cambodian silk is available at the Russian Market and silk shops and boutiques across town, many specializing in silk creations such as tailored Asian and Euro-Asian fashions, fashion accessories and soft furnishings.
- Silverwork – Silver areca nut containers are popular traditional souvenirs. These pounded silver containers are ordinarily shaped as animals, fruits and vegetables, and were and to some degree still are used in ceremonial and everyday life to hold dried areca nut. (Areca nut, also known as ‘betel nut,’ is a mild stimulant that is chewed as one chews tobacco. You may notice some people in the countryside, especially older women, with teeth stained black from years of chewing areca.) Nowadays, the silver containers are made primarily for sale as souvenirs but are still hand crafted using traditional techniques and styles.
- Statues and Carvings – Statues and carvings of traditional subjects, often replicas of Angkorian-era works as well as Buddhas and various Hindu gods and personages, are available in stone, wood and brass. Statues make for relatively heavy, bulky souvenirs but are still very popular because of their beauty and artistic value. The replica of an Angkorian era bust of Jayavarman VII with its graceful lines and peaceful smile is truly captivating and is perhaps the most popular piece..
- Art – Over the last few of years Cambodia’s art scene has begun to blossom as a new generation of Cambodian artists takes the fore.
- Gems – Western Cambodia, particularly in the area of Pailin, is a fertile source of colored stones, particularly sapphires and rubies. In addition to the listed jewelers, gem dealers can be found at the Central Market and Russian Market. Know something about gems and/or know your jeweler before spending much money.
Shopping in Siem Reap
Siem Reap is an excellent place to buy Cambodian souvenirs, silks, handicrafts, textiles and contemporary art. Only Phnom Penh offers a comparable selection. In addition to the tradition shopping venues, over the last few of years there has been an explosion of new shops, galleries and boutiques, offering a varied selection of quality handicrafts and silks as well as original artistic creations in a variety of media.
- Phsar Chas (Old Market) is one of Siem Reap’s largest traditional covered markets and offers the largest selection of souvenirs under one roof in town. In fact, this market is really a ‘must visit’ in itself for the unique, colorful, local shopping experience. Of all the local markets, the Old Market offers the widest variety of souvenirs as well as the best selection of handicrafts and curios, including such items as traditional silverwork, silks, baskets, statuary, carvings and traditional musical instruments. See the Old Market area map.
- Angkor Night Market is new night market promises an interesting after hours shopping venue.
- Individual little boutiques, art and photo galleries are scattered across the town, though there is a concentration of places in the Old Market area. The boutiques tend to offer higher quality, more unique and sophisticated selections of items than the Old Market – some focusing on Cambodian silks and tailoring, others on high quality handicrafts, NGO-based crafts, Asian-inspired photographic and artistic creations or specialty items such as local candles, spices and teas. Perhaps most interestingly, a new generation of Cambodian artists is making its mark and contemporary Cambodian art is coming to the fore after decades of silence.
Shopping in Phnom Penh
- Central Market (Phsar Thmey) – The distinctive yellow domed Phsar Thmey (also known as the ‘Central Market’) is a ‘must see,’ both as a historic and architecturally interesting building and as a shopping destination. The Central Market is a good place to pick up souvenirs, books, and if you now what you are doing, gems and jewelry. Souvenir vendors line the entrance walkway offering statuary, silverwork, handicrafts, silks and kramas, carvings, photocopy books and postcards and the largest selection of souvenir t-shirts and caps and town. The central dome of the main building houses an amazing display of jewelry and gems.
- Russian Market (Phsar Toul Tom Poung) – Of all the traditional markets, the Russian Market offers the largest selection of souvenirs, curios and other items of interest to the visitor. The south side is the place to begin your shopping foray, lined inside and out with stalls selling carvings, handicrafts, silks and fabrics, curios, CDs and inexpensive electronic goods. This market offers the largest selection of bootlegged VCDs and DVDs in town, with vendors located near southeast entrance. There are also several fabric vendors making it a good place to pick up fabric to take to the tailor. (This market became the foreigner’s market during the 1980’s when most of the foreigners were Russians, hence the name ‘Russian Market).