Friday, January 27, 2012

Shopping Cambodian Style

I sometimes wonder if people who take a short vacation actually get a true picture of what a place is really like.  I mean, REALLY like.  I doubt it.  I'm speaking from my own experiences: of travelling for a limited number of days, and wanting to see and do as much as possible in that short time, of going on tours, and being whisked from one site (and sight) to another with barely enough time to absorb the magnitude and wonder of it all. 

I'm not saying that type of travel is wrong.  I've absolutely enjoyed every second of whirlwind trips where I've been able to take in so much.  I wouldn't change those times for all the tea in China.  However, living in a foreign place rather than visiting, and experiencing local day-to-day life, including daily shopping, brings a totally different understanding.  Glimpsing into the lives of the inhabitants from this perspective is an opportunity few tourists ever have

Last year's post about  the Battambang market, and another that refers to the Old Market, may have shed some light on how the residents of Cambodia live, and go about their daily business.  Even so, I think there's still a lot more to show and tell.  In this post, I'm hoping to give you, my eight  nine readers, some insight into what we see and do when we go shopping.

This is how Gordon buys all his nails, hinges, screws, etc for his furniture projects.
It's a hole-in-the-wall 'hardware store' that sells everything and anything
that's connected to building, including squat toilets, tools, plywood (but not lumber.)
There are no price tags, and no nicely labelled shelves.
If you don't see it, you have to ask for it, which can get tricky if you don't speak Khmer.
Bargaining is always expected, and as 'barangs' (foreigners) we are fairly certain
that we will be paying higher prices than locals. 
Although selection is extremely limited, prices are still much better than back home.

Most tourists who come to Siem Reap end up at Old Market, or Phsar Chas, as the locals refer to it.  I still like to wander through the core of Old Market, which is a dimly lit, bustling hub of activity, where some locals still buy their meat, fish & produce.  Sadly, the outside of this market that most tourists see is tainted by commercialism, and ringed by souvenir sellers that shout "Hello, Lady!! Buy some-sing?'  At every stall, hucksters flog wares labelled 'Made in Cambodia' that come straight off the truck from China.  Shop owners ask ridiculous prices for inferior products and tourists haggle them down and think they're getting a great deal.

Lately, we prefer to shop where the Khmers shop, either at Phsar Samaki or Phsar Leu, neither of which have English names ('phsar' is Khmer for 'market').  There are no souvenir sellers, and we can wander at leisure through the hundreds of stalls, without worry of being harassed.  A world unto themselves, these markets are the place to buy literally everything - jewellery, clothing, housewares, hardware, electronics, fresh produce, a quick lunch or snack, whatever your heart desires...And if it isn't there, there's probably someone that can get it for you. 

You can tell when you are approaching Phsar Leu, bercause the traffic begins to bog down.
Motos, cars and people cross in front of oncoming traffic.
Amazingly, nobody seems to be in a hurry, and road rage is unheard of here.

Traffic is four and five across on our side of this two lane highway.

Close to the market,a bridge crosses an open sewer.
The walkway narrows,so we leave off walking on the road,
and cut in front of some shops.
We cross the sewer 'canal' on this rickety bridge.
The smell can be overwhelming,
and holding your breath here is highly recommended! 

A flower vendor bringing her stock to market
in a large woven basket that she carries on her back.
I wonder how far she has walked with this heavy load.

At the market entrance we encounter a crush of people, cars, and motos.
I wonder if the lady on this moto knows
what the English words on her T-shirt say.

Lines and lines of motos are parked outside the market

We stop for a snack at a cart selling piping hot barbequed bananas.
You can get three on a stick for 1000 riel (25 cents) - Delicious!!!

Inside there are hundreds of stalls selling just about anything imaginable.
This T-shirt is typical of the poorly-worded English on clothing.

More crazy English on a carry bag.
How about a pair of flip-flops decorated with fake banana bunches?

Lots and lots of fabrics to choose from if you care to sew your own clothing,
or have something tailored.

I could stay here all day and stare at all the lovely colours and patterns

Some stalls sell sewing notions.
Sequins, beads, needles, thread, you name it.
All at riidiculously low prices.
 (Don't ask how much.  It will make you sick.)

How many sewing machines did you have in mind?

In the narrow streets that encircle the market bulding,
vendors sell every kind of fresh produce you can imagine.

Vendors bring along their children.
Aren't they just beautiful?

These two sweet old ladies are selling some kind of roots.
Shaved heads on women is often an indication that they are Bhuddist nuns,
or women that help in the pagoda, cooking for the monks..

Some sort of jelly dessert,  just sitting in the open air.
Looks like sesame seeds on top, and maybe a bean mixture in the middle layer.
I've found that these 'sweets' are much less sweeter than we are accustomed to.

Pigs' heads and an assortment of slabs of meat.
Oh my!!!

Fresh pork being delivered on the back of a moto.
You can be sure these chickens are fresh.  They're still alive.
They don't seem to be upset or agitated, despite their fate.....
Perhaps they drug them, because they are just lolling around.

These chickens are not quite as fresh.

Do you think he has room for a few more bags?
Loading down bikes like this is quite typical.

Every time we wander out, there's always something new and different to see. 
It's such a fascinating world.


  1. LOVE your blog - thanks so for sharing!

  2. It is like taking a tour of the market. What an adventure.
    Love Rita