Siem Reap markets – a myriad of colour and character

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You know it’s got to be done. Friends at home will be waiting in expectation to hear your tales, see your photos and receive some obscure gift you have anticipated they would like in a mild moment of panic buying… Souvenir shopping, for some, is a last-minute purchase at the airport, a quick ‘oh I am sure they will like it, let’s get it and go’ or an afternoon of exploration of cultural experiences which combined can be a fun activity especially in Siem Reap.

‘Laideee Laideee’ will be all you will hear if you spend the afternoon at the markets coupled with ‘You want to buy scarf?’ once you get over the initial frustration of the extra syllables and the realisation that you are going to buy at least one scarf (well, lets face it, they are beautiful and so cheap, too) you will have an amusing experience visiting Siem Reap’s markets.

Old Market (Psar Chas) is a myriad of character, colour and the bizarre. Despite its souvenir stalls around the edges, once you get inside you will find yourself lost amongst shoes, plastic kitchenware and hairdressers! The bustling food market is a must to engage all your senses. You will see lots of colourful fruits and vegetables, you will hear the market babble of seller to buyer and you will smell, not the most pleasant of smells. The market place is a hive of activity especially early morning when the local restaurateurs and guesthouse owners buy their fresh goods for the day.

Center Market is set up for the tourist with rows upon rows of tourist goods. If it’s that ‘Same Same, but different’ t-shirt you are looking for or a new backpack, this is the place to come.

Newly opened, the Noon to Night Market is clean and bright, but lacks the character of Old Market. Prices are cheaper than the Night Market, which is further back. It seems to stock much the same as Old Market and Central Market, but less dusty!

The Night Market not only has a good range of shopping, it offers a little more than just souvenir stands. The Landmine Victim Band welcomes you at the entrance playing traditional Khmer music, (they sell their CDs too). In the Island Bar you can chill and have a drink. You can even go to the movies. The Movie Mall on a daily basis shows three documentaries demonstrating Cambodia’s past, the landmine situation and how the lake people make a living from the world’s largest snake harvest.

It has a number of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) selling their wares in a positive way to connect the tourist dollar with local community projects. Organisations train and employ disadvantaged youths, women or men in a variety of skills, which can help lift them and their family free from poverty. Osmose and the Silk Lab are great ones to support with some good products to buy, too! You will also find a stall of photographs for sale. The pictures are taken by the incredible Deborah Groves who through the sales of her pictures has set up the charity Helping Hands and helps rural villages in the provision of clean water and healthcare.

The last treat of the day after all that walking about, and any girl knows how her feet ache after a tremendous amount of shopping, why not take a massage? A Dr Fish massage? The new trend in London has come to Siem Reap and at US$ 3 a go it’s a fun experience in a ticklish kind of way. After a quick wash down of your feet, you submerge your pinkies in a small pond of unique fish that enjoy (…!!) nibbling the dead skin on your feet or as the leaflet says ‘so can remove horny substance of foot’. Their sales banner says it all ‘If we don’t make you happy you don’t pay’, but seeing as the first 5 minutes is a sequence of ‘one toe first’ nerves and hilarity I don’t suppose there are many refunds. Word of advice, don’t be the first ones in… the fish haven’t eaten all day and they are rather hungry!!

However, if it’s the new you are looking for there has been an influx of new shopping centres being built around town. They have been built for the locals and used by the locals who come to experience the shiny newness, the escalators and fast food. In time there will be more openings including the Museum Mall with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Despite their growth and appeal, the traditional markets still offer an afternoon of cultural exchange and amusement not to be missed!

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