A Tour of the Markets of Phnom Penh
Where to Buy What in the Capital of Cambodia
From handmade silk and intricate carvings to pungent dried fish and imitation electronics or pirated DVDs, Phnom Penh is host to multiple interesting markets where you can find any number of domestic and imported goods. We have created this handy, no-nonsense little guide to help you determine which market is best for your shopping needs.
Central Market (Phsar Thmei)
An iconic location in downtown Phnom Penh, the Central Market has been in operation since 1937. If you’ve ever seen any movie filmed or set in Cambodia, you’ve seen an image of Phsar Thmei. Briefly closed during the Khmer Rouge occupation, the market has come back strong and is on the must-see list for every tourist visiting Phnom Penh. The beautiful art deco building with its enormous ceilings and wide corridors is home to the coolest, breeziest, and cleanest market you can find in town.
Everything you can imagine is on offer here from electronics, jewelry, household items, and clothes to paintings, sculptures, flowers, and more. Being a big tourist trap, prices are a bit higher here than some of the other markets although the shopping experience will be more enjoyable than the stifling heat, offensive smells, and grime you’ll deal with in some of the cheaper locations. Central Market is your best bet to find gold, precious gems and other jewelry, as the quality will be better than what you’ll find in the other markets. There are also a number of gold shops facing Phsar Thmei from the surrounding street.
Central Market offers the freshest and most varied food selection, so if food shopping is on your list, it’s a good choice. Make sure to arrive early before all of the best food and produce has been picked through. Arriving just after the market opens also ensures that the meats you are buying haven’t been sitting out in the heat for too long. There are also a number of Cambodian street food snacks available. Wandering the isles of carts and sampling some of the unique dishes Cambodia has to offer is a great way to spend the afternoon. Plop yourself down on one of the kindergarten-sized plastic stools and enjoy a tasty treat right alongside the locals.
Russian Market (Phsar Toul Tompong)
Russian Market, not to be confused with Orussei Market, is your best bet for fascinating souvenirs from all over Cambodia. A large selection of intricately carved sculptures and wall décor as well as a number of unique, handmade silks weaves and traditional outfits are on display. They can also be purchased for more reasonable prices than you’ll find in Central Market. Vendors will call out to you from every stall as you pass by trying to persuade you into purchasing some of their goods. Be prepared for pushy salespeople and ready to bargain hard. Prices often start at two or three times the expected selling point.
Large and small paintings of all types can be found for prices ranging from $5 for the smaller ones to $30 or $40 for large 3ft x 5ft full wall coverings. A number of tourist-sized t-shits, yoga pants, and sundresses line many of the stalls and can be had for prices as low as $1.50. If you’re in the mood to buy some larger sculptures or more unique and expensive items, try checking out some of the shops lining the surrounding streets.
Russian Market is cramped, hot, and dirty. There will be no breeze blowing through to give you any relief due to its low ceiling, overstuffed shops, and small hallways. Be sure to bring along a bottle of water as you can easily get dehydrated in the heat and humidity.
Orussei Market (Phsar Orussei)
Mainly geared towards Cambodians looking for a variety of household goods, you can find everything you need in Phsar Orussey except souvenirs. It’s large, crowded, and noisy; so be prepared to be hustled and jostled along as you peruse the vendors’ stalls. It’s an interesting place to visit in order to get an idea how the Cambodians buy a number of their daily household goods. Stalls are piled high with items ranging from colorful spices, baguettes, vegetables, and giant sacks of rice to cooking utensils, pirated DVDs or CDs, toiletries, electronics, pots and pans, and much more. Orussei Market also has numerous vendors selling wholesale goods to local businesses.
Night Market (Phsar Rea Try)
The Phnom Penh Night Market is mainly geared towards tourists and opens from 6:00 p.m. to midnight, Friday to Sunday. It offers a relatively limited selection of touristy items that can easily be found for better prices at Russian Market. The nice thing about visiting the Night Market is its open-air location right next to the beautiful Tonle Sap Riverfront, the large variety of street food and late night snacks, and the live Khmer music concerts.
Due to its small size, paltry selection, and high prices, I wouldn’t consider it much of a shopping destination in and of itself. Your best bet is to plan on a stroll by the riverfront to do some people watching of Cambodian families enjoying a night out, or involved in some kind of sporting activity like hacky sack or badminton. If you’re there around 6:00 p.m., you can catch a large group of Cambodians involved in daily aerobics complete with loud music and synchronized movements. Then take a wander through the Night Market perusing the goods and sampling a variety of foods on offer while enjoying the live music. If eating street food at the market isn’t to your taste, just saunter back up the riverfront and eat at one of the many rooftop restaurants while enjoying the pleasant breeze and fantastic views.
Afterwards, if you’re up for some late night drinking and partying, you’ll already be in the right location. The riverfront area happens to be one of the main late night entertainment areas of Phnom Penh. There are a number of western-oriented bars and clubs within easy walking distance.
Along with the markets I’ve listed in this guide, Phnom Penh offers a number of other markets such as Olympic Market, Boueng Keng Kang Market, Kandal Market, and the Old Market. Other than the Old Market, where a number of food vendors set up along the street after 4:00 p.m. offering a variety of adventuresome eats (anybody up for some grilled snake or deep fried bugs?), these markets are generally of little interest to the average tourist. However, if you are game to taking a deeper look into the Cambodian psyche you can always try checking them out.
Olympic Market is located inside a large, unremarkable building out near the Olympic Stadium where vendors sell mostly clothing, fashion accessories, or rolled textiles from local garment factories. Boeng Kang Keng Market also sells fashion accessories along with household supplies, meats, and produce. At Kandal Market you’ll find the majority of the vendors selling fresh food and produce with the odd stall selling clothes or other fashion accessories.
If you are visiting Phnom Penh, it would be a shame to pass up the opportunity to see the variety of markets, which are not just tourist curiosities but a huge part of local ritual life.
|After years spent living and working the stressed out life of a business owner in America, Brett Dvoretz finally decided to follow his dreams and move to an exotic land. He sold all his stuff, packed some clothes, and hopped on a plane with his 130lb mastiff in tow. Now he spends his days running a web development business, freelance travel writing from the beautiful beaches of Cambodia, and exploring the countryside on his crappy old motorcycle.