Unlike many other Southeast Asian cities, Cambodia’s capital has only recently seen an emergence of shopping malls, but don’t be expecting anything like the air-conditioned shopping centers found in Bangkok or back home. Instead, head for the many street markets and get sucked in to the huge collections of handicrafts, antiques, and silks available. As in most marketplaces in Southeast Asia, bartering is the norm. Never accept the first price given, don’t show too much interest in a product (especially if you want it!), and try to keep the process jovial and polite.
A major shopping area of Cambodia remains the capital’s Psah Tmhey (Central Market), an outstanding piece of Art Deco architecture built by the French in the 1930’s. It is one of Phnom Penh’s major tourist attractions due to the wide variety of goods available at low prices. Anything from Chinese coins, swords, and handicrafts, to cheap Levis, electronic goods, and flowers can be found in this vibrant, garishly decorated dome.
One thing to keep an eye out for at the stalls of Phnom Penh’s markets is the abundance of cheap brand name clothes. With an economy dominated by garment production, some products slip through the cracks and end up being sold at a fraction of the price you’d pay back home. However, Cambodia’s number one shopping attraction is its world-renowned silk and textiles, much of which is still hand-woven and naturally dyed. Most of the silk farms are located near to Siem Reap, so this is one of the best areas to shop for top quality textiles.
Sculpting is big business in Cambodia, with locals carrying on the prized tradition of their forefathers. On many streets you’ll see shops bursting with stone sculptures of Buddhas, Jayavarman VI, and Hindu deities, varying in size, quality, and price. Woodcarving is also a strong part of Cambodian heritage. Again, you’ll see many reproductions of deities and Buddhas which make for excellent souvenirs to take back home. Many antiques can be found around the markets also, but it’s worth remembering that counterfeits are commonplace in this part of the world, so always inspect your supposed bargain closely before purchase.