A group of young Khmer artisans meticulously carve apsaras on a wooden ornamental vase.
Sculptures & Carvings
Silk and Textiles
Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles
Sculptures and Carvings
Khmer Angkor Art Workshop
Silk and Silver
The ubiquitous Khmer scarves are found and worn everywhere, and worn by all, paupers and princes, farmers and warriors. A krama with its traditional checkered pattern is as old as the Khmer. A Khmer never strays afar from his/her krama, which has a multitude of uses: fashion, decoration, scarf, towel, baby carrier, hats, banner, wrapper etc. Silk kramas are usually worn on formal occasions, cotton kramas are worn daily. The Khmer like to think that their friends (and enemies) know them from their kramas.
What to buy at Siem Reap markets and souvenir shops
Markets (Phsar) Shopping
Phsars, literally "markets" are where Cambodians purchase anything from fresh fish and vegetables, tools for home improvements, jungle knifes for field expeditions, bibelots for friends and relatives, to CDs, DVDs and books. Phsars usually offer better deals than individual shops and shopping centres, although the latter would have the upper hand for electronics. Phsars tend to specialise in specific types of goods (garments, textiles, shoes, bags, watches, food etc) but usually offer a wide range of products. Those who have no taste for bartering and haggling are better off shopping at commercial centres where there is less variation in prices... It is best to shop at sun rise (6 or 7 am): shopkeepers believe that the first customers are to be treated fairly as they are good omen for the rest of the day. Foreigners tend to be charged higher prices than Cambodians, but it will probably not more than a few dollars. Unlike in other Southeast Asian countries, the starting price is customarily in the range of 10-20% of the going price. Thus, if a salesperson asks for ten dollars, his/her minimum price is closer to seven dollars than it is to five.
Go for: Souvenirs and books
Phsar Chas, the "Old Market", was constructed in the 1920s, and together with the Grand Hotel form the historic core of the city of Siem Reap. The French Quarter and the provincial administrative offices were organised around Phsar Chas, with roads leading to the temples constructed at about the same period. Whether shopping is your thing or not, you'll probably end up at the Old Market. Phsar Chas mainly caters to foreign visitors, although local city slickers are able to bargain Cambodian prices for the odd souvenir or t-shirt. There is a small vegetable and meat section, as well as some food stalls for freshly squeezed juices and basic dishes. Discerning collectors will be able to discover fine textiles, scarves, statues, carvings among the jumble of mass produced cheap trinkets for friends and families. There are precious rare curios to be found, as long as one as enough time to explore. Our preference goes to the book stalls which offer essential readings on Angkor and Khmer culture at a fraction of the prices one would find elsewhere.
Go for: Clothes and seamstresses, bags, shoes, souvenirs and a small food court
Phsar Kandal and the Chinese style shophouses located to the North of Siem Reap's French Quarter were completed just a few years ago. Clothes and souvenirs are generally more moderately priced than at Phsar Chas. However, moderate bargaining remains necessary: US $2-3 for a t-shirt, US $4-6 for a pair of sandals, US $10 for khaki trousers, US $10 for a backpack etc. Try shopping for fabric and have the seamstresses copy your favourite clothes with dazzling dexterity. We are regular patrons at the small food court which serves a variety of Khmer and Asian dishes at reasonable prices. Kandal Market does not have the historical charms of the Old Market but is a convenient shopping experience.
Phsar Leu Thom Thmey
Go for: Groceries, textiles, everyday clothes, mosquito nets, electronics etc.
Phsar Leu, the original Upper Market, a wooden structure, was torn down to be replaced by the "New Big Upper Market", located along National Road 6 on the outskirts of Siem Reap. Phsar Leu is the largest market in Siem Reap Province and is a favourite of local city slickers for grocery shopping, shopping for everyday clothes, kitchenware, textiles by the metre (both imports and Khmer silk), camping equipment for out of town excursions, spare parts for motorbikes and cars, electronics, home improvements tools and just about anything. Some visitors may venture here for an occasional snapshot of the "Real Cambodia", as guidebooks in the know would advertise. A bit of sign language and our tips on Khmer idioms should be adequate for straightforward purchases and a true local shopping experience.
Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT)
House #472, Road to Tonle Sap Lake, South of Siem Reap - Tel (063) 964 437
Go for: Khmer silk and textiles
"I like cooking. But it might be a bit misleading. Actually what I mean is that I like to eat delicious food," so writes Morimoto Kikuo on his blog at the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles. A native of Japan, Morimoto San has spent more than a decade in Cambodia exploring traditional silk fabrics and dye, and in his Japenglish lingua "tackling revival and activation". Honoured by His Majesty King Sihamoni for his contribution to the preservation of Cambodia's textiles, this yuzen master (Japanese silk weaving and dyeing) hailing from Kyoto, has set up a workshop with Khmer artisans where visitors may witness what beautiful patterns and arabesques "the memories of hands" can weave. The Institute is a must stop for those interested in traditional textiles and those shopping for high quality silks.
Khmer Angkor Art Workshop
Phum Tropeang Seh, NE Kantha Bopha Hospital, Siem Reap - Tel (012) 990 603
Go for: Wood carvings and stone sculptures
The term "Khmer Angkor" specifically refers to the Khmer of Angkor, i.e. the warrior builders, or their descendants, those living in the villages surrounding the temples of Angkor. A visit to the workshop shows throngs of young artisans carving figures from Khmer mythology out of wood and stone. Sculptures and statues are readily available for purchase but can also be tailored to order to snuggly fit your curio cabinet back home. Giant statues for pagodas or private gardens take several months to complete, and can later be shipped with the necessary customs paperwork to your palatial residence. The workshop provides abundant opportunities for shopping for handcrafted souvernirs. Prices at Khmer Angkor have been reasonable when compared to other carving workshops in Siem Reap, without undermining quality craftsmanship.
#153 Sivatha Boulevard, Siem Reap - Tel (012) 481 894
Go for: Silk, silver and spices
Rajana is a non profit association of Cambodian artisan which tries to promote income generation while preserving traditional crafts. Rajana stands in Khmer for art, artists, design or artistically creative. The association has a few outlets in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap where small producers are able to sell , silk scarves and wall hangings, earrings, necklaces and other jewelry. Your fistful of dollars spent here might help a household making ends meet. Guilt free shopping anyone?
Off National Road 6, Road to Bakong - Tel (012) 576 715
Go for: Cups, mugs, plates, vases and other traditional Khmer ceramics
On the road to Prasat Bakong, just off National Road 6, one may easily overlook a group of small bungalows on the right hand side. With donor support, this small association of Cambodian potters and artists has painstakingly tried to rediscover and preserve Khmer ceramics. Mainly trendy hotels and restaurants in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh order their signature cocktail vases and coffee cups from this workshop. The shapes and colours are unmistakenly Khmer and provide an opportunity for a bit of Khmer earthenware and ceramics shopping while temple hopping.