There’s more to life in Siem Reap than the usual temple run. From the smallest trinket and the lightest silk scarf to the biggest ceramic jar and the heaviest sculpture, Siem Reap is a temple of finds! Interesting shops of all sorts Cambodian fill every street corner of this densely tourist-populated city. With very indulging prices and persistent sellers, Siem Reap is every shopaholic’s paradise.
Shopping for souvenirs in Siem Reap can be both exciting and struggling. It is exciting because your dollar is something you can stretch to bags and bags of great finds. On the other hand, with multitude of choices and really aggressive vendors, the experience sometimes brings it to a real struggle.
So what makes a wise shopper in Siem Reap? Below are basic things to remember before you splurge your dollars in the happiest Cambodian find.
What can you buy in Siem Reap?
The choices for colorful Khmer-inspired clothes and accessories made of Cambodian cotton or silk are seemingly limitless. Shirts, sun dresses, shorts and what have yous are sure to make you dizzy. Best buys are traditional Khmer scarves and elephant shorts.
If you are into Asian-themed home decors & you have extra luggage space, Siem Reap is a wonderland. Exquisite sculptures of Buddha & dancing dieties, brass bells, paintings, ceramic wares among others can be very tempting.
It is also a treasure trove of hand made accessories like bracelets, anklets, necklaces, hats, scarves, bags and purses. They come in the finest raw and recycled materials, all for your indulgence.
What not to buy?
Unless you are an expert in gems, do not buy expensive stones, else you might end up just bringing home a colored piece of hard glass. Save yourself from immigration problems, don’t bring home elephant tusks (even replicas) and traditional bladed decors.
Where to buy?
Sivutha Road is the prime street for shopping. Start in Alley West, a small road filled with vibrant boutiques and galleries. These shops usually have better craftsmanship and are made of the finest material.
Phsar Chas known as the Old Market is filled with cheap bring-home items. They come in a great fraction of a price, just check the quality before any purchase.
Pub Street is best known as the party strip of Siem Reap but tucked in between these drinking and eating joints are small boutiques.
Night Market is usually clustered along the end of Sivutha Road. Check out some secondary streets too on this area and across the river for some good finds.
Temper your excitement.
Don’t get too excited to buy the moment you set foot in this heritage town. Shops are unbelievably everywhere and most of them are open until the wee hours of the night.
Bargain. Bargain. Bargain!
Always huddle the prices. Here, it is either you walk away or she turns away to the next customer.Value the item that you like but don’t bring it ridiculously low.
Useful phrase: klai na (expensive); cho klai (discount please)
Be firm to say NO.
Many sellers are very aggressive especially the children outside the temples. Some grab your elbows, tell sad stories, or even cry for a dollar sale. Just be polite but firm to say no.
Useful phrase: keom mien hai (I already have it.)
Get a local to buy.
In Siem Reap, a local Cambodian gets a different price. If you are buying an expensive item, request a local to buy it for you. You know what this means.
Move around first.
If you buy in temple areas, Old Market and Night Market, don’t waste too much time looking for the cheapest price because they are more or less the same. But it will help to move around first to do a quick price comparison. If you want special items with excellent craftsmanship, go to specialty shops like Artisan d’Angkor.
Help the community.
It might be a little effort to visit their villages but your dollar will go a long way to help some marginalized communities by buying their products. You can find them on the way to Angkor Wat or to the floating village.
Artist at work in Artisans d’Angkor. Photo Credit: www.kambodia.net
My Personal Recommendations
If you want to buy good quality Khmer souvenir, go straight to their workshops.
Artisan d’Angkor (Stung Thmey Street) and Theam’s House (Phum Veal) for traditional decorative materials.
Institute of Traditional Khmer Textiles (Svaydongkum Commune, along the river road), Samatoa Lotus Farm (on the way to Tonle Sap Lake) for items made of the finest cotton and silk.
Night Market along Sivutha Road for cheap and exciting finds.
Siem Reap thrives on its thousand-year old history. Its people breathe art and are no doubt translated into various creative art forms be it for commercial or personal aesthetic purposes. Shopping in Siem Reap is a great deal and maddening.
Betwixt and between the arthritic 40 and a horrendous body mass index of positive 30, escapism and yummyeology are my real-life double post-graduate degrees conferred with the highest honors.
I lived nearly half of my life in fancy suitcases, jetsetting between reality and fantasy... read more