A Guide to Shopping in Phnom Penh

April 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Culture, Exotic South East, Feature Highlights

Believe it or not, the Cambodian Capital of Phnom Penh is a shopper’s paradise. From amazingly good quality housewares to cheap clothing, tourists can get good deals and mingle with the locals at the same time. The markets in the city are slightly less touristic than those in the temple town of Siem Reap, meaning big bargains and a more authentic experience for those travelers willing to brave the aisles.

A Word about Currency

Cambodia uses the US Dollar as its main currency (unofficially), with the local currency Riel used for amounts under one dollar. Most vendors will have change if you need it, although I would suggest not bringing huge bills, especially when some stalls might not have seen many sales that day.

Unique hand-crafted items for your perusal. Photo credit - Jayray24.

Unique hand-crafted items for your perusal. Photo credit - Jayray24.

What to Buy

It will be quickly obvious what items are the hot sellers, but in case you want to do some pre-planning, add these items to your shopping list:

Cambodian Silk.
The scarves, tablecloths, and other silk products you can buy in Cambodia are hand-loomed and of unbeatable quality. With colorful patterns and many shapes/sizes, you will be spoilt for choice and certainly not disappointed with any purchase.

You can find stalls overflowing with beautiful mugs, tea sets, plates, glasses, and other odds and ends perfect for your Asian-themed dining set.

From elephants to roosters, you can find all sorts of silver goods. Be sure to inspect closely for craftsmanship, as the quality can vary.

Surprisingly, Phnom Penhhas a burgeoning arts scene, with several galleries located throughout town. The markets have a few stalls but it is best to head straight for the studios, such as Two Fish Gallery or any of the boutiques on Street 178, dubbed ‘Art Street’.

Statues and incense holders. Photo credit - Jayray24.

Statues and incense holders. Photo credit - Jayray24.

Phnom Penh. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Phnom Penh. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Russian Market

The Russian Market, just outside the center of town, is a tourist hot-spot and even though definitely on the beaten path it is still a must-see. The market is named for the many Russian migrants who live here during the 80s. The market is massive and is the best place in the city for souvenir shopping. It also has the most housewares stalls if that is at the top of your shopping list.

Phnom Penh. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Phnom Penh. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Central Market

Closer to Sisowath Quay and the heart of the city, the Central Market is a sprawling complex filled with row after row of merchandise. You’ll feel a bit of sensory overload as you work out where you’ve already been and which direction to go next. This market caters more to locals, as you’ll find kitchen utensils and appliances, lots of clothes, and bathroom products. Underneath the central, domed structure is a bustling jewelry area. Even if you’re not interested in the shopping, go just for the atmosphere.

A Word about Haggling

Just so you know, be prepared to haggle in Phnom Penh – the locals will expect it, and as in places like Hong Kong, they even enjoy it. You might feel a bit foolish – after all the prices here are earth-shatteringly low – but just go with the flow and play along.

Don’t engage in haggling unless you are really interested in the item. Have a final price in mind before you start, and work your way up. Although the Cambodians speak quite good English in most cases, some will haggle via calculator – if you don’t like their price, clear the number and type in a response.

For purchasing items like antiques with higher price tags, you can still expect a pretty big discount. Souvenirs and clothes are “dirt cheap”, as they say, but be sure to get something knocked off – that’s all part of the experience.

If you are visiting, you should also check out this article on where to stay in Phnom Penh.

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Experiences.