Sep 17 2012
Unless you’re an expat looking for some furniture, building supplies or a new fridge, downtown Sihanoukville may not be your first pick of fun places to visit in Sihanoukville. The busiest section of Ekareach Street, between CT Road and Makara Street, is largely lined with shops that cater to locals and at first glance doesn’t have too much appeal. It would be a shame, though, if you came all the way to Sihanoukville and wrote off the downtown area altogether. Poke around a bit and you’ll find some interesting things to see and do.
When the old Psar Leu burned to the ground in 2008, the entire city was as devastated emotionally as the market was physically. Yes, the old market left something to be desired, with its flimsy timber structures, dirt floors and open drainage system. Nevertheless, it was where the locals all did their shopping and gathered to gossip while waiting for the vendors to chop their meat, scale their fish and weigh their veggies. It was, in other words, the beating heart of the city.
The destruction of Psar Leu made the national news and even Prime Minister Hun Sen got in on the act, vowing to rebuild it. And rebuild it they did. The new Psar Leu is bigger and cleaner than the old one, but it’s still the heart of the city.
Aside from soaking up the local atmosphere, there are practical reasons for visiting Psar Leu. Some of the stallholders along the wide centre aisle go out of their way to keep barang-size clothes and footwear in stock. As a newcomer, you’ll probably need to haggle a little over price, but personally, I can’t see the sense in ruining your day over 5,000 riel (about US$1.25) or so.
Wander down the centre aisle a bit further and buy some fresh fruit. If you’re looking for familiar fruits, don’t be fooled by their appearance; the little green tinged oranges for instance taste better than the imported navel oranges and are cheaper, too. Don’t overlook the delicious indigenous fruits, either.
Every motodop and tuk tuk driver in town knows where Psar Leu is. If you say, “Sah Looh”, that’s probably close enough to get you there. If you’re travelling solo by bicycle or motorbike, it’s a couple of hundred metres up Makara Street from Ekareach Street. Look for the Total petrol station and turn right if you’re coming from the Golden Lions or left if you’re coming from the Hill. Park in one of the cordoned off parking areas; it will set you back 500 riel and you can rest assured your motorbike or bicycle will be waiting for you when you finish exploring the market.
You’ll know you’re on the right street if Samudera Market catches your eye soon after you turn on to Makara Street. A Sihanoukville institution, Samudera was renovated a few years ago, probably to help it compete with the other Western-style markets and mini-markets that started springing up around town. In spite of the new competition, it remains the most popular place in town to buy Western comfort foods.
Walk about 50 metres down the cement paved alley next to Samudera, and you’ll find the Starfish Bakery & Cafe. After I stumbled across Starfish in 2007, I went there regularly. A culture-shocked newcomer to Sihanoukville, I appreciated its lovely garden atmosphere as much as I enjoyed the pastries and meals. I don’t go there as often now, but when I feel the need for a dose of almost Zen-like tranquility or a healthy breakfast or lunch, it’s still the first place I think of. Starfish closes at 17:00, so supper is unfortunately not an option.
Across the street from Samudera, there’s a great Chinese apothecary; you need to know what you’re looking for, though, because the proprietor doesn’t speak English.
If you’re looking for computer or digital camera supplies or repairs, several good shops are in the area and many have English speaking staffs. If you need medical attention, CT Clinic, on CT Road, is usually the one expats and visitors turn to.
It may not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for reasonably priced accommodation and like the idea of exploring the real Sihanoukville, away from the more touristy beach centres, give downtown a shot; you may grow to like it as much as I do.
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