UPDATE, October 31, 2013: The Made in Cambodia is now held twice a month, on the first and third Saturdays.
You can be forgiven for thinking that Siem Reap already has a surfeit of markets, although you might be hard pushed to distinguish one from the other after the first couple. However the latest addition to that ever-growing list — the Made in Cambodia street market — is not just another market, and if you happen to be in town when it is on, it’s well worth a visit.
With the friendly ambiance of an urban farmers’ market, complete with marching band, traditional live music, upmarket street food stalls, and a rooftop acrobatic circus act no less, the inaugural Made in Cambodia street market on March 2 proved a big hit with stallholders and shoppers alike. It’s now a firm fixture on the calendar for the first Saturday of every month until at least August 2013, and organisers are discussing the possibility of increasing its frequency as well as making it a year-round event.
Its central location on leafy Oum Khun Street – home of the Bay Inn and Shinta Mani hotels, and only a 10-minute walk from the Old Market area – makes it easily accessible for most visitors to Siem Reap. Opening hours are from 15:00 to 21:00 so you can wander along for a spot of browsing and shopping before your evening meal, or take a leisurely stroll among the stalls after dinner when temperatures are more likely to be cooler.
Along with its eclectic mix of stalls and attractions, the Made in Cambodia market has one further major draw, particularly for visitors who like to support the local economy: every item on sale is, as you would hope, made in Cambodia – there are absolutely no foreign imports allowed.
While “locally-made” can sometimes be a euphemism for “justifiably more expensive”, with more than 30 stalls offering a broad range of products there is probably something to suit every budget and most tastes.
At the lower end you could bag yourself a knitted sugar-banana key-ring for just $1, a small painted bottle of worryingly more-ish Sombai infused rice liqueur for $6, or a quirky costume-ring made from natural seeds for $5.
If you want to invest a little more into your Cambodian mementos, you might fall for a carved rosewood elephant for $39, or a fabulously extravagant seed necklace from Graines de Cambodge for $50. World renowned designer Eric Raisina also has a stall where you can pick up Cambodian silk scarves from $19, a cheeky half-moon shaped clutch bag for $65, or a large brightly-coloured silk organza shawl for $199.
Social enterprises and NGOs are also well represented so you can double your dose of feel-good by buying for a good cause as well as supporting Cambodian artisans. Friends International offers some original purses, wallets, bags and document cases all made from recycled newspapers and packaging, and priced from around $5. And Japanese anti-trafficking NGO, The Kamonoheshi Project, has a range of woven goods all priced between $1 and $7. At $7 the wine bottle holder is almost irresistible.
The Silk Screen Printing Lab — where Angelina Jolie really did take her kids to spend the day creating their personally designed T-shirts — is a social enterprise that sells a humorous range of T-shirts from $5.75 with their own (mostly) Cambodia-inspired and utterly irreverent takes on some popular global brand logos. Their London Underground-style maps of Cambodia and the Angkor Temples also make a witty gift, priced from $9.75.
If all that retail therapy gives you an appetite there are a couple of food stalls run by reputable Siem Reap restaurants where you can satisfy your hunger. One is run by social enterprise Green Star which trains and employs former street kids, specialises in traditional Khmer cuisine and also has a popular and informal restaurant in the Wat Damnak area of town.
A second stall is run by The Sugar Palm which is reputed to serve the best amok in town. It also happens to be where celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay went in his quest for the perfect example of the signature Cambodian dish. If liquid refreshment is more your thing, there is an attractive drinks pavilion with sunshades and wooden furniture alongside the Bay Inn Hotel.
If your visit doesn’t coincide with one of the market’s scheduled dates and you still want to find genuine locally made souvenirs, you can always visits the Made in Siem Reap craft market north of town, which is open every day from 10:00 until 19:00.
By Simon Hare
Last updated on 7th August, 2014.