A local scene
Published/Last edited or updated: 14th January, 2019
One block back from the riverfront, Phnom Penh’s Phsar Kandal is centrally located off Street 154, just a five-minute walk from Street 172 and opposite the north side of Wat Ounalom, so chances are you’ll pass by—if you do, it’s well worth a visit.
Indeed the name translates as central market, though the iconic art deco Phsar Thmei –which actually means New Market—is often mistakenly translated into English as central market. It’s confusing certainly but just ask for Phsar Kandal—it’s one of the best known markets in town.
Despite its location close to many of the city’s hotels and guesthouses, this market still very much caters to Phnom Penh residents—the Russian Market this is not. If you wish to buy tourist tat, Buddha images or souvenir scarves then head to Phsar Tuol Tom Pong by all means, but if you wish to visit a typical local market, then try this one—or Phsar Chas not too far to the north of here.
Like the more tourist-orientated market across town, Phsar Kandal is square in form and compact, taking up just one city block, though it does overflow somewhat into surrounding streets: Fifth Street, on the east side, is an outdoor fruit and vegetable area while Street 154 concentrates on pavement barbers and motorcycle repair shops. Street 13, which borders it to the west, has cafes and currency exchange shops. The covered central area is then household goods and clothes along with an inordinate number of hairdressers and gold stalls.
We’d be hard-pushed to name a country with more hairdressing salons per square kilometre than Cambodia, and for proof that a Khmer passion for hair-styling goes way back you’ve only got to look at the spectacular apsaras at Angkor Wat. The proliferation of gold shops is due to a Khmer reluctance, even today, to use banks, so when you have money you buy jewellery and when you run short you take a bangle or necklace back to Phsar Kandal, and get your money back minus a small commission.
While you might not pick up any souvenirs here, it’s worth a wander for a look at how ordinary Cambodians live and shop in the capital.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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