There appear to be people in Siem Reap who are seriously worried that the world might one day run out of markets. It’s the only rational justification I can think of for the gay abandon with which these temples of trade are being chucked up in every spare square metre of space that can be found here. There is no doubt a sweet and faithful hope of creating an eternal global monument to market posterity of same kind — gross devotional shrines to inauthentic tack.
I can’t even count how many new markets there are now; they’re all the same and seem to blend seamlessly into one long cheap Vietnamese hankies selling continuum from the site of the Angkor Night Market all the way to the river, and now over on the other side.
Of them all, the original Angkor Night Market is by a mile the most pleasant. It’s clean, well-ordered, friendly and has two bars, including the Island Bar which should be checked out for its cocktails, as well as a recently opened food court which looks pretty good too. There is also the Central Market which was always good for clothes and shoes and decent knock-off bags, but that’s going to close soon. Clearly, when there are so many horrible markets opening up, it makes perfect sense to close one of the few good ones. But I mustn’t whinge, it’s not seemly.
Old Market (Psah Chas, pronounced “psa cha”) is the one most people will get to know though. Right in the heart of town, it’s got location, posterity and an abundance of offerings on its side. It’s like a Tardis-market; they’ve got clothing, spices, housewares, jewellery, rat-traps, fabrics and detergent for washing them, souvenirs, DVDs and, of course, food, and they cater to absolutely everyone in town. It’s not an easy place to negotiate in though, so try one of the newer ones if you’re seriously bargain hunting.
But, in a town that bears little resemblance to the country that lies beyond its perimeters, Psah Chas’ greatest attraction lies in the glimpse of real Cambodia it offers. Heading to the food market — in the middle of the market — early in the morning is an experience that shouldn’t be missed, though it’s possibly not advisable for the claustrophobic or squeamish. This is where you’ll find droves of women (very few men) selling and buying sturdy bright carrots and glistening pink cuts of bacon, stinky fish paste a.k.a prahok, extravagantly coloured fruits, dried fish and local sausages. Fish squiggle and squirm in metal trays, waiting for the inevitable chop of a battered knife, while freshly denuded chickens kick up their legs in a line, like exhausted revue dancers of a certain age.
In the midst of it all, there is a constant swirl of sound and motion as the women weave and negotiate, peer and pick while the sounds of haggling, gossip and laughter pervade everything, along with the uncomfortable smell of fish and raw meat. Underneath the floor is slick with the, well, I’m not really sure what with to be honest; don’t wear long trousers that trail is all I’m going to say.
The rest is better explained below:
Incidentally, I am claustrophobic (or, to be more precise, demophobic — freaked out by crowds) and fish puts me into a state of utter aghast. Otherwise, the pictures would be an awful lot better, I think.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 7th August, 2014.