Monday, April 29, 2013

Shopping at the Markets

No international trip would be complete without sampling several local markets.  Our trip to Cambodia was no exception.

We did more shopping in Phnom Penh, but we did get to the main local market in Siem Reap the day before we left for Phnom Penh.  This is called Psar Chaa, or the Old Market.

Some shops at Psar Chaa (Old Market), which seems like a maze

There is a lady named Sros (pronounced like Syrah, to our delight) who owns a clothing shop in the Old Market.  Sros provides special discounts to all of the volunteers of Projects Abroad.  We bought a few $2 Angkor Wat T-shirts and another pair of $4 elephant pajama pants.  These are better prices than we were able to get from other vendors, even after bargaining.

Sros has a vivacious personality, a hands-on manner of speaking and a wacky sense of humor.  She was a little self-conscious the day we met her, because someone had inadvertently whacked her in the eye during the Khmer New Year's festivities.  Her eye was a bit swollen, although we hadn't really noticed since we had just met her and didn't know what she normally looked like.  Sros has a million dollar smile, so she looked beautiful to us.

Sarah and Sros were quick best friends

We often passed a vibrant street market while riding around Siem Reap in a tuk tuk, but we never had a chance to sample the goods.  This seems to be more for locals than tourists, so it would have been interesting to visit.

The busy local market is around the red roofs at left

In Phnom Penh, the first market we visited was the Russian Market, so named because Russians frequented it in the 1980's.  Maybe the Russians are less interested in visiting since that time, without the mutual bond of Communism.  We didn't ask.

Some of the clothing and sundries shops at the Russian Market have lower quality goods, but we found a couple of great gift shops.  We didn't buy any keepsakes for ourselves in South Africa, but we did buy a few smaller items in Cambodia.

The goods are unremarkable in this crowded corridor

Durians reminded us of living in China with "stinky fruit" smell

We met a pair of young shopkeepers at the Russian Market on consecutive days.  We got their business card the first afternoon, a few minutes before closing, and came back the following day.  We bought several items with a negotiated discount.

Cambodia uses the U.S. dollar as the primary currency for any transaction.  The change is given in Cambodian riel, which is all paper money rather than coins.  1000 real = $0.25.

In any country we visit, we first ask local friends what the bargaining rules are.  In China, you take the first offer, divide by 10, and try to end up at 30% of the asking price.  In Cambodia, you take the first offer, divide by 2, and try to end up at 60 - 70% of the asking price.  You can always walk away if you want to be aggressive, and see what happens. We ended up with a fair deal, without trying to squeeze the last dollar or two out of the merchants.

We bought several wood carvings from these young ladies

We didn't find the apsara dancing figures we were looking for from the first shopkeepers, so we walked a few stalls away and found exactly what we needed.  This lady was also very pleased, and instantly became best friends with Sarah.  It's amazing how much more easily this happens when you buy stuff from people.  Actually, it was probably the matching smiles.

She was a sweet lady, independent of our purchase

In between our two trips to the Russian market, we went shopping for a souvenir at a local silver shop several blocks from our hotel.  This shop had been recommended by the concierge.

We fell in love with a small item that we just had to have.  It has beautiful carvings of elephants, chariots and other figures depicted on Angkor temple walls.

The shopkeeper was adorable.  She repeatedly told us that she didn't speak English, and that her family members who spoke better English weren't there that day.  She didn't give herself enough credit.  However, Sarah had to show her how to use the VISA credit card processing machine, which was amusing to watch.

This lady knows how to dress comfortably for her job

After the silver shop, we went to the Central Market, which is also within walking distance of our hotel.

We were a little bit disappointed in the interior of the market.  Despite the high, rounded ceilings, the middle part was a bit sterile.  It had the feeling of a typical U.S. department store.  The interior wings radiating from the center had cheap dime store goods, similar to the quality in the cheaper portion of the Russian Market.

The central part of the Central Market had few goods worth buying

However, the local delicacies and activities were much more interesting in the food court and street stalls at the periphery of the market.  We were just looking.

Fish and other food for sale at a shop on the street

Locals eating lunch at the diner counter

One of several Central Market shopkeepers taking an early PM nap

Chess was a popular game on the street, here and elsewhere
Great selection of fruit, e.g. sweet mangosteens (purple, white inside)

Overall, it was a successful day of shopping, on our last afternoon in Phnom Penh.  We found several small items we were looking for, and had time and energy left for some rooftop appetizers at Le Moon:)

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