Whether you’re looking for traditional Khmer handicrafts or chic contemporary fashion, Siem Reap is an excellent place to shop for all things Cambodian. In addition to classic Cambodian souvenirs, Siem Reap has a unique and growing variety of contemporary art galleries, fashion boutiques and trendy shops. Shopping venues are scattered across the town with a concentration of places along Sivutha Blvd., and near Phsar Chas (the Old Market) and Pub Street. The Pub Street alleys, especially Alley West, harbor several distinctive small contemporary galleries and funky boutiques. For traditional items and souvenirs, start at the Old Market, Phsar Chas.
‘Phsar’ means ‘market’ in Khmer. The traditional Cambodian phsar is a sprawling, semi-covered affair of small shops and stalls, and a visit to one is an important part of any Cambodian experience. Siem Reap’s most popular traditional market Phsar Chas (Old Market), caters to visitors and locals, offering a varied selection of souvenirs, home wares and food – a true cultural shopping experience!
What to Buy
Hand-woven Cambodian silks, stone and woodcarvings, statues and castings, contemporary Cambodian art, Cambodian handicrafts and traditional musical instruments, temple rubbings, silver betel containers, colored gems and basketry are among the most popular souvenirs. The most useful and one of the cheapest souvenirs that you can buy is a traditional checkered Cambodian scarf (krama). If you don’t mind looking like a tourist, wear it around your neck like the locals to keep the intense tropical sun off the back of your neck.
Cambodia has a long and rich history in silk production that dates back more than a thousand years; Cambodian silk is prized by silk collectors the world over. A fascinating way to learn about Cambodian silk is to visit Angkor Silk Farm, where you can take a free guided tour that explain the meticulous process of silk production, from cultivating mulberry bushes to the Cambodian ikat technique and the dyeing, weaving, and creation of silk fabrics. In Siem Reap, both raw and fine silks are available in the form of short bolts, sarongs, clothing and various handicrafts.
Silver areca (betel) containers
Silver areca containers are popular traditional souvenirs. These pounded silver containers are ordinarily shaped as animals, fruits and boxes. Made to hold dried areca nut, they are still used in ceremonial and everyday life. (Areca nut, also known as ‘betel nut,’ is a mild stimulant chewed as one chews tobacco. You may notice people in the countryside, especially older women, with teeth stained black from years of chewing areca.) Nowadays, the containers are made primarily for sale as souvenirs but are still hand crafted using traditional techniques and styles.
Gems are a tempting souvenir, but best purchased by those who are knowledgeable about gems. The markets in Siem Reap are full of jewelers.
Statues and carvings
Statues and carvings of traditional subjects, often replicas of Angkorian-era works as well as Buddhas and various Hindu gods and personages, are available in stone, wood and brass. Statues can make for relatively heavy, bulky souvenirs but are still very popular because of their beauty and artistic value. The replica of an Angkorian era bust of Jayavarman VII with its graceful lines and peaceful smile is truly captivating and is perhaps the most popular piece.
Contemporary Fashion and Accessories
Cambodia-based and local designers are producing a wide range of clothing and accessories that bring a modern twist to traditional Khmer designs and patterns. From bags created from the ubiquitous Khmer krama or stylish dresses patterned with the Cambodian ikat, in Siem Reap you’ll find clothing and accessories that are uniquely Cambodian. In the Old Market area on Alley West, you’ll find a cluster of funky clothing shops selling fresh, new styles, many of which are made with locally-sourced fabrics and sustainable techniques. Another popular item that you’ll see around town are colorful recycled rice bags that have been made into a variety of inexpensive products such as purses and laptop bags.