I have this romantic picture about markets in my head. I see myself wandering through the narrow alleys, picking up artisan fabrics and smelling exotic spices while probably becoming best friends with an old lady who has been working there for decades.
Well, those of you who have been to Asia might have made the same not so romantic experience there, that I had to learn. A wet market is a very smelly place and the whole "same same"-thing is only charming on your first day there.
So after ripping one of my two pairs of trousers on a motorbike in Malapascua and being in desperate need for replacement, I dragged going to a market in Phnom Penh assuming it would be se same annoying experience. Thankfully, I had become friends with Ady, an Australian girl who I could talk into coming with me, as she wanted to buy a shirt for her boyfriend anyways.
Ady and I had met in Siem Reap, where she convinced me to eat a tarantula and a snake (both were a nightmare) and where we had two massages daily. Obviously, we continued travelling to Phnom Penh together.
After the obligatory visit of the killing fields and S21 we decided to finally tackle our shopping tasks.
And apparently, if you look for a market in Phnom Phen, the central market Phsar Thmei is everybody's go-to address.
The Central Market was constructed in 1937 in the shape of a dome with four arms branching out. The design is by the French architect Louis Chauchon.
Located in Phnom Penh's city centre, it is said to be the biggest market in Asia when in was built. From 2009 to 2011 in was renovated by the French Development Agency.
What's special about this market compared to others in Asia, is that most of it is covered in a permanent structure, protecting the shops from sun and rain.
The facade is especially designed to create ventilation within the building. A nice breeze comes through the triangular cut-outs, actually creating a huge difference to the outdoor areas of the market or and to the regular stalls we found all over Asia. This was actually a pleasant shopping experience!
We strolled through the stalls looking for trousers and shirts, being distracted by very bling bling jewellery and random collections of household items.
The most interesting part – as always on markets – was the food area.
Most of the seefood was still alive, a fish actually jumped right on front of our feet.
A man was chopping down ice, which was then delivered to all stands that needed cooling.
I pointed at half a fish: “I swear it moved its gills”. Ady looked at me “it's dead. I'm pretty sure it didn't”. The next second, it moved what was left over it's fins. “THIS must be fresh”.
A little freaked out I moved over to the fruit area. This was more my style.
After walking around the outdoor food area for a while, we decided to go back inside to cool down.
I loved the cathedral-like design of the dome, combined with the friendly yellow paint. This market provides a much nicer shopping experience than most of the markets I've been to in Asia and due to it's strict structure with an indoor and outdoor area feels less crowded.
In the end, I didn't find the trousers I was looking for but still had a fantastic day with a new friend.
Central Market Phsar Thmei
between streets 126 and 136
How to get there:
Take a tuk tuk or a motor taxi
every day from 7am to 5/6pm