There’s little I enjoy more when travelling than a visit to a local market. Large or small there is always plenty to see, and therefore to photograph. And you can gain great insights into the way of life in the country. What do local people eat? How do they dress? How indeed do they shop?
Phnom Penh’s Central Market, properly known as Psar Thmei (the ‘new market’), delivered on all counts. It was built in the 1930s in the Art Deco style as part of French plans to expand and modernise the city. Today it sits in the middle of a busy intersection in the heart of the city, so even crossing the road to get to it is an adventure.
You mustn’t try to wait for a break in the traffic or you will still be standing there at bedtime! Instead take a deep breath and step out slowly into the steady stream of vehicles. Don’t try to hurry; take your time so drivers can easily see you, and they will part around you. Or so we were told, and it seemed to have worked as we were still in one piece when we reached the far side of the road!
At the heart of the building is a huge central dome, 26 metres high, which is claimed by some sources to be one of the ten largest domes in the world. This central area is full of glitzy jewellery stands selling gold and silver as well as ornaments made from semi-precious stones alongside cheaper items.
From this central dome four wings extend, and beyond them the building is surrounded by a maze of stalls under green awnings, which lend an unusual colour cast to the goods on display. These are a mixture of those aimed at local shoppers (food stalls, cheap clothing, electrical goods, toys, hairdressers etc.) and at tourists (crafts, souvenirs, and clothing more aimed at their tastes).
Some of the photos in the gallery below I took with permission; for others I was ‘shooting from the hip’.
Crossing the road to the Central Market in Phnom Penh
One of the entrances to the market
Jewellery stalls and clock under the central dome
Food sellers near one of the entrances
Local delicacies: fried crickets and cocoons
Fashion stall mannequins
The shoe repair stall
A stallholder’s children
Time for a chat
When shopping is done
I visited Phnom Penh in February 2020, just before the pandemic put a stop to travel for a while