From the number of markets crammed into this tiny town, you’d think Siem Reap is all about shopping. However, most touri, if not all, visit Siem Reap to see the ancient Khmer temples just outside of the city. Shopping is just an add-on bonus, something to do at night when entrance to the temples closes down. At night,non-shopaholics head to Pub Street to soak up another Siem Reap speciality: a hangover. I’d already spent a few mornings ruing my previous night of fun and decided shopping might be a less detrimental form of entertainment. At least for one night. And figured any SE Asian town has got to have a night market.
The Old Market, located just a few streets away from Pub Street, is open late into the night. Though by then its customer base is all foreign. Locals pack the place early in the day shopping for produce, meat, and household goods. The tourist knickknack booths are available for perusal during daytime hours, but the majority of visitors are out at the temples or viewing the surrounding countryside.
Whether you drop into the Old Market during the day or at night you quickly realize there are about a dozen different booths offering different merchandise. Multiplied by a few hundred. Same stuff over and over again with far too much of the local handicrafts being made in Viet Nam and shipped in from Thailand. I’d visited the Old Market on my previous trip several years before, so I was pleased when reading a free ‘What To Do’ publication that there was a new night market in town. And it promised a selection of handcrafted goods not available anywhere else in Siem Reap.
Cambodians are as skilled as Thais at reading maps. Which wouldn’t be a problem except that skill level transfers over to making maps. The nice map included in the magazine made no sense so I manned up and asked the front desk clerk at my hotel for directions to the night market. “Which night market?” he asked. Yup, there’s more than one. Because in a town that covers maybe 12 small blocks downtown, a single spot to feed a touri’s shopping jones would make too much sense. So I pulled my handy little guide out and pointed to a picture. He smiled, and drew a simple diagram showing the route from my hotel to the market. Nice. And close. Out of curiosity I asked him where the other night market was. He smiled again and placed a big X right next to the spot he’d designated as the market I wanted to go to.
So if you are headed to the night market in Siem Reap, don’t be concerned about which is which because the first, the Noon-Night Market, just off Sivatha street, flows along and then dumps you at the entrance of the second, the Angkor Night Market. If you miss the large lit overhead sign of either, you won’t know that you just left one and entered the other. And if you can’t find either because you are trying to follow the map in the free What To Do guide, don’t despair: just head over to the Old Market instead; regardless of the market, they all sell the same stuff.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother trying to find the officially designated night market(s) as opposed to the market is just open at night or the night market that is also open during the day. Prices were surprisingly less there than you’ll find at the Old Market. T-shirts were a steal; everyone settled on the same deal displayed on a variety of homemade signs: Buy Four $8.00, Get One Free. (Cambodia uses the U.S. dollar; their version, the riel, is close to being worthless and is usually only handed out as change). Five T-shirts for eight bucks is cheap. And, their XL size really is XL. I loaded up; at that price they become disposable, their cost cheaper than what it would run to launder them. It’s doubtful they’d last through many washings anyway.
If you are going to the night markets from the Pub Street area, the first market you come to is the Noon-Night Market, primarily storefronts running along both sides of the street with a few mini-arcades stretching deep into a few of the buildings. I ran across the first DVD store I’d seen in Cambodia at the Noon-Night Market, and like everything else in the country, prices were dirt cheap. The discs are undoubtedly pirated movies, eh, sue me. I bought the first two seasons of Torchwood, a British TV show I’d heard about but had not yet bothered to see, and ended up paying less than $1 per disc. The vendor carefully loaded each disc into a player showing me they all worked and were all the movie they were advertised to be while I enjoyed the shop’s air conditioning. Most illegal DVD sellers in Thailand do the same. The problem for an American is that most times they are not formatted for US players. As with the metric system, we don’t use the same system as the rest of the world. But I lucked out, they all worked when I got home. So DVDs that played at home and T-shirts that actually fit: damn! Thailand could learn a lesson from the Cambodian pirated goods industry.
At the end of the bustling street a dirt road separates the Noon-Night Market from the Angkor Night Market. This is the market advertising a different selection of merchandise, handcrafted items not available at the other markets. Maybe they mean not available at the other markets in Peru. To be fair, there were a few stalls offering something different, though most were stocked with the same stuff you’d already passed on back in town. But the vendors were all careful to tell you that they handcrafted their merchandise themselves, an obvious lie but told with such a straight face you had to give them a few points for the effort. And the Buy Four $8.00, Get One Free T-shirt signs were, technically, all handcrafted.
The big difference at the Angkor Night Market is the layout. The shops are thatched huts strewn along a series of pebbled walkways. It is more aesthetically pleasing than the other markets in town and a cooler shopping experience, the layout allowing a gentle breeze to waft through the aisles. There are also two large bars inside toward the back so you can kick back and rest a bit, drink a few beers, and realize you’re back to doing exactly what you’d been trying to avoid doing by taking a night off to go shopping in the first place.