Phnom Penh is the best place to shop in Cambodia, with traditional markets selling everything from beautiful silk sampots – the word for both the traditional Khmer skirt and a sufficient length of fabric to make one – which a tailor can then make up into garments of your own design, to myriad hand-crafted wooden, stone and silver-crafted trinkets. Contemporary woodcarvings and marble statues make bulky souvenirs, but are so evocative of Cambodia that it’s hard not to pick up one or two, and you will see hundreds of intricate (usually low-grade) silver pots in the shape of animals on sale, which tuck more neatly into backpack or suitcase. Jewellery is sold in abundance too, gold and silver, set with stones and gems in all imaginable designs and colours, and there are wonderful antiques and curios to be discovered, both originals and replicas of old wooden pagoda statues and a huge assortment of decorative boxes and trunks. Haggling is an essential part of market shopping, with prices starting ludicrously high, and it’s worth checking around a few stalls as they will often sell identical pieces.
If you can’t bear the hassle of the market, there are an increasing number of classy boutiques selling clothes, jewellery and soft furnishings particularly around BKK and Street 240, and Sihanouk Boulevard, near Lucky Supermarket, has several designer stores, including Lacoste, and a branch of the high-street store Mango will be opening there soon. Street 178 is known as “Art Street”, as dozens of little warehouses sell an array of paintings and small sculptures, created for the tourist market. Alternatively, head to Sorya, Golden Sorya or Paragon malls, where you can find everything from underwear to sportswear.
Ethical shopping is possible too. Numerous NGOs, other organizations and some private individuals have shops and outlets that directly help street children, women at risk and/or the disabled and other disadvantaged groups.