If you've never been to an Asian traditional market, the Old Market in Siem Reap is as good introduction as any.
Here, all under one roof, is a one stop shop for tourists and locals alike.
You can find vegetables, fruits, eggs, all kinds of meats (chicken, pork, shrimps, fish, crickets, etc), food stalls, clothes, shoes, sandals, bags, silk items, souvenirs, wooden statues, Angkor Wat’s imitation carvings, Angkor Wat books, jewelries, salons, barbershops, household items like soap, detergent, cooking utensils, and many others.
The food market area opens in the early morning, and is busiest during this time, with mostly locals who are shopping for the day ahead. As the hours pass by, less and less sellers remain, leaving only those with permanent spots to continue selling their items.
Most of them are fruit and vegetable sellers, as these items can stay fresh relatively longer. So if you’d like to experience the traditional market at its liveliest, come early, and you’ll be rewarded with a unique experience.
The souvenir area stays open throughout the day until about sunset time. The hallways at Old Market are narrower than the Central Market, and so the shops are closely packed together.
They mostly sell similar items: key chains, palm leaves fan, silk scarves, silk bags, silk metered clothing, silk kimonos, silver jewelries, semi-precious stones, temple rubbings, wooden statues, Angkor stone carvings, and other items with Angkor pictures on them.
I’ve found that the prices at the Old Market are the ‘best’ among others. Is it because competition is fierce with so many sellers around? Or that most items in one store are almost identical to the next one? Perhaps.
Here, bargaining is the norm and all sellers at the market will quote a price with room for discounts.
The clothing and shoe area is located on the other side of the market. These items seem to be geared towards the locals. But if you ever need spare shoes or sandals, you can get those here as well.
The household items area is located deeper within the maze of the market. The detergents, diapers, soaps, shampoos and things alike seem to apply to locals or long term visitors. Those items are available as well at modern the mini-markets around town, but of course the prices are slightly more.
Another interesting I saw was that some of the lady shopkeepers seem to be enjoying pedicures, right on the floor of their shops. That was a strange sight. You’d expect that in a salon, but not in a detergent shop. I think those pedicurists must be offering some sort of mobile salon services, because I saw at least three of them in different places, seemingly pop out of nowhere, but with all the necessary tools and equipments.
The Old Market in Siem Reap is a tourist attraction in its own right, so make sure you visit it at least once. Most shopkeepers speak English, especially those running a souvenir shop. But even then, most buying activities can be done easily, as they have calculators, and you can communicate, or bargain, using that.