Shopping in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh still has the charm of years gone by. Streets offer an incredible sight of mayhem on wheels with cyclists crossing the path of motorists cutting off buses jerking off their way and almost pushing the local tuk tuks in the gutter. Phnom Penh also has a few interesting shopping spots that are worthy of attention.
The Russian market is probably the most touristy and awkward attraction. The only Khmers you’ll see there sell stuff to foreigners. Oh my the amount of stuff! Shelves of silk in all bright colors, wooden tables overflowing with local celadon pottery, dusty musty stalls of antiques and antiques-look-alikes, thousands of pirate DVDs in plastic jackets with all proper copyright mentions, garment shops selling American brands that fell off the truck, food stalls with curries and marinated clams, silk elephant keychains and local embroidered rucksacks. There’s literally anything and everything. Strolling through the alleys to buy some celadon teapots and cups as gifts for my girls’ friends back in San Francisco, I was regularly intercepted by beggar children offering to polish my shoes. I guess nowadays they can’t just beg anymore. They have to offer some sort of service. As revolting as the idea of begging children is, at least those weren’t too young, between 6 and 10 years of age. I’ve seen toddlers in the past and that’s really hard to stomach. Sadly giving them money is not helping the problem so I told them off and bought my pottery.
Away from the rustle and bustle of the Russian and Central markets are some beautiful shops catering to locals or better-off foreigners.
Ambre is one of my favorite designer shops ever. The owner, Romyda Keth, was formerly educated in Paris and started a clothing line a few years back. She’s now very successful and the old business has expanded to a beautiful colonial house where you can browse through the collections in color-coded rooms. Elegant women are the target audience, but also children and now a growing line for men. I love the simple lines as much as complicated ruffles and embroideries, beads and different textures. Apart from thew silk models. most dresses are machine washable and I’ve used them in all sorts of social gatherings in the US and in France. Regardeless of your shape and size, Ms. Keth can adapt any of her models. She’s got 120 seamstresses working in an adjoining building and new dresses turn up in 48 hours or less. Casual/cocktail dresses go for roughly $80-120 but wedding and evening dresses cost more.
On the Quai Sisawath is Decor de Chine (formerly known as Orient), an antique store run by a French brother-sister team. They do everything from hunting down unique pieces in remote provinces of China to lovingly restoring them by hand. Behind two heavy wooden doors right on the river front, their collection of fine pieces attracts visitors from every nationality. If you are looking for genuine beautiful Chinese or Tibetan antiques, that would be the place to go.