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Photo essay: The markets of Cambodia

Last Updated on August 12, 2012

Come join us for a visual tour of Cambodia’s markets…

If you have been reading GlobetrotterGirls for a while, you know that we are huge fans of hitting up the local markets in every country we visit. There is no better way to describe a Cambodian market than Loung Ung does it in her incredible book on her life in the Khmer Rouge work camps, First They Killed My Father.

‘I am in a Cambodian market where a pile of fish flaps on the dirt floor next to a mound of beef intestines, tripe, and chicken feet. A seller squats next to her goods, her mouth talking incessantly, praising the quality of her products or sharing a yummy recipe on how to cook them. When a deal has been struck, she wraps the goods in a lotus or banana leaf and gives it to her customer. Then, with a wave of her hand, a black cloud of flies levitates and scatters, waiting for her hand to settle down before their eventual return. The smell of her fish, tripe, and chicken feet hovers in the humid air and floats fifty feet away to the people sitting on stools eating their fried chive cakes, pork dumplings, and shrimp patties. Boiling pots of noodle soups, yellow curry, pork-blood rice congee, and pans of hot oil filled with crunchy spring rolls sit on a makeshift oven.

Crackling and browning in another oven are skewers of frog kabobs roasted to a crispy brown. The aroma of the soups and frogs hops over to another customer as she feels the firmness of a pink dragon fruit. From there, she inspects the wiry red rambutans, jack fruit, and durian before she pops a purple grape into her mouth. Drawn by songs of the dessert sellers, she finishes her shopping and sits down for a cool glass of mango fruit shake. As she sips her drink, the pungent smells of dried fish, squid, soups, frogs, fruits, meat, and fish seep into her clothes, skin, and hair.’

South East Asia’s markets were some of the most interesting markets we have ever seen – the street food, tropical fruits that we had not known prior to visiting the region, and other interesting goods. Cambodia was no exception and we found something interesting in every market we went to.

Let’s start with the fruit and vegetables sections – because they are usually the most colorful stalls!

phnom penh central market vegetables
battambang market fruit

phnom penh central market mangosWe were in Cambodia for mango season, and they truly were the best mangoes we had in our time in South East Asia – sweet and juicy… delicious!

phnom penh central market mangosteensWe had discovered mangosteens in Thailand, a juicy fruit with a thick, reddish-purple colored rind and a juicy, soft opaque white core. Over time, they have become some of our favorite fruits in Asia. You have to squeeze the thick rind a little bit, and the fruit will break open in the middle. They are unlike any other fruit we’ve ever had!

phnom penh central market duriansDurians are very popular in Cambodia – Cambodians LOVE them! We do not love them at all, instead we tend to agree with travel writer Richard Sterling though, who described the taste of this unique fruit as follows: ‘pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.’
durian seller battambangThe taste of the Durian has been compared to things like stale vomit, skunk spray, and sewage – by Westerners of course. In most of South East Asia durian is handled as an expensive specialty and you will find durian ice cream, durian chocolate pralines and other durian goodies everywhere.

phnom penh durian vendorWe love all the melons and of course we eat more bananas than most monkeys!

phnom penh central market water melonsBananas are, like in all of South East Asia, only finger-sized, and much sweeter than the ones we are used to in Europe or North America.

tiny bananas south east asiaAnd there are definitely enough melons for everyone!

battambang market melonsThe same goes for coconuts – they are everywhere!

coconut vendor battambangAnother fruit we had not known before we got to South East Asia is the rambutan – a small, hairy fruit with a juicy core similar to a lychee.

battambang market rambutanTangy tamarind is also widely available, but we prefer tamarind juice to the fruit itself.

battambang market tamarindOf course you can buy rice in any of the markets, the price ranging from 2700 ($0.65) to 5000 Riel ($1.22) per kilo, depending on the kind of rice.

phnom penh central market riceThe former French protectorate still loves the baguettes, which you find on the streets, similar to Laos, also once controlled by the French.

phnom penh central market baguette vendorA common snack is sticky rice with red beans, roasted in a bamboo stick. These are filling, travel-friendly and also pretty fun to eat.

battambang market sticky riceSince most of the towns in Cambodia are either close to a river or close to the ocean, you always find fresh fish in the markets.

battambang market fish…or dried fish, hugely popular in this country.

phnom penh central market dried fishAnd then there’s chicken of course – freshly slaughtered and disemboweled. Looks more like science class than dinner to us.

phnom penh central market chickens
phnom penh market chicken vendorMost kinds of birds, as long as you can catch ’em and cook ’em, can be seen hanging upside down in the markets.

phnom penh central market birds
cambodia fried birdsDucks are also very popular everywhere…

battambang market ducksShopping for more than food in Cambodian markets

The clothes section was particularly interesting – we have seen belly-reducing underwear and push-up bras of course, but until we came to Phnom Penh, we had never seen panties to make your butt look bootylicious…

phnom penh central market pantiesAnd these flip flops are pretty creative…

funky keyboard flipflop phnom penhAnother section of the markets is dedicated to flowers – you can buy beautiful flower bouquets or lotus flowers which are usually given to Buddha when visiting the temple..

phnom penh central market flower bouquetSpeaking of which – there is even a small Buddha shrine in the market to pay your respects.

phnom penh central market buddha shrineLotus flowers are not only used for its beautiful blossoms though – their fruits are edible and sold everywhere. We didn’t like the flavor though.

phnom penh central market lotus flowersWhile sweets were rare in the markets, Cambodians still get their sugar fix – with sugar cane juice, freshly made while you are waiting.

phnom penh central market sugar cane lady
phnom penh central market sugar cane juiceLike neighboring Thailand and Laos, you also can get fried crickets in Cambodia.

cambodia fried cricketsPhnom Penh’s Central Market is located in a beautiful market yellow market hall with a high, round ceiling. One of the cleanest and most organized markets we’ve seen in South East Asia.

phnom penh central market ceilingNot everyone has a market stall though, so you see some of the vending ladies walking around with big baskets on their head in which they have the food they sell.

phnom penh market fish lady
phnom phen market fruit ladyAnother way to carry your goods are two baskets, connected by a long wooden stick, carried on your shoulder.

battambang vendorOutside of every market, the barbers set up their shops: basically a chair and a mirror and they are ready to go!

phnom penh barber shopSome people just like to come and hang out outside the markets, like these guys playing a round of chess (their wives are probably selling fruit inside!)

phnom penh chess playersOf course there are shoe shiners in the markets…

phnom penh shoe shine stallCyclo taxis are the preferred method to get you shopping home from the market…

phnom penh cyclo taxiNo matter how hot it is, the market ladies always tend to wear long sleeves!
battambang market vegetable vendor
battambang market mango vendor
battambang market vegetables
phnom penh central market chicken ladies

Photo essay: The markets of Cambodia | Travel |...

Monday 16th of December 2013

[…] We go to the local markets in every country we visit - it is such a great way to find out more about a country's culture! Join us for a visual tour of Cambodia’s markets!  […]

Jen Ryder

Tuesday 7th of August 2012

This was such a beautiful photo essay! It brought back a lot of good memories for me from my time in Cambodia. I'll be back in Phnom Pehn in October, bringing my fiance with for his first time. We'll definitely be going to the Central Market and he's agreed to try the fried crickets!!


Wednesday 8th of August 2012

Thanks, Jen! I hope your fiance will like Cambodia - making him try fried crickets is definitely an awesome idea ;-)

Audrey | That Backpacker

Tuesday 7th of August 2012

I just had to click on this post because I have spotted the same padded undies in the outdoor markets here in Seoul! They make me chuckle every time. :D


Wednesday 8th of August 2012

Oh they have the same underwear in Korea? Awesome, didn't know that, Audrey :D I should've bought a pair just for fun ;-)

Flashpacking Travel

Saturday 28th of July 2012

Deja vu. Mouthwatering stuff. We loved the markets of Cambodia on our recent visit. Our personal favourites were the Battambang Oranges (Green) and of course Kampot Pepper. Our favourite market was the Kep Crab Market, but we're just greedy seafood junkies. Happy Travel Blogging.


Tuesday 31st of July 2012

Kampot Pepper, yes!! We actually only saw it when we took a tour out to a pepper plantation from Kampot, I never saw it anywhere in the markets. Everybody was raving about Kep crabs, but that's one of the things we missed out on being vegetarians :)

Our Dear Lady Expatriate

Saturday 28th of July 2012

Gorgeous photo essay! I love that you explained a bit about how to eat mangosteens - I've seen them everywhere in Phnom Penh, but none of my friends have really figured them out yet!

Personally, I find Central Market easiest to navigate, but a bit pricier. The area around the Russian Market is probably my favourite, and I love how the streets fill up with fruit and veggie sellers in the evening. Buying bags of vegetables by the kilo is just about the best thing!


Tuesday 31st of July 2012

Thanks so much! You have to pick up some mangosteens next time you go to the market, they are just sooo good! We loved the area around the Russian Market, too, but Central Market was one of the nicest and cleanest markets in all of the places we visited in South East Asia!