Last Updated on January 31, 2023
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.
What is a market in Cambodia like?
‘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.’ – Author Loung Ung
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.
Exotic Fruits & Vegetables in the Market
Let’s start with the fruit and vegetables sections – because they are usually the most colorful stalls!
We 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!We 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!
Durians 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.’
The 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.
We love all the melons and of course we eat more bananas than most monkeys!
Bananas 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.
And there are definitely enough melons for everyone!
The same goes for coconuts – they are everywhere!
Another 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.
Tangy tamarind is also widely available, but we prefer tamarind juice to the fruit itself.
Of 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.
The former French protectorate still loves the baguettes, which you find on the streets, similar to Laos, also once controlled by the French.
A common snack is sticky rice with red beans, roasted in a bamboo stick. These are filling, travel-friendly and also pretty fun to eat.
Fresh fish & other animals…
Since 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.
…or dried fish, hugely popular in this country.
And then there’s chicken of course – freshly slaughtered and disemboweled. Looks more like science class than dinner to us.
Most kinds of birds, as long as you can catch ’em and cook ’em, can be seen hanging upside down in the markets.
Ducks are also very popular everywhere…
Shopping 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…
And these flip flops are pretty creative…
Another 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..
Speaking of which – there is even a small Buddha shrine in the market to pay your respects.
Lotus flowers are not only used for its beautiful blossoms though – their fruits are edible and sold everywhere. We didn’t like the flavor though.
While sweets were rare in the markets, Cambodians still get their sugar fix – with sugar cane juice, freshly made while you are waiting.
Like neighboring Thailand and Laos, you also can get fried crickets in Cambodia.
Phnom 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.
Not 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.
Another way to carry your goods are two baskets, connected by a long wooden stick, carried on your shoulder.
Outside of every market, the barbers set up their shops: basically a chair and a mirror and they are ready to go!
Some 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!)
Of course there are shoe shiners in the markets…
Cyclo taxis are the preferred method to get you shopping home from the market…
No matter how hot it is, the market ladies always tend to wear long sleeves!
Take a Market Tour in Cambodia!
If you want to visit a market in Cambodia with a guide for some insider information and additional commentary, check out these market tours:
Phnom Penh Food Tours has a morning market tour that includes Phnom Penh’s Central Market. You’ll get to have a bowl of breakfast noodles at a local food stall and try a selection of Cambodian street food snacks.
Alternatively, you can join their evening food tour which visits a night market.
Price: $65 (including all food & drinks & transportation)
Siem Reap Food Tours offers small group tours as well as private tours that introduce you to typical Khmer dishes at local markets and street food stalls. Expect to try tropical fruits and snacks.
Price: $75 (including all food & drinks & transportation) – min. of 2 people
Market Tour & Cooking Class: This tour combines a market visit and learning how to make a delicious 3-course Khmer meal. Dishes made during the cooking class include fish amok, spring rolls, Cambodian curry, bananas in palm sugar with coconut juice.
Price: $25 (including hotel pick-up & drop-off and all food)