Being just a few minutes walk away from the so-called old market area in Siem Reap, where there are many choices of restaurants at reasonable prices, we’d wandered down there to eat on two of our three evenings here. Just across the river from the old market region is an actual night market. This night market is a tourist trap with trinkets, massages and the like, fun for a brief wander to walk off dinner but little else, which is exactly what we’d done last night.
This morning we were off to see a real Cambodian market, the daily market where local individuals and businesses do their shopping. I expected this to be much more interesting and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. We arrived at 10:00 AM and the frenetic hustle and bustle, featuring the ubiquitous mopeds, was well under way.
We love spending time in the classic French markets but this took markets to another level. As we attempted to dodge the constant flow of two-wheeled trucks (i.e. small motorbikes that carry anything and everything), we were first confronted by displays of colourful fresh vegetables and fruit. There was the occasional meat stall out here, too, which I’m not entirely sure I’d have been comfortable buying from, as a delicate westerner. Shame on me!
Continuing to dodge small motorbikes, we moved in off the streets to the massive indoor area. Here we found more meat and several very dark and therefore difficult to photograph fish sellers. Selin told us the fish came from yesterday’s immense lake and so, all were fresh water species. Whilst the meat was most probably perfectly fresh, the fish were demonstrating their freshness by occasionally making a bid for freedom, squirming across the floor. I have an uncomfortable feeling that these fish would end up dying of their wounds during preparation, rather than being despatched first but don’t quote me.
Avoiding the desperately squirming, doomed fish, we moved on into the clothing section where bolts of material could be purchased, or a glittering array of traditional embroidered dresses, more suited to more mature ladies – they apparently are not considered modern enough to appeal to the younger Cambodian ladies. To decorate oneself further, there was gold jewellery on offer cleverly displayed under intense yellow lighting. Even along these dark, narrow alleyways inside the market hall itself, the occasional moped would zip past. Weird!
Photographing the Cambodian people is great experience. We’ve travelled to countries where one is expected to pay for the privilege of snapping someone but here, the locals actively enjoyed having their pictures taken and posed willingly and without their hands extended for payment. The children are absolutely terrific, too, and coming from me, that’s one hell of a compliment. How refreshing it is to be able to photograph cute children without suspicions or accusations being made. We have truly lost it in our country. Here’s a collection of smiling models spanning a few generations.
We burned up our remaining two hours chasing dragonflies beside the Siem Reap river and very productive our hunting was, too. Finally, it was time to return to the hotel for our farewell ride back to the airport. Whereas I felt tired by the surfeit of temples on our first full day in Cambodia, I now felt that I had experienced something of the real Cambodia of today. Very worthwhile.
Back to Singapore.