Sunday, May 23, 2010

Siem Reap's night markets

  • The latest night market has opened diagonally across from Pub Street. Photo courtesy: Cambodia Sin Chew Daily



SIEM REAP, Cambodia: Tourists heading to Angkor Wat can now take a stroll among over 600 stalls in Siem Reap's four night markets, offering even cheaper leisure and shopping pleasures. These fairs, which are called "night markets" by tourists, have each become more unique due to the increasing competition.

The Siem Reap Night Market opposite Siem Reap's Pub Street just opened for business last month, and has made Siem Reap's nightlife even livelier.

All kinds of tourist attractions are competing fiercely with one another, bringing prices down and making businesses devise all kinds of stunts to lure customers. For example, there's a spa at the night market that offers foot reflexology for US$2 with a free drink. There are also businesses that hire children from orphanages to put on performances such as clown shows and apsara dances in the street to attract customers.

The night market as another selling point for Cambodia's tourism began in Siem Reap. Unfortunately, due to ever-changing government policies, Night markets have opened for business and then shut down, with new ones sprouting up. Since businessmen have no long-term guarantees for investment, they use the simplest and most economical spaces to sell their wares which are little different from one another in quality.

Despite this, even when the economy is bad and tourists are tightening up their belts, night markets remain an affordable shopping option for locals and tourists alike.

The night markets in Siem Reap are growing in number, resulting in fierce competition. The newest night market to open in town is located on Sivatha Road diagonally across from Pub Street.

The night market's neon sign arcs across the street in a dazzling display. Another night market invested by South Koreans is located on the street on the opposite bank of Siem Reap River.

The night markets have not only created a business opportunity for small tourist items, but their culture has also spread to Phnom Penh.

Although Phnom Penh is Cambodia's capital, in terms of number and the scale of stalls, the night markets there cannot match those in Siem Reap due to poor management and lack of tourists.

Phnom Penh's first tourist night market was originally located on the river bank beside Sisowath Quay. Later, due to the municipal government's beautification programme, the night market was relocated to the square near the docks.

As the stalls there are temporary structures, and the market has not been planned out properly. Besides, the selection of goods is also limited. The pedestrian traffic through the area is also pretty hectic and when there are lots of tourists there is a real cause for concern as snatch thieves would make off with their wallets and mobile phones.

By comparison, Siem Reap's night markets are much safer.

Also unlike Siem Reap's night markets, Phnom Penh's markets do not open every night, and the goods on sale are unremarkable. On top of that, the municipal government frequently sets up a stage in the middle of the park and rents it out to telecommunications companies for promotional events that make a huge racket. The haphazard management fails to attract more foreign tourists but has instead made the place a popular hangout for local youths.

The Phnom Penh night market is only open three days a week, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. When the night market is held, parking fee of 3,000 riels is charged, five times higher than during normal times.

Siem Reap currently has four night markets of differing scales, three of these on Sivatha Boulevard near Pub Street while the international night market near the river bank and smaller in scale has been established by the South Koreans.

The first night market, Angkor Night Market, has been operating for more than two years. It is larger than the other night markets and has a floor covered in gravel. Each of the 450 stalls is one square metre in size.

The stalls sell goods that are mostly the same, such as silk, accessories, wood carvings, etc. They are mostly souvenirs targeted at foreign tourists.

The goods which tourists like most are local handicraft, silk, souvenir T-shirts, etc.

Some night markets also include facilities for the convenience of tourists such as bars, fish reflexology spas, etc. When a tourist gets tired from walking, the bar is a good place to sit down and rest while having a few drinks. Alternatively, US$3 will allow a customer to soak their feet in the waters of a fish reflexology spa, while tiny fish would nibble away the dead skin on their feet.

While roaming the night markets in Siem Reap, you only need to spend a few dollars to while away the night. The selection of goods is extensive while the prices are good.

The third night market in Siem Reap, known as the Siem Reap Night Market, just opened this February. It is located in a strategic spot diagonally across from Pub Street (the two are separated by just one street) and has over a hundred stalls selling all sorts of tourist souvenirs.

The uniqueness of Siem Reap's night markets lies in the wide variety of options available to tourists. After dinner and drinks at Pub Street, they can go for a stroll in an adjacent night market and spend 20 to 30 US dollars buying a pile of silk or carvings as gifts for friends and families back home.

At the same time, they can also enjoy free performances such as apsara dances and shadow puppet plays. There are also small restaurants and massage parlours in the night markets offering their services.

Although the number of tourists visiting Siem Reap has dropped compared to several years ago, in the two years since the night markets have opened for business, they have brought many employment opportunities for the locals, and the city now has one additional attraction for tourists to spend their time at night. (Translated by ALEX YUEN/Cambodia Sin Chew Daily)

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