Excited that I had a bicycle which made moving around Siem Reap much easier and saved me from hassles of being bothered by Tuk Tuk drivers and other touts, I decided to take a detour on the way back to the Two Dragons guesthouse from Wat Preah Prom Rath where I was teaching English after the class was over. I wanted to have a ride by more remote areas of Siem Reap which I have not got a chance to visit yet. According to Angkor Siem Reap Visitors Guide, there was a mall called Lucky Mall further north up Sivatha Boulevard so I drove that way to check out what it was all about.
Lucky Mall is a three story shopping centre owned and operated by Lucky Market Group from Phnom Penh. It sports decent grocery store on the ground floor, clothes store and fast food restaurant on the second floor and an electronic store on the top floor. If you are coming with the bag, you must leave it at Lucky Mall’s front desk or you will be yelled at.
The grocery store at the bottom of Lucky Mall is the largest one in Siem Reap and works the same way western grocery stores do – prices are visibly marked and apply equally to everyone, regardless of color of skin (one of few places in Cambodia without open segregation). While it’s mostly foreigners who shop at Lucky Mall, you will also encounter many Cambodians there who come there to try their first ride up and down the escalators. You just see them riding it with excitement for they’ve never seen such thing before and Lucky Mall is the only place where they can actually try to take a ride for real.
Since my previous attempts to purchase fruit at Phsar Kandal (Center Market) and Phsar Chas (Old Market) failed due to open racism (Cambodians believe that because your skin color is different from that of Cambodians, you get shittier treatment and pay more for everything than Cambodians), I was glad to come to a shop where racism was not tolerated. I went to Lucky Mall often and made it one of my primary stops for fruit purchases.
This was my first visit to Lucky Mall so I just got my feet wet by seeing what it’s about and what they had and since I was heading home after a long day out plus an hour long English class, all I bought was one watermelon I was intending to eat in whole once I was back at the guesthouse. The watermelon cost $1.05 for one whole head which was an excellent price I could not complain about. I paid for it, picked up my bag that was in storage at the front desk, threw the watermelon inside and mounted my bike to ride east down National Road #6 which runs not far from Two Dragons. And on the way I ran across what was going to become my absolutely most favourite place in all of Cambodia.
Since my previous attempt at buying fruit at an open market failed, I was gonna browse through the nearby Old Market (Phsar Chas) and see what is for sale there. I was however determined I would not buy anything, I just wanted to see what they had. Afterall, I was already well fed and felt rather content for the morning. Phsar Chas – Old Market is only steps away from Siem Reap’s Pub Street where Khmer Family Restaurant is located so despite growing heat, I set on my merry way in general Old Market direction.
It was hot. Phsar Chas – Old Market is a marketplace cramped with stalls selling all sorts of merchandise. It’s roofed and not air-conditioned or otherwise ventilated which means you will be sweating your guts out the moment you step inside. The smell is not very flattering either. Some stalls sell fish or dried up meat from unknown sources which give off a lot of, often unpleasant smells in this heat. But Old Market is an experience of its own.
It’s mostly used by locals so as a tourist you will stand out like a sore thumb and will be approached on every step. Owners of the stalls will always see a walking bag of money in you and will do their darnest best to get as much as possible. That’s what makes shopping at marketplaces such as this Old Market so difficult. They have their merchandise on display, but never with prices. Locals shop there all the time and pay fair price, where as when a tourist comes to vicinity, each vendor sees the opportunity to sell at a price that’s a high factor of what locals would pay.
I have recognized this immediately which made it excessively difficult for me to possibly buy anything from the markets. I’d much rather go to a tourist mall where items may not be as plentiful, but food is stored in refrigerated cabinets, not in the open heat and prices are clearly market. Those prices may be higher than what locals pay for the same item at a market, but for a tourist it means that there will be no surprises when it comes to paying. I know what I’ve picked up, I know what my total will be. At a market place such as Old Market, you never do and since I was still new to Siem Reap and Cambodia all together, I did not know what fair price for let’s say a water melon is. It would be really easy to rip me off.
Nevertheless, taking a walk through Old Market is a worthy experience. Brace yourself for extreme heat and lots of sweat (at least in rainy season), unpleasant smells of all sorts and glittering eyes of vendors which come alight when they spot you and start running at you until they are in your face and corner you so you can’t get away. Other vendor from other stalls will do the same in hopes you end up buying from them, not someone else so it’s them who get to rip you off, not next door stall. This “in your face” treatment of tourists is rather aggravating and you will get a lot of it. It’s unfortunate and rather discouraging. It discouraged me well enough from ever buying at Old Market or any other market for that matter.