Sihanoukville is known for three things: beaches, bars, and cheap shops. While the white-sand beaches are almost always the top tourism draws of tropical destinations such as Sihanoukville, tourists are often delightfully surprised that shopping in Sihanoukville (and other Southeast Asian cities for that matter) is a blast. A shopper’s dream come true – quality items at very cheap and negotiable prices.
The first and most common items to buy are souvenirs, and the most common souvenir items in this city are woven baskets, betel nut boxes, wood carvings and the ubiquitous krama scarf. The beautifully crafted reed-woven baskets are mainly made by the Khmer women. Some of the female artisans personally cultivate and harvest the reeds. This is part of the Cambodian government’s project to revive and promote the business of weaving, believing that Cambodians are naturally very good weavers, craftsmen and artists. For this reason, the government is pushing and supporting its locals to create more and more purses, handbags, clothes, baskets, bowls, and paintings made from silk, cotton, rattan, bamboo, wood and clay.
On the other hand, betel nut boxes are tiny ornately designed containers typically made of silver and sometimes shaped as an animal. These are hand-made souvenirs that are perfect as jewelry box or paper weight. They are easy to carry and perfect handy souvenirs and gifts to take home.
The third most popular item would be wood carvings, although they may be heavy to carry back home. Still, authentic Khmer wood carvings make great conversational pieces in the West, as well as in other parts of the world. The most common carvings are of nymphs and religious icons.
Finally, the checkered karma scarf, bandana or headgear clearly represents traditional Khmer clothing. Typically made from Khmer silk or cotton, they are inexpensive and immensely useful. Other leading souvenir items that are exciting to take home are pieces of crafts and jewelry, authentic Sihanoukville paintings, real and fake antiques, and cotton T-shirts with a huge “Sihanoukville” written across. They are also a number of shirts with amusing, often sexually suggestive designs.
A one-stop shop for souvenirs is Pshar Leu or Upper Market on Omui Street. The place is very traditional, very third-world, and a number of stalls are lined up inside this old, dimly lit and partially roofed structure. For a tourist’s shopping pleasure, Pshar Leu is open from sunrise to sunset. Aside from souvenir items, the market also sells all other things that a buyer can think of – vegetables, meat, electronic gadgets, shoes, auto parts, and all kinds of cheap and expensive clothes. The market also sells the popular Kampot (Cambodian) pepper. Many local foods can’t make it pass international customs, except for Kampot pepper.
Meanwhile, shopping in Sihanoukville also includes a number of jewelry shops that sell authentic yet affordable pieces of gold and silver. They are all over the city, and typically on sale are locally mined gems, which include rubies, sapphires and emeralds. There are plenty of fakes, however, and so tourists should be more careful and watchful when buying precious stones. Simply put, quality items are on sale everywhere in the city and their prices are all negotiable.