The real name of this important market in Phnom Penh is Psar Toul Tom Poung, but it’s been called Russian Market since the 1980’s. No, the Russians did not build it, but the name caught on because the market used to sell tons of Russian goods during the Cold War. Today, modern trinkets and souvenir items have replaced any traces of Russian items on sale.
The Russian Market is ever jam-packed with locals, tourists and expats buying all sorts of commodities at very low prices, often times surprisingly low. Some of the items sold on endless rows of stores are the following: local and Chinese silk and linens, antiques (both real and fake), custom-shaped gold and silver pieces of jewelry, silverware, clothes, shoes, pants, native scarves or kramas, beach wear, toys, betel-nut boxes, musical instruments, miniature Buddhas, and carvings of ritual objects made from wood and stone. Silk is the most popular commodity. And since major western garment factories are based here in Cambodia, branded shirts and imitations are everywhere. The brand names include Gap, Calvin Klein, and Next, just to name a few. Other popular items are very cheap bootleg DVD movies, audio CD’s and computer programs costing only US per disc.
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Surprisingly, winter clothes, jackets and jeans in western sizes are now on sale, and there are plenty of stores carrying them. This collection of clothes will never be of any use in this very warm country. Quite obviously the vendors have noticed the ever increasing number of western travelers to Phnom Penh. According to recent counts, thousands of foreign tourists make their way to the Russian Market each month. With so many buyers, visitors or plain observers, the place gets very hot and stifling. The scene is a very busy sea of haggling, bargaining, and buying. Westerners also enjoy visiting the tailor shops. Local tailors are so skilled that they can make carbon copy duplicates of any piece of dress the customers bring to them
Food also occupies a major space in the market. The northern side is full of local and imported fruits, as well as vegetables, meat, and dried foods.
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The stalls may not be as sanitary, though. Some meat items lay on the ground, separated only from the muddy concrete floor by a piece of burlap sack and not kept on ice. The fruits and vegetables won’t be as fresh in the afternoon due to the high humidity inside the market. The best buys are the fresh and iced sea foods, specially the crustaceans. The fishes give out a foul smell, though, that could turn off a number of potential buyers. Not far away are fast-food stalls for buyers who may have gone hungry from too much bargaining.
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There are rows of authentic Khmer foods and some are ingeniously sold on mobile carts. A popular “mobile” food is the Banh Xeo or Khmer pancake. Also served nearby are ice coffees, freshly squeezed fruit juices, and icy cold softdrinks that are perfect inside the hot, crammed market.
Located on Street 155 and Street 444, the Russian Market or Psar Toul Tom Poung is a very distinguished landmark in Phnom Penh. It has expanded through the years, mostly made from corrugated iron, cement and hubris; and with the ever-increasing influx of tourists, it could expand even farther.