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Shopping in Cambodia

There are a wide variety of items available for purchase in Cambodia. The country was once well-known for its superior silk weaving, metal work and woodcarving. After decades of neglect, many of these arts are being revived. Visitors can find silver items, jewelry, gems, colorful cloth for sarong and hats (variegated silks), wood carving, paper maché masks, stone copies of ancient Khmer art, brass and bronze figurines and oil paintings in the different markets and shops on main avenues. The traditional clothing for both men and women is the Krama, a long, narrow checked silk or cotton cloth available in most markets and shops. Jewelry is generally not up to international standards for design and workmanship and buyers should use caution when purchasing gold and gems. The export of antiques is subject to approval of the Ministry of Culture. Bargaining is essential for all souvenir shopping, it travelers are to obtain reasonable prices. Reductions of up to 20 percent are possible.

Encouraged by the government and aid organisations, local people are rediscovering their natural talent as weavers and craftsmen.

A number of rehabilitation programmes have sprung up since the eighties, such as the gift shop at Wat Thanh in Phnom Penh, a co-op that trains Cambodians disabled by land mines in making attractive items out of silk and cotton fabrics, rattan, bamboo, wood and clays. The result is a pleasing selection of purses and handbags, clothing, furnishings, paintings and many other items.

Markets - Designed by a French architect, the bustling art-deco style Central Market opened in 1937 and is a famous city landmark offering a wide range of goods, including souvenirs, jewellery, silks, electronic goods, stationery, second hand clothes, and bric-a-brac. The Russian Market is good for souvenirs such as objects d'art, trinkets, coins, miniature Buddhas, etc. The Olympic Market is a three story covered market near the Olympic Stadium which was upgraded and reopened in 1994 and now specialises in wholesale items.

Weaving - Silk in Cambodiais still handmade using traditional methods with the pattern dyed into the threadsbefore the silk is woven, thus the task of dying and weaving a single piece can take several weeks. Older silk pieces (pre-1970) are increasingly prized.Weavers can be seen in action at the historic silk centre of Koh Dach outside Phnom Penh. Some nice handiwork comes from Kompong Cham, Takeo and Kandal provinces.

Silver - Was prized in the 11th century for religious and ceremonial purposes. With tourism expanding, numerous silver shops have sprung up in Phnom Penh, selling carved decorative and practical items. Other outlets are in village centres such as Tul Mau, roughly 30 km north of the city. The normal working material is an alloy containing 70-80 percent of pure silver, and prices are based on a combination of weight and artistry, which puts bargaining skills to a good test.

Basket weaving - Carried out mainly by women, many of whom cultivate and harvest the reeds by themselves. It is also an important aspect of rehabilitation programmes for victims of landmines and the dexterity of the local people is beautifully reflected in products of all kinds, including baskets, bowls, plates, and many other useful items.

Antiques - The sale and export of registered antique pieces is strictly forbidden. This, alas, has not prevented thousands ofpriceless artifacts from Angkor being stolen over the years, and sold overseas. You are however unlikely to come across genuine antiques openly on sale in Cambodia

Sculptured Reproductions - There are excellent reproductions and copies available at reasonable prices. The intrinsic skill of craftsmen - using the same locally mined stone used to build the ancienttemples - produces sculptures of such quality that, with artificially induced weathering, have even fooled some experts. There are also bronze copies of small statues, Buddha figures, heads and apsaras forsale. These can be exported freely, but if you pass through Thailand on the way home, remember that the export of Buddha figures from that country is not allowed.

Wood Carving - A traditional, if sometimes hefty, addition to your baggage allowance are carved wooden apsaras, and a variety of other attractive and decorative wooden items, including furniture, which can be shipped home. Since the quality and maturity of the wood dictates its value as much as the handiwork, care in selection is needed, especially for more expensive items, and it pays to shop around.

Custom Made Tailoring - Following the lead of Bangkok's ubiquitous and often over-persuasive purveyors of made-to-measure clothes, ready in a day or even less, there are now many tailor shops opening in Phnom Penh. Tailors will happily copy from a photo or from a sample in your suitcase.

Betel nut boxes - These cute containers once reflected the status of their user according to its size, design and the material from which it was made . Mostly of silver, many carry ornate designs, and are often crafted into animal shapes. Originals usually contain a higher quantity of silver, but the newly manufactured varieties are still handmade, and a careful choice can provide you with attractive souvenirs or thoughtful lightweight gifts.

Gold and Gems - 24-carat gold is used for most pieces in the Chinese tradition with prices fluctuating with the daily market value. Jewellery tends to be simple and unsophisticated, and although locally mined precious stones - especially rubies, sapphires and emeralds - can make excellent buys, beware of increasing numbers of fakes.

Lacquerware - Most pieces originate in Vietnam, or are made locally by expatriate Vietnamese craftsmen. Local markets normally have a good supply, and the prices are often more competitive (with suitable bargaining) than in the markets of Vietnam.

Rice paper prints ("Temple Rubbings") - A lightweight, decorative, inexpensive and attractive buy, made by placing rice paper over a mould taken from a bas-relief carving from one of the Angkor temples and lightly rubbing over it with soft charcoal. When framed and suitably illuminated, they can look superb.

Cotton T-shirts - Some very cheap and amusing designs are available, which make excellent small gifts or souvenirs.

The Krama - The typical locally worn chequered scarf. Uniquely Khmer, inexpensive, and practical.





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