Cambodia, and the Khmer people have most definitely been through the wheel of possible terrestrial realities. Inside this country, one can witness this fact and thus be amazed. A stop in Siem Reap is an increasingly popular one these days, where the history and wonder truly give a flavor to the simple everyday life. Once again, a public market is the perfect place to be in the median of the modest splendor that transpires in every step people take in this small but significant city.
Siem Reap has long been associated with the ancient imperial city of Ankgor. For centuries the site has been a buddhist pilgrimage site of the highest importance. In 1910, the French started restoring Ankgor and soon, the number of tourists grew and grew, in Siem Reap. In 1920, the Grand Hotel of the city was built. This was the beginning of a rise in importance for this relatively small village at the time.
Today, Siem Reap is still a base camp of sorts, for those who want to venture forth and discover what is arguably one of the present wonders of the world: Ankgor. It is thus a very touristic city. The French quarter nevertheless has a very nice feel and aesthetic to it, if you can go beyond the constant sollicitation of the tourist dollar by many superficial means. The best place to do this, is right in the center of town: the old market, also known as the fish market.
A pivotal location for visitors but mostly for the locals
The old market is very much still central to life in this city; so much that
many businesses still advertize their location in relation to it. Upon arrival, we are in front of the Psah Chas (in Khmer, literally old market), a typical Cambodian market. This one is bustling with all sorts of activity. From the tuktuks, motor bikes and cars amassing outside, to the dense population circulating within the indoor stalls, everybody is here for a reason.
As one would suspect, many tourists come to this place, specifically in search of authenticity. Indeed this market’s authenticity contrasts with many shops in the vicinity aimed at them. Once inside, we quickly realize that this is an affair mainly concerning the local population. Every inch is consecrated to selling produce, meats and grains. The vendors sell while seated on the counter where they prepare what each client desires. There are narrow aisles, with many people going back and forth. The activity rises and resonates with a steady hum.
The place to glimpse unique tastes and products
The name says it all, this place once was known as a fish market. There therefore are fish in all possible forms: fresh, live, cooked and dried, A noteworthy ingredient definitely is prahok. It is a paste consisting of ground channa or gourami fish that has been fermented with the use of salt. It is a very tasty preparation that is often cooked in banana leaves and served with vegetables. It can also be used to influence the taste of various dishes.
For those always in pursuit of new kinds of fruits and vegetables, you most definitely will find some unknown specimens there. The meats there are also of high quality; the poultry comes in quite a wide variety that westerners rarely suspect possible. Psah Chas is also a location to taste first hand some works of Khmer gastronomy. There are pork sausages, various other preparations, even what looks like a stew consisting of a member of the cicadidae family. Thankfully, there is a place where one can taste some Khmer foods on the spot, sitting at the table with the locals.
One must not forget, there are also many non edible products such as handicraft. Most notably, there are some high quality cotton Khmer Krama, a kind of classic headscarf. Some kiosks also sell Cambodian silk clothes and of course, the traditional scarves that are the pride of the centuries old tradition of silk producing and weaving, in Cambodia.
It may be a simple place, not particularly noticeable from the outside, however, if you are ever in Siem Reap, please go beyond the usual touristic route. To get a taste of the atmosphere and feel of everyday Khmer life in downtown Siem Reap, do remember to go the extra few meters, to Psah Chas, an old market where time has stood still for quite a few generations. Enter the place and venture forth!
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