First, a word about Responsible Tourism:
As someone who loves to comparison shop, shopping in Cambodia was incredibly difficult & uncomfortable for me. I wish I had worn dark shades and a hat, like a poker-player or an undercover celebrity. In Cambodia, once you even glance at the merchandise, you’ll likely be chased down the street until you buy it. “Please, please ma’am! Please! Only five dollars! Please!” And merchandise (mainly knock-off travel books and postcards) can be found everywhere – including within the temple grounds, and especially at the exits:
Another time, while I ate my lunch in a restaurant, a little boy walked up to me and DEMANDED that I buy his postcards. As sad as it was to see his desperation, I knew that buying a postcard from him wouldn’t help. If you’ve seen Slum Dog Millionaire (a must-see movie), you know that in 3rd world countries, kids are often begging for ‘pimps’ who exploit them and take all of their earnings. And even if the child is working to help his or her actual family, in the long-run wouldn’t an education be more likely to help the family overcome poverty?
- There are an estimated 24,000 children living & working on the streets of Cambodia.
- Despite primary education being mandatory and free, the average Cambodian street child only completes 2.9 years of school before dropping out. (Note: Our tour guide also mentioned that because teachers are so underpaid, even though primary school is supposed to be free, the teachers sometimes demand payments from the students, which many families cannot afford.)
Thankfully, there are a number of organizations working to bring awareness and aid to these and other issues faced in Cambodia:
And thankfully, there’s no need to skip shopping. In fact, shopping is encouraged, as it helps the local economy! We shopped plenty, while keeping 2 simple rules in mind:
- Don’t buy anything from a child.
- Seek out Socially Responsible companies as much as possible.
This is where we bought our biggest souvenir, a hand-made painting of the village on stilts in Tonle Sap Lake.
We also picked up some smaller souvenirs here, like the cosmetic bags made out of recycled Cement sacks. I actually spotted some of these cement sacks around town!
And after working up an appetite shopping, we didn’t have to go far to find the perfect snack at a Street Cart: Rice patties filled with Water Spinach.
Whenever we were tired after sight-seeing all day and shopping all night, foot massages were easily found near the Night Market for as little as $3 an hour. At the shop pictured below, historical shows about Angkor Wat played in the background while we relaxed.
After spending a lot of time in souvenir shops, we wanted to see where the locals really shop. The trick to finding these places? Look for scooters.
One interesting thing about Southeast Asian markets is that the sellers are normally sitting right next to their merchandise, whether it’s on the floor, or in the case of Psar Chaa market, sitting on the tables.
Another day, we had our tour guide take us to a market so that we could get some fruit. There were even more scooters at this one, so we knew it must be good.
Mike’s loaded up on his favorite, Longans (a.k.a. Lychees). These remind me of a cross between grapes and melons.
My favorite, however, is the Tamarind. Though it’s a pretty ugly fruit, the sweet & sour tanginess of it has me hooked!
But our coolest shopping experience in Cambodia was along the dirt road out of town. Our tour guide and driver pulled over so we could see how Palm Sugar is made. Palm Sugar is actually becoming quite a popular natural sweetener and alternative to agave. (Leanne has a great vlog about why she loves palm sugar, and plenty of recipes for it too!)
- Once a day, someone climbs to the top of each Coconut Palm tree to extract the sugary sap by squeezing it from the flowers into buckets. (I would not want this job – this looks frightening!)
- Each tree has both a male flower (pictured below, left) and a female flower (pictured below, right), both of which yield sap.
- The sap is then boiled and stirred until it thickens.
I wish we had bought more. We bought a couple packs of the candies as souvenirs (shown below, packaged with palm leaves), but just days later, we’d already eaten them all.
This concludes my series of posts about our adventures in Cambodia. Stay tuned, though – details about our time in Vietnam are coming soon!
I’d love to hear from you!
What is your favorite exotic fruit?
Or what fruit would you most like to try?