The best shopping in town, for everything from souvenirs and trinkets to the obligatory kitchen sink, is at any of the large local markets. The Central Market shouldn't be missed, but the Russian Market between streets 440 and 450 in the far south of town is where the real deal on souvenirs can be had (go by moto or tuk-tuk). It takes hard haggling to get the good deals on items like opium paraphernalia, carvings, and ceramics. It's all authentic looking, even if made in China. Given Cambodia's large garment industry for export, it is no surprise that some goods "fall off the back of the truck" in transit and end up here. It's a good place to buy brand names at a fraction of their normal retail price.
Shops and galleries are growing in ever-increasing numbers in the developing capital. All along Street 178, interesting little outlets are springing up and include a few affordable silk dealers like Sayon Silkworks, just west of the National Museum on Street 178. Asasax Art Gallery, No. 192 St. 178 (tel. 012/217-795; www.asasaxart.com.kh), features unique local works. Silk & Pepper at No. 33Eo St. 178 (tel. 023/222-692) has some great silk accessories and kimonos. Take a stroll along Street 240, which is home to a fantastic cafe culture and a few antiques shops and boutiques like Bliss, No. 29 St. 240 (tel. 023/215-754), which sells some unique beaded and embroidered cushions and quilts; or Le Lezard Bleu (No. 61 St. 240; tel. 023/986-978 or 012/406-294), which features traditional and contemporary artwork and top-notch framing.
Bazar, at 28 Sihanouk Blvd., near the Independence Monument (tel. 012/776-492), has a small but refined collection of Asian antiques and furniture.
For upscale, original clothing look no further than Ambre at No. 37 St. 178 (tel. 023/217-935; closed Sun). This two-story store carries the whimsical, beautifully cut designs of Cambodian-born, France-raised Romyda Keth. Keth has a love affair with jersey and often layers clothing with funky embroidery or gorgeous swaths of organza.
For CDs, MP3 recordings, DVDs, and cool T-shirts and hip-hop fashions, stop by the Boom Boom Room, on Street 93 in the backpacker area near Boeung Kak Lake or at their new location just across from the Golden Gate Hotel at No. 1C St. 278 (tel. 012/709-096).
For essentials and Western groceries, stop by the Lucky Market, No. 160 Sihanouk Blvd. (tel. 023/215-229), the most popular shopping center for Phnom Penh's many expats. The main branch of "the Lucky" is just west of the Victory Monument traffic circle, and there's also a branch on the ground floor of the Sorya Shopping Center. For fresh, organic produce and fine canned goods, Veggy's is at No. 23 St. 240 (tel. 023/211-534) and carries a similar line of familiar comfort foods from back home, whether home is Arkansas, Tokyo, Paris, or Seoul.
Monument Books, No. 111 Norodom Blvd. (tel. 023/217-617), has a great selection of new books; it's a good spot to find books on the Khmer language and culture. Upstairs you'll find Monument Toys for the kiddies. There are also stores at No. 53 St. 426 (tel. 023/217-617) and in the airport at the international departure level. For secondhand books and exchange, D's Books (No. 12 178 St. and No. 79 240 St.; tel. 023/221-280) has a good selection. Also check out the Sorya Shopping Center (tel. 023/210-018) just south of central market, which has seven stories of brand-name international goods as well as discount copies.
Munitions into Art
As armed conflict drew to a close at the end of the last century, Cambodia remained awash with weapons of war. Even the motodups were often armed back then. Programs to disarm the populace were quickly put into place. AK47s, mortars, and rocket launchers soon started to pile up. In 2003, Sasha Constable, a quietly spoken British artist, trained in London, teamed up with an organization with the unwieldy title of the "European Union's Assistance on Curbing Small Arms and Light Weapons program," or EUASAC.
The cooperation provided the opportunity to channel a vision. Young Khmer artists (from the Royal University of Fine Arts) were aching to express their feelings about the end of war and their hopes for the newfound peace. Under the auspices of EUASAC, Sasha cofounded the Peace Art Project Cambodia, and with expert help from within Cambodia and from around the globe, her students took all these rusting metal piles of misery and transformed them into sculptures reflecting their anger at conflict and their desire for peace. There are giant dragonflies fashioned from machine-gun barrels, huge angry metal figures breaking apart an AK47, the ubiquitous and potent symbol of casual murder across Cambodia. Sculptures include delicately poised ballet dancers, birds of prey with wings soaring, and other more prosaic and typically Cambodian rural themes: A woman carrying water, two buckets slung across her shoulders with a bamboo pole, echoes the etiolated figures of Giacometti. A water buffalo bows its head and a small, sparky guard dog sniffs the air.
In many venues around Phnom Penh you might spot the work of PAPC. Sometimes it is a bar stool, sometimes an ornament. There's a sign and clock made from AK47s at Cantina, and a huge "Bird of Peace" sculpture, commissioned by the Australian Embassy, at Sanderson Park near Wat Phnom. There are also large municipal sculptures across Cambodia, particularly in Battambang and Kompong Thom. Although the PAPC program is over, the idea lives on. A group of Cambodian artists is turning land mines into art under the auspices of the Cambodian Mine Action Art Project. With support from UNDP, the artists spend time in the countryside with both local people and working de-miners, and then create paintings and collages to express how Cambodians are positively addressing the challenge of land mine and explosive remnants of war and the effects. The work is shown both within Cambodia and is being shown abroad as well in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Cambodia's ratification of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty.
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