They say that all nice things come in small packages. In Cambodia, it’s all small things come in nice packages.
Shopping can be really fun in Phnom Penh although it will take you several tuk-tuk rides from one place to another since there are not many malls. Even then, the malls are not very interesting and don’t really house many shops that sell nice and good quality stuff.
Phnom Penh has seen a mushrooming of small boutique shops that sell Cambodian-made silk products, clothing, accessories, home decoration, household upholstery and beddings, arts and crafts, etc. in the past few years. Although most of the shops are really small but the items sold are usually handmade, unique and pretty. Some might be a bit too pricey (all in US dollars) but it’s worth the purchase as they are usually high in quality and not made for mass production. In addition to this, many of the shops are operated by locals and profits are channelled towards funding NGOs and creating sustainable livelihood for the communities.
I have a friend who came to Phnom Penh not too long ago just for the shopping. She has fallen in love with a particular boutique selling silk women’s clothing. Needless to say, she went on a shopping frenzy and I can understand why. The hand-woven silk, satin and organza materials feel rich to the touch, the colours are not the usual bright and loud type and the design and cutting is made to fit any body type. They provide free altercation if you have enough time here. A purchase will set you back quite a lot but if you can afford it, as my friend does, a dress will make quite an impression at a cocktail party in New York City, for instance.
Anyway, I’ve done some shopping lately in Phnom Penh and what really interests me is that many of these boutique shops provide lovely and environmentally friendly packaging when you purchase their goods. Even when you buy lotus flowers at the local market, they are wrapped in fresh lotus leaves! This makes the shopping experience truly nicer and if you’re planning to buy someone a gift, there is no need for gift wrapping, which means more thumbs up for the environment.
Here are just some pictures to illustrate what makes shopping different in Cambodia.
This is a gift I bought for a friend from Elsewhere (Street 278). It comes with a lovely baby blue cloth pouch.
Inside this palm leaves container are some napkin holders. This is bought at Sophanna Boutique (#24, Street 144/49). The container can be used again for gifts or to hold other small items; stationery, letters, toiletries, etc.
These are famous Kampot peppers and palm sugar. You can find them in most supermarkets or souvenir shops. They usually come in such wrappings even if they are not meant as souvenir items.
Bags made out of left-over cloth from Bliss (#29, Street 240). They come in different sizes depending on the size of your purchase. Bliss operates as a spa but also sell beauty products made from natural ingredients, cotton clothes, accessories, handbags and lovely beddings.
Left: A polka-dot dress I bought in Orange River (#361E, Sisowath Quay, two stores away from the FCC) wrapped snugly in a salmon pink organza pouch. Right: A tiger balm with steel applier in a bamboo box. This is bought at the Phnom Penh International airport. You can find this in other handicrafts shops in Phnom Penh city.
These beautiful multi-coloured silk coasters are complimentary gifts from Orange River. Again, many shops here utilize their materials efficiently. Excess materials are not tossed away but creatively made into small decorative items, hand carrier bags or free gifts.
This lotus leave from the flowers I bought is used as a natural and beautiful “plate” for fresh food ingredients and fruits. They really spice up your kitchen.