Psar Leu: Local Market Maze

posted by Kristy Densmore

Psar Leu, a massive market on the east side of Siem Reap, Cambodia, is an overwhelming maze for foreigners.

A giant warehouse encloses the market, with its outer parameters surrounded by fresh fruit and vegetable stands. Actually, it depends on how you define fresh- most things are stagnant and covered in flies. It’s wise to purchase unpeeled foods to prevent sickness.

Inside, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the aisles; they’re narrow and claustrophobic, squaring off in every direction. When looking down an aisle, it’s difficult to see what’s ahead. One must muster up the courage to choose a direction and explore.

Local Khmers weave in and out of each other, hustling to their destination. Each local seems to have a map of the market in mind as he or she swiftly moves, weighted down with products to sell, bags hanging from their shoulders, or buckets of food that may be a fourth of their body weight.

There are different sections of the market, comparable to a department store in the States, though the standards of cleanliness and organization are far from the same. Clothing stalls, hardware sections, cosmetic sellers- there’s numerous people selling everything a Khmer family needs.

Psar Leu hardly caters to foreigners. A western customer would be easy to pick out in the crowd, but is rarely seen wondering among the countless aisles of foreign mystery and wonder. There are no English ads for the market, no promotion- the locals do not encourage tourism in this market, though they won’t turn someone down if he or she passes through.

Overhead lights are minimal, and the darkness lends an additional sense of grunge to the market, complimented by the mystery scents as one nears the food section. Some stands, particularly those with clothes, have more lights; some of the hardware sections look sinister towards the back as products fade in the darkness.

The clothing stalls probably interest most traveling foreigners above products relating to everyday life in Cambodia. There are sections for men and women. Colorful dresses- floral, solid, glittered, shiny- line the parameters of the ceiling. Jeans fill tables in stacks of three to five. A variety of symbols, ranging from Gucci to Apple, imprint many of the jean pockets.

Warning! Clothing sizes are small here. The Khmer body structure tends to run slim and petite.

Local seamstresses house themselves in a section of the market, and their products are personal and cheap. There are fabric stalls galore that offer cloth that’s solid colored, sparkly, or geometrically designed. It generally takes 24 to 48 hours to have something personally tailored by a seamstress in Cambodia (maybe an option for those who don’t fit in Khmer sizes?).

The center of the market looks like a mini Vegas from far off, with rows upon rows of white lights. It’s really just jewelry- a giant core of counters selling Cambodian silver and jewels. The space here is pleasant, and it’s possible to catch a breath (both qualities are rarely found in this market, so enjoy it while you can).

Why would a foreigner go to Psar Leu? For the local experience, of course.

It’s important to be mindful of the local Khmer, though. This is where they live, where they obtain goods to survive, and where they interact with each other on a daily basis. It’s not open to foreign invasion, but curious travelers are welcome. It’s certainly not a place for everyone, but it lends a sense of home to travelers immersing themselves in the Cambodian culture.

Psar Leu is the essence of Khmer life.


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