Psar Loeu, Siem Reap

khtieu stand at psar loeu
Family sits for khtieu (Khmer noodle soup) breakfast at dawn, Psar Loeu, Siem Reap

Over half a million foreigners arrive in Siem Reap every year but go to the biggest market in town, Psar Loeu, and you’d be convinced otherwise. When you arrive at daybreak for breakfast, any self-respecting tourist is sitting in front of Angkor Wat’s north reflecting pool, taking the same photo that every tourist takes with a vigour that suggests that their memories of Angkor Wat are worthless without it, instead of immersing themselves in the chaos of the market. With the average tourist stay in Siem Reap being 48 hours, it gives the traveller a scant few hours to capture the same scene that every one else captures.

loeu vegies
Random vegetable selection

While it is easy to get swept up by the madness of Psar Loeu and convinced that the founding theory behind the market is anarchy, order emerges. What on the outside looks like a random selection of vegetables is a tight selection of greens for a single Cambodian soup. Some vendors specialise in having all the ingredients for a single samlor, others for salad ingredients. It makes shopping for dinner as simple as finding the right stall. Inside, vendors arrange the semi-dried fish trei prama and the coconut husk smoked trei kes by size. The live snakehead fish is quickly subdued, skinned, and divided into regular pieces; or butterfly filleted for later drying.

What differentiates Psar Loeu from the other markets in town is both scale and target market. The two markets closer to the centre of town cater more to the tourist trade with many smaller vegetable vendors in the central Psar Chas currently being pushed out to Psar Loeu to make way for another Beerlao t-shirt stall. Psar Loeu receives scant mention in the guidebooks. The new émigrés to Psar Loeu have started setting up shop in the surrounding dirt alleyways and upon any spare patch of bitumen, both contributing to the mayhem and the size of the market. The food now occupies the entire streets surrounding the market building with the butcheries and fishmongers just inside the awnings, who in the mornings are barely finished butchering their respective meats.

Location: Psar Loeu is on Rd No. 6 to Phnom Penh, in Siem Reap

7 thoughts on “Psar Loeu, Siem Reap”

  1. Great entry. I love the photo of the woman dishing soup- seems to capture the mood very well.

    This is rather off topic, but I believe (I may be wrong) that several months ago I saw you mention some Khmer cooking schools in Pnomh Penh… are there any in particular that you would recommend? Thanks much for any info! -X

  2. The only cooking school that I know in Phnom Penh aimed at visitors is the one run by frizz restaurant (http://www.frizz-restaurant.com/). There are a few others, but as far as I know, they’re aimed at training housekeepers to cook Western. I did the frizz course over two years ago and enjoyed it at the time and at $20 for a full day is a real bargain – although I’d be much more critical of the recipes now that I’ve eaten much more Khmer food (e.g. no prahok is used). The teacher that was involved when I was there has since left, so things may have changed entirely.

  3. The new Psaa Leu was the subject of a dispute between the managers and stall renters a few years back when it was rebuilt, some felt they were being forced out of the decision making process. Many stall owners simply set up shop on the side of the road nearby until the new market opened. It wasn’t really discussed at the time, but I think the ad hoc nature didn’t do much for the quality of food being sold.

  4. Hey Phil- thanks for the tip. I checked out the Frizz school, but was a little disappointed. Aside from Fish Amok, most of the dishes seemed to be general Southeast Asian, rather than distinctly Khmer. Thanks for the tip though- and at least I can get a bit of a lesson by checking your blog regularly. -X

  5. Jinja, I think Siem Reap’s big market shift was in 2002 or 2003. I vaguely recall that smaller “unofficial” markets around town were forcibly shut and the vendors told to shift their wares to Psar Leu. As is so often the case in Cambodia, the rationale given was Psar Leu offered a safer, cleaner, less chaotic marketing experience for shoppers. You can be the judge of that. What everyone else realized was having all the vendors in one place allowed the local government to more easily collect taxes.

    We took a trip out there at the time in a quixotic mission to find a rubber drain plug. The place was like an empty airport hangar.

  6. It took me four market trips in Phnom Penh to find a drain plug.

    I’m finding the redevelopment of the markets in Siem Reap both crazy and typical – my bet is that fewer tourists will visit the redeveloped Psar Chas once all the life is squeezed from it, then the newer vendors will shut up shop and the previous ones will return from the outlying markets. Either that, or it will become your typical Cambodian white elephant development bomb crater.

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