You will probably get approached by groups of small children, when you stop for food or outside temples. They are often full of character and can have a decent conversation with you in English. Try not to buy from them as you are creating a circle of dependency. If you want to help, give to charity or give them food or toys you don't need.. NEVER money
What to buy: nothing, but be friendly
A common scene as you wander around the sights are children trying to sell souvenirs such as postcards as well as drinks, bracelets, scarf’s and such like. They're quite persistent, even bordering on annoying but at the same time they are quite sweet and only trying to make some money. I got chatting to a few of them when I had a little something to eat at one of the food shacks that overlook the Bayon on Angkor Thom and asked them about school to which they replied that they went to one but I wasn't so sure they were telling the truth.
Many people sell very cheap books about the angkor wat temples that may be useful while you view them. 2-3$ should be good enough for a great book on Angkor Wat. Learn more about the place you are and make more sense out of what your seeing.
Never accept the price quoted to you. We bought some T shirts without bargaining thinking they were pretty cheap already, only to find out later that we could get the same things for 30-40% off. The old market has a large numbers of small shops selling cute souvenirs, arts and crafts and silk items. Cambodia is known for its silk products.
Shopping in Siem Reap village has many advantages over shopping at the temples: prices are lower, there are fewer tourists, there is more competition, and you get a better feel for the local lifestyle.
Bad news is most locals who speak English work in the temples, not in town so you may have some trouble communicating. As in other parts of Asia, money talks so you don't have to...
What to buy:
Is widely available in most of the shops in Cambodian. Locals claimed that it will help to cure asthma and an agent to fight cold. But its also decoration. It is consider illegal if you buy Cobra wine but there other type of snake liquor.
What to pay: USD20 - USD50 per bottle
What to buy:
For fully exploring the Angkor complex and understanding the history behind the monuments, your standard Cambodia guide book will not be sufficient.
Pick up a copy of "Ancient Angkor" by Claude Jacques. It would be a good idea to purchase the book online in advance of your trip so that you can begin getting familiar with the temple complex. It is a very good resource for planning your visit, as it ranks the sites by interest and includes sample itineraries. It also tells you what time of day is best to visit specific sites in order to get the best lighting for photographs.
The book tells the detailed history of each temple and also tells you where to find particularly interesting carvings that you might not otherwise discover.
If you do not purchase the book ahead of time, you can pick it up from one of the hawkers around the major temple sites. However be warned that these are most likely not authorized copies - you can buy one for less than $5 - far less than the $27.95 cover price.
What to pay: $20 from your favorite online bookseller
$5 from hawkers at Angkor
Psar Chaa at Old Market is the place where you will find lots of tourist souvenirs like the typical magnets and keychains. You can get hammocks in a variety of colours, ratten/ cane plate sets, coloured tiled coasters, silk clothes or cushion covers, silver and turquoise accessories and coloured gems. You can also get palm sugar back to give your loved ones back home a taste of authentic rural Cambodia life. They are just sugar pieces wrapped in bamboo leaves. Most families will wake up every morning to boil the palm sugar syrup till it dries up into sugar. You can get them at US$1 a tube or five for US$2. Stay away from the souvenir stores and buy them from the wet market itself.
I love these fridge magnets. The design is unique, they are made of some sort of clay, painted so that they look "seasoned" like pieces of ruins. I selected those unique with Angkor Wat designs.The choices are plenty - Angkor Wat, Bayon, Dancing Apsaras, Elephants etc.
Be careful of what you buy though. I came across one Lopburi temple magnet. (Lopburi is a province in Thailand, not Cambodia).
What to pay: 10 for USD 3.
You can see many many of these stalls along the way to Banteay Srei. I asked my driver to stop for me to have a quick look. I tried some of the sugar. It tasted great. The colour is lighter compated to the palm sugar (gula Melaka) back home. I bought some as souvenir to my friends.
You can also try the fresh palm sugar syrup collected in bamboo here.
What to buy: Palm sugar wrapped in palm leaves.
What to pay: 3-4 for USD1.
What to buy:
I bought Ancient Angkor (Michael Freeman & Claudes Jacques) for USD4 which I think it is a bargain. Fully coloured and detailed description of all the temple ruins in Angkor.
They also have Lonely Planet - Cambodia (USD4). I bought mine in Malaysia for USD27. Sigh!!!!
What to pay: USD4-5.
Vendors hang around outside the temples selling a variety of things: film, bootlegged copies of Dawn Rooney's Angkor guide and Lonely Planet Cambodia, postcards, and a variety of handicrafts. I loved these silk purses that they sold right outside Angkor Wat itself. It has great stiching and only cost $2!
NOTE: Just because I mention what the vendors sell does not mean I endorse their activities in any way. The film could be low quality, you really should buy legal copies of books, and you'll probably find better handicrafts and postcards elsewhere.
While wandering through Ta Prohm, I found this young artist from Battambang, who was finishing a watercolour of an area of the temple - after 5 days work on it. After rifling through his "portfolio" of Angkor Wat , was certain I wanted the unfinished painting. We negotiated the huge price of US$35 - although I insisted on paying him 40! - and we were both happy. Much better than the mass produced paintings sold in the souvenir shops.
There are a number of artists, of varying talent, to be seen inside the temples, some of whom are painting for their own whimsy, but also some for sale. Don't be shy about approaching and asking. I wasn't!
He delivered the paining, packaged in a cane cylinder and signed, to my guesthouse. Happy as a pig in mud I was!
What to buy: Original artwork from the artist
What to pay: A fair price for the skill and the time commitment
Don't buy T-shirts at the outdoor stalls near the temples without unfolding and inspecting them. We nearly ended up with a few duds - sun bleached, with big faded squares, where they have been exposed for a long time - artfully refolded - and then given to you folded when you work out the design and size you want.
Also haggle good for the prices - as they can vary markedly.
What to pay: Try to get them for under $3
If you have a sudden shortage of scarves at home, they are in abundance at the temples - the many kids who wander around selling have such a range, and such a persuasive persistence - I have so many at home from the last holiday - and then I just ended up with heaps more! At US$1, they are a fun gift for someone, and doing the scarf economy a small favour!
What to buy: Any colour combination!
What to pay: US$1 - and no more!