We’re talking about the Tonle Sap riverbank market in the central Kompong Chnang waterfront area – a small provincial town and capital of the province of the same name some 2 hrs north of Phnom Penh. Ok don’t think we’ve ever actually bought anything there but it is our favourite market to wander around – and that’s in a country with many great markets. Visually spectacular – it is the archetypal ‘bustling market’ – and architecturally in it’s own way a rival to the capital’s iconic Psa Thmei.
The incredible 4 story wooden and bamboo frame market building stretches from the water level, where boats unload fruit, veg and fish to the street level where trucks and pick-ups load up the goods to take on to smaller regional markets. At least the bottom two stories are under water by the end of the rainy season and every year substantial sections require re-building. A multi-story shopping mall constructed entirely out of wooden poles!
Here’s the ground floor which is literally on the ground – just wooden planks and bamboo partitions marking out the different ‘stalls’. (This is under several metres of water during the rainy season.)
That’s what’s fascinating about this market – there’s absolutely no concession to modernity. It’s 100% traditional and apart from the clothes, the above and below scenes could probably date from more or less anytime over the last 1,500 years! We don’t know of any other large markets in Cambodia quite like this one.
The surrounding Tonle Sap flood plain is very fertile land for fruit and vegetables and the waters are extremely rich in fish making it a particularly busy port.
Being a strategic point – located just before the Tonle Sap River flows into, (or out of, depending upon the time of year), the great lake, Kompong Chnang has been important site for centuries. The hills just behind the town and across the river, as seen below, are the first patches of all year round dry land for considerable distances in either direction. Since riverine transport would have been even more important in historic times than now, this area at the junction of 2 vital transport routes must itself have been of vital importance and indeed the hills pictured here have numerous Angkor and pre-Angkor, Chenla period temples constructed on their slopes.
It’s highly likely then that a busy market/trading post would have existed at or near this point for centuries as well, so a stroll around the market really is almost a stroll back in time.
The waterfront area behind the market is high enough to avoid flooding but the surrounding ‘suburbs’ are all built on floating rafts so a fascinating boat trip around town combines views of the market with a visit to the town’s floating districts.
Whilst during the dry season the market temporarily spreads out along the riverbank…
All in all a fascinating spot to visit – too good to miss we reckon and a stop-off with boat trip and walk around the market will be included in our amended Cambodia Overland and Saigon to Phnom Penh*itineraries. (*Note, to cut down on long drives we’re changing our Saigon to Bangkok to a Saigon to Phnom Penh route – see upcoming post or ask the office for details of the new itinerary.)
So, see you there – cheers!