Phnom Pehn’s most distinctive landmark is virtually unknown to many. It has one of the biggest domes in the world and its Art Deco architecture is an imposing testament of Phnom Penh’s former elegance and sophistication.
This is Phsar Thmei – commonly known as the Central Market. The four wings of the building houses trade stalls selling everything from souvenirs to electronics; food, silverwares to silk. It is comparable to the great markets of Chatuchak in Bangkok, Tutuban in Manila or the Morning Market in Vientiane but not as grand in architecture.
Under the dome is a dazzling display of jewels, silver and gold, of course, all for sale. I noticed that the dome is not supported by any beam and there are no huge electric lights at all! Only natural light illuminates the interior and the view up is spectacular. Since the building uses natural light, it means that the market closes before 5pm or so.
This amazing building was built by the French some 80 years ago. It is one of the ultra-modern buildings in the region at that time. Because of civil conflicts and political changes in Cambodia, Phsar Thmei was left out and never promoted as one of the country’s great landmarks.
X Marks the Spot. Satellite photos of Phsar Thmei shows it as a big X covering blocks of the city. It is located 1km away from the National Museum and the Royal Palace. From Hotel Raffles Le Royal is about 800m walk but if you’re staying at the Intercon, it’s about 3km away. The vicinity is a highly commercialized area, budget accommodations are mostly found here and you can find almost anything you're looking for.
Shopping-wise, there is nothing really special about the place. Although millions of things for sale here will keep you busy and amazed with the variety. Prices here are a bit higher than other markets in the city.
But nevertheless -- the architecture, the design, the history and the character of the building itself is worth the visit. It is so unique that there is no other building in Southeast Asia quite like it. This beautiful and historic building must be preserved.
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