While in Saigon recently, I visited Ipa-Nima’s three-storey bag parlour on Rue Pasteur and left toting this much embellished green leather satchel – a perfect day bag and large enough for Z’s paraphernalia (without looking like a naff baby bag).
One of the best examples of ‘east-west’ fusion I’ve experienced in a long time was some Kampot pepper chocolate I recently tried from Street 240’s Chocolate by The Shop.
The pepper originates from Cambodia’s Kampot province, and back in colonial times was highly prized by the French, who even used it in restaurants back in Paris. Its production fell by the wayside during the Khmer Rouge era but it’s now undergoing a renaissance as Cambodians, expats and tourists alike re-discover its highly fragrant and delicious taste (it really is better than ‘ordinary’ pepper!).
The geniuses at Chocolate by The Shop have mixed crushed Kampot peppercorns with quality Belgian chocolate to create a taste sensation with serious bite. Fellow chocoholics and pepper fiends should definitely give it a try!
Silk shops can be found on almost every corner in Phnom Penh with most carrying similar wares, some slightly more tasteful than others. A small silk shop called Kraven House manages to combine taste with reasonable prices (and it’s also run by an NGO as an added bonus).
It stocks a mixture of ubiquitous silk bags and scarves with some more unique items. I particularly covet their coin purses and jewellery rolls with a funky Indian-style print and beaded embroidery. They also stock stripey cotton scarves which are well worth checking out.
The shop is so small and unassuming that I hardly even remember its name and mostly just refer to it as ‘Favourite Shop’. It also seems to be a favourite with buyers for western retailers. A friend has seen people from shops like Cambodia House in Sydney’s Woollahra stocking up on wholesale orders here, which they can then make quite the profit on in a world where silk and anything with a ‘Made in Cambodia’ tag is a bit more precious and rare.
Kravan House, 13 Street 178, Phnom Penh
One of my favourite Phnom Penh restaurants, Le Duo (a Sicilian eatery with corny 80s Italian decor – think a faux leaning tower of Pisa, an overhead awning recreating the Sistine Chapel etc. – forgivable because of the amazing food) now has a deli on its premises.
We ate at Le Duo last night (I had the homemade gnocchi with gorgonzola and walnuts – so rich and amazing) and noticed the new deli for the first time. Owner Luigi then took it upon himself to give us a little guided tour and a rundown of the goods on offer.
Homemade pastas are available and there’s pesto, arborio rice, herbs, some fresh produce, lots of San Pelligrino in different sizes, Italian wines, and best of all, there’s a meat and cheese cabinet that puts Lucky’s to shame. Huge slabs of pecorino cheese and grana padano sit side by side with tasty salamis and beautiful prosciuttos (three different varieties).
He also stocks paninis and suggested a great DIY sandwich could be made for lunch if you bought some of the bread and 50 grams or so of a meat and a cheese to add – I’ll definitely be back to do just that, yum!
Le Duo, No. 17 Street 228, Phnom Penh
I really love Bangkok’s Siam Square – a grid of short streets packed with a mixture of chain and one-off shops and cafes, with interconnecting mazes of stalls and stores in-between. It’s crowded, colourful, young and fun, and a great place to literally shop til you drop (into a plush sofa for a cup of well-deserved coffee). Here are some of my favourite Siam Square places to shop, then drop:
1. It’s happened to be a closet
It’s not a typo, it’s a nonsensical name! Inside the store (on Soi 3) is a treasure trove of weird and wonderful clothing and accessories with a vintage vibe piled haphazardly into every available space. There’s lots of decorative eye candy too – I love the little wallpapered alcove under the stairs. On the second floor is more of the same, with the addition of tiny nail and hair salons tucked away in the corners and a gorgeous cafe with comfy sofas and mismatched china (like a crazy granny’s attic). With the clothes a bit beyond the budget (think $300 dresses and clutch bags) I settled instead for an Illy coffee, allowing me to lounge around and soak up the inspirational surrounds for future dwellings I may decorate.
2. Arty shopfronts
The sois of Siam Square are home to some very unique and eye-catching shopfronts – there’s even one shop with an entrance like a front yard, complete with astroturf, a picket fence and a swing! One of my favourites was a handbag shop called Money Clip (on Soi 3) bordered by this colourful collage of wood, tiles and buttons:
An arty, crafty little shop on Siam Square’s Soi 4 (upstairs from accessories purveyor Nana Coco, another cool stop), Applique specialises in iron-on transfers. In the form of fruits, animals, teapots and more, the appliques can be ironed onto clothes, tote bags, cosmetic bags and anything else you can think of. I went a little overboard here and bought many different pieces, with the idea of customising some baby clothes in mind. Here’s the end result:
4. Cheap and cheerful finds in the arcades
Connecting each of Siam Square’s streets are labyrinth-like arcades, packed to the brim with bargains. It’s almost like being at Chatuchak Market. Particularly good are the cheap shoe shops with many pairs selling for around 200 baht (around US$6). Unfortunately they were always out of my size (38-39) whenever I found a pair I loved (like the yellow peep toe wedges…or the black and white striped canvas ballet slippers…). And the too-small display pair was often the last available – ‘Sorry miss, last size!’ was heard way too many times. If you’re around a size 36 you’re likely to fare a lot better. Also worth a look are some of the clothing stalls with tops for as low as 100 baht.
5. Cup B Cafe
You need more than one cafe stop on any Siam Square shopping expedition, and a good place for coffee, ice-cream or a snack is Cup B Cafe. It’s upstairs above the Lido Cinema (next to Soi 3) and is yet another place with retro/cute/kitschy decor.
There’s alot more to seek out in Siam Square, including unique, tiny clothing shops that are literally the size of wardrobes, a 60 baht shop for fun junk (like Australia’s $2 shops, or Beijing’s 10 yuan shops!), a huge Boots (the mecca of all things cosmetic and another Bangkok obsession of mine) and much, much more!
The behemoth of all Bangkok markets (in fact, the world’s markets!) Chatuchak has to be experienced to be believed. The sheer size of what’s reputedly the world’s largest outdoor market means you can literally lose yourself in the never-ending aisles.
With sections devoted to everything from live animals (think cute puppies and birds of non-native, dubious looking origin) to secondhand clothes, kitchenware, plants, homewares, beads and more, it pays to be a bit selective if you want to seek out the best bits and avoid the touristy junk.
One of my favourite sections is home to stalls of the more unique variety, where young, up and coming Thai designers showcase items that are far from run of the mill. Many have put individual and highly creative touches on their stalls’ interiors – some have floorboards, chandeliers, painted walls and ‘proper’ shelving and fixtures, making them more like mini-boutiques than market stalls.
So where is this enclave of cool within Chatuchak’s mighty bounds, you may wonder? It’s located near the entrance to the subway (that’s the underground, not the skytrain..but you knew that right?!). To get there – assuming you’ve just got off the skytrain at Mo Chit station – you enter the market, turn left, and keep walking and walking (for what seems like ages) past all the secondhand guys’ jeans and t-shirt stalls.
Eventually this section will give way to the aforementioned stalls, with a very eye-catching spirit house in the centre. Despite the crowds and chaos many Thai visitors make time to stop by here for a quick prayer.
The cute candy-coloured shop Spice Story at mega Bangkok mall Siam Paragon is well worth seeking out, not only to stock up on all things spicy but to gawk at the happy-hued decor.
Tucked away in a corner of the ground floor near the entrance to the huge and impressive Gourmet Market, Spice Story is packed to the rafters with bottles and baskets of spices. From different types of pepper and rock salt to star anise, cinnamon sticks and much, much more, the spices come in covetable packaging and are surprisingly good value (most are 30 to 70 baht a bottle). Other fragrant offerings include Asian lunch dishes and intriguing, spice-infused ice-cream flavours.
Spice Story is a riot of colour, something like a candy store meets Chinese kitsch – one of the funkiest retail interiors I’ve seen!