As a crimson sun climbs out of the nearby Tonle Bassac, the market is already
abuzz. Vendors display their goods and call out their prices. Customers sort
through the morning's offerings of fish, fruit and fresh produce. Men weave
overloaded motorbikes between crowded stalls. Women squat on the streets amid
bags of cockleshells and flower baskets. Beggars plead for spare change, while
flies swarm on hook-hung meat.
This is Kandal Market at 7 am - colorful,
loud, packed and pungent. It's a scene much like other Phnom Penh markets coming
to life all over the city, as they have for generations.
But this will
soon change, as traditional Khmer markets are slowly being outpaced by bigger,
cleaner, modern shopping centers and displaced by skyrocketing land prices in
downtown Phnom Penh. The French Development Agency (FDA), the organization
charged with renovating the capital's biggest downtown markets, plans to
eventually demolish and rebuild both Psar Chas and Psar Kandal - after the
initial renovation of Psar Thmei.
"Most of the sellers at Kandal Market
are poor," said Heam Sarun, a 55-year-old ice vendor at Kandal Market. "When
[the government] builds the new market, I will lose my job and most of the
vendors here will lose their jobs because they are very poor and not able to buy
even a small stall in the new market. Every day I can earn 10,000 to 20,000 riel
selling ice. That just enough to make a living for my family."
Vanny, 51, a mixed goods vendor at Psar Chas, is fearful of plans to renovate.
"I want the market to remain the same because previously when markets
were renovated, vendors had to spend money for everything such as buying new
shopping stalls," she said. "We are not able to buy shopping stalls because we
are poor vendors. Now, I can earn 10,000 riel in profit-just enough for the food
for one day. I am a widow. I have ten members in my family and only I earn
Kandal market has been a historical feature in Phnom Penh since
it's original opening in 1915. It was reopened in 1989 after its abandonment
during the Pol Pot regime. No date has been set for the renovation, but when it
happens it will mark the end of a way of life of the people who open their
stalls each and every morning.