Night markets are an enduring feature of countries in Asia. The one in Phnom Penh’s Riverside neighborhood leaves me cold, but I remember being enamored of the first one I visited. It was in Hong Kong in the mid 90s.
Well, there’s a new night market in Phnom Penh across from a distant corner of the Russian Embassy and virtually within sight of the modern Aeon mall. As I walked there Saturday night for a look, a steady streams of motos doubtless had no other destination in that direction. Indeed, I discovered that is where they were going.
When I threaded my way through one of the parking areas to what is dubbed Jet’s Container market, I was dazzled by the size and popularity of the place, which ought to be on every tourist’s list of sights to see in Cambodia’s capital city.
Constructed entirely of shipping containers, the market is filled with bars, casual restaurants, clothing stores and a cheerful crowd of presumably middle-class customers who appear to be in their teens and 20s. Since entertainment is intended to be its main appeal, there is an inescapable din of blared music and enthusiastic conversation, not to say a pressing throng. Older folks may well be forgiven if, like me, they opt against lingering there.
Its focus on drinking makes the place markedly different from other night markets I have seen, including the sprawling one in Siem Reap, where the nearby Pub Street teems. In my memories of Siem Reap’s market and those in other countries, the emphasis tends to be on street food and various goods encompassing several blocks.
However, our new night market seems to be following a trend. As Richard Barrow — whose excellent blog focuses on everything Thai — notes, the character of night markets has changed in Bangkok, for example. Says he:
Over the last few years, there has been an increased public interest in visiting markets during the evenings. However, what we are seeing these days are not your normal run of the mill markets. . . These new night markets still have the vendors selling clothes, jewelry, and food. But the better ones also have bars and restaurants where you can relax, eat and drink beer while listening to live music. The most popular night markets usually have a theme or style that makes them stand out from the others. One popular market I know has an airplane in the parking lot. Another has a train.
(The several blocks of Walking Street in Thailand’s Pattaya beach resort might be an exception. I would call it a night market mainly for personal services; the emphasis there is less on selling goods and eating than on drinking and finding company at a price. Ditto for its nearby Boyz Town.)
Opened in March with 224 vendor stalls that rent for $300-350 monthly, our new night market has been so successful that the owner already has announced a half-million-dollar expansion, bringing the total number of containers to 40 and stalls to 316. Rents will be slightly higher in the new area and there will be additional parking, which couldn’t be more necessary given the volume of vehicles jamming the intersection at a corner of the place.
The elevated energy of Jet’s Container market is something to behold, at least a one-time experience well worth having.