Cambodia // The northeast //

Shopping in Banlung

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There’s a good shop for chunchiet crafts, secured at a fair price by the proprietor, Sok Oeun, tucked in between the mobile phone shops just north of the market. Among the interesting buys here are khapa, the chunchiet’s all-purpose, basketwork backpacks, woven from bamboo strips with plaited-rattan shoulder straps. The chunchiet produce them in the evenings after the day’s work in the chamkar, and the finest take over a week to produce. Styles vary with the tribe: the Jarai put a strip of bamboo around the base, while the Tampoun weave intricate patterns and incorporate red-dyed rattan; the plain ones edged with black are Kreung. A large good-quality khapa will cost around $10–15 and can be put to decorative or even practical use, especially if your backpack is falling apart. While you’re at it, you could go totally native and pick up a decent crossbow and set of arrows here for $7.

The chunchiet produce textiles of varying quality and style. Jarai cloth is loosely woven, generally in black with yellow and blue stripes, while the Kreung and Tampoun produce narrow, tightly woven lengths about 2m long for loincloths. Longer, wider lengths suitable for a wrap-around sampot are produced by the Tampoun; now that synthetic thread is used the colours are becoming quite vivid – though you can still find cloths in the traditional colours of black, cream and red. You may also come across dried gourds (kloks) which are used by the chunchiet for cooling water; carved with geometric patterns on the outside, they’re remarkably tough and, being light, are easy to carry home.

CANDO Craft, 1km from town on a cul-de-sac southwest of the stadium (t 075/974189, [email protected]), is an NGO working with the indigenous communities; it has a small shop where you can buy textiles, bags and woven mats.

Plenty of dealers in the centre sell cut and polished gemstones, which you can get made up into jewellery here or in the markets of Phnom Penh for $15–20; rings and pendants are also for sale. For uncut stones and large crystals, check out the gem galleries on the road to the market. The gemstones here are hardly world-class, but there’s no evidence of fakes being passed off as genuine. Even so, it’s not wise to pay a lot of money for a stone you like unless you have a trained eye (see Banlung).

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