From weird and wacky fashion items to essentials like footwear and toiletries, Cambodia’s 2,500-riel shops have exploded onto the shopping scene in the last two years.

Echoing the success of dollar stores in the United States and the United Kingdom’s pound shops, the cheap and cheerful venues attract legions of canny shoppers seeking out a bargain.

Yet rifling through rails of novelty phone covers and glittery trucker hats wasn’t always so easy in Phnom Penh. The shops are a relatively new addition to the city’s consumer culture.

“I got the idea from countries abroad such as Thailand. There are many shops selling cheap products at only 10 Baht  ($0.31) per item,” explains Ouch Sambath, the owner of what is touted to be the capital’s first 2,500-riel shop, near Independence Monument.

Despite having already seen a business selling its products for $1 fold in the city, the entrepreneur opened his first store in July 2012, later expanding to Tuol  Kork district in May 2013.

“Even a student in primary school could buy my products,” he adds, explaining that most goods are imported from China, Thailand and other neighbouring countries.

What began as a smattering of stores soon became a flood, with the budget shops – where prices can in fact range both above and below 2,500 riel – now popping up all over the capital. 

Increasing competition has led to price cuts, with signs touting 1,000-riel shops seen on the streets. Even the new Aeon mall boasts two discount stores, selling hard-to-source items like wrapping paper, where prices are set below $2.

“Yes, there are many 2,500 riel shops in Phnom Penh, even next to my shops,” says Ouch, who hopes that every one of his patrons will buy at least one item per visit. “We need to please the customers and also challenge with others, otherwise we will lose our customers.”

Best Buys

Feather Earrings
Inject a dose of glamour into your outfit with a pair of turquoise feather earrings. Fabulously fashionable at 1,000 riel a pair, the bargain buy comes in a rainbow of colours.

Phone Covers
With too many phone covers to choose from, one little fellow stood out from the crowd. The khaki robot cover might add a bit of bulk to your pocket but it’s worth it for the phone fun factor alone. Or try injecting a dose of fruity humour in your life by encasing a phone in a half-eaten apple core cover.

Bendy Pen
The days of hunting in your bag for a pen are over thanks to colourful and nifty bendy pens. If being able to fold them up and put them in your pocket wasn’t enough to sell the idea, they also double up as key rings.

Trucker Hats
In Cambodia’s baking sun, a statement trucker cap can shelter you from the scorching rays. Though coming in at slightly more than 2,500 riel, the glittery ‘hip hop’ letters add street cred worth their weight in gold.

Insect Chalk
Ants and other insects are a common issue, but thanks to a stick of chalk they might be a problem of the past. When ants travel, they leave a pheromone trail for others to follow. This chalk breaks that path, and the ants lose the scent of their colony and move on to new areas.

Fun Hairbands
Hair accessories abound at 2,500-riel shops, with colourful hair clips and even wigs sourced in Phnom Penh stores. We liked this red glittery bow, perfect for unleashing your inner Minnie Mouse. 

American flags, iPhone and Apple logos are among the images emblazoned on the soles of flip-flops today. Even if you’re only spending 2,500 riel, you’ll feel a million bucks in the sandals that we found decorated with crisp $100 bills.

Interview by Monyneath Reth‭, ‬words by Ellie Dyer and Marissa Carruthers‭, ‬photography by Rudi Towiro‭. ‬Items sourced by the AsiaLIFE team from a variety of 2,500-riel stores across the capital‭.‬