The first time I came to Phnom Penh I was amazed by the number of beauty salons operating in the city. There’s practically a salon in every nook and cranny here much like the conspicuous “sari-sari” stores (small retail stores selling sundry items in communities and usually run by housewives) in the Philippines. Of course, there are also “sari-sari” stores here but I just observed that the number of beauty parlors/salons far outstrips the number of “sari-sari” stores in most neighborhoods.
Hmmn, Khmer ladies must be vainer than I thought. Over time, I discovered the reason for this and why even with the sheer number of salons here, you still have to queue if you want to have your hair done especially during Saturdays and Sundays..
Khmer’s loves parties, wedding parties in particular. While I was used to attending weddings back home simply attired in casual wear or a cocktail dress and minimal makeup, here in Cambodia, its a different matter. No matter what kind of wedding you are attending, whether the guest reception is on makeshift tents on the streets or in a luxury hotel, all guests come in formal dress with matching elaborate hair and makeup and guys in formal clothes even with bow ties (which I think is uggh! I daresay only James Bond looks good in a bow tie). Back home, there’s an unspoken rule – during weddings, it’s the bride’s day so no one should be lovelier than the bride. I guess that doesn’t apply here and I do find it trying most of the time to distinguish which one is the bride (^o^).
At first, I was really bemused by this. I didn’t understand why and I simply assumed it was all for vanity’s sake. I asked my husband why bother to spend about 3 hours in a salon when you’re just a guest and you go there to greet the couple, then you eat so all in all you spend about an hour in the party. If you attend a wedding a couple of times per month then that is several times visit to the salon. Hairstyling and makeup costs about $5 and up depending on the salon you choose. So salons are really good business here. Is it really worth all the time and money? I dunno but who cares if for only for one day you would feel as glamorous as any socialite?
A Khmer co-worker of my friend once attended a wedding on a Sunday. She spent about 2 hours getting her hair styled and another half an hour applying makeup. She wanted to make the most of the time and money spent so after the wedding party she didn’t remove her makeup, slept sitting upright on a chair so her hairstyle wouldn’t be spoiled. The next morning she went to office elaborately made up with an extravagant hairstyle..Now, wouldn’t that be startling to have a co-worker looking like she’s on her way to a grand party?
Out of curiosity, I tried out the hairstyling services in several salons here and I was amazed by the creativity of these stylists. They could come up with extremely elaborate hairstyles in about an hour. I’d say if you want your hair looking like a garden ;P, or a weaved basket or you want to have the Imelda Marcos look, they could easily whip up your hair in any style you want. A friend here jokingly told me, “Cambodian beauty salons are staffed with stylists with Master’s Degree in hairstyling, makeup and hair straightening.” Lol! If there is such a degree, I would say hairstylists here would easily make the grade.
As for makeup, they are pretty good at it too the way I see it, they just prefer using bold colors but if you want something subtle, then tell tell the makeup artist otherwise you might end up with brilliant green eyeshadows ( I saw one and honestly, she looked really odd..). Personally, I prefer applying makeup by myself since I’m kinda picky about the sponges and the brushes they use in salons.
And, oh, another thing I find a little odd here – They love fake eyelashes, so if you don’t want to wear one or you don’t want to look like you have just been electrocuted and have a perpetually surprised expression, tell the stylist beforehand.
All photos are from a fashion magazine I was browsing when I was having my shampoo and drying done. No copyright violation intended, I simply wanted to give you guys an idea of how creative stylists here can be.