were entirely surprised by the quality of goods that we discovered
while in Cambodia. That is not to say that the souvenirs found in other
parts of Southeast Asia are crappy, it’s just that the ones on display in Siem Reap, and inside the Angkor Archaeological Park, were that much more tasteful!
One outfit that stood out amongst the rest was the Artisans d’Angkor, a fair trade development company that has stores both inside the park and in Siem Reap's town center. The reason that the merchandise of Artisans d’Angkor rises well above the rest is simple. The company that formed the association in 1992 employs local Cambodians to first learn the crafts necessary to create these exquisite pieces of relatively affordable art. According to their website, Aristans d’Angkor trains dozens of young rural people annually in the traditions of stone and wood carving, silk weaving and what is referred to as polychromy-lacquering and gilding. The care and attention to detail that goes into the schooling of these local people, who otherwise may not be able to find work on their own, is evident in the products that are produced.
Beautiful silk scarves and other textiles in a variety of colors are draped along the walls of the Artisans d’Angkor shop just across from the temple of Angkor Wat. Sandstone sculptures of devas, Buddhas and an assortment of animals appear to be almost of museum quality, their smooth surfaces so well augmented by the well-chosen lighting inside the store. Items are available at all price-points, which means that if you only want to spend a few dollars, you are still covered. And yet, that does not mean that you will miss out on the quality that is injected into all products created by the Artisans d’Angkor. (We purchased some truly unique bookmarks, candle-holders and aromatherapy decanters at surprisingly good prices here.) Of course, if you are willing to part with a few more riels, you will have no problem finding some exceptional pieces that will serve as impressive momentos from your trip for years to come. If we had more space in our luggage, we certainly would have purchased some of those sumptuous silk pillow cases!
But there is more to the story at Artisans d’Angkor than just beautiful souvenirs. By employing over 1,300 local villagers, and providing continuing workshops within Siem Reap, the association hopes to slow down rural depopulation while increasing both income and accessibility to medical benefits. The pièce de résistance you might say is the craftsmen’s elevated pride and connection to their cultural heritage.
The Artisans d’Angkor shop connected to the Angkor Café (across from the Angkor Wat temple complex) is open daily from 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM, while the main store, located at the Siem Reap Crafts Center, is open from 7:30 AM to 6:30 PM. Set of Drifters tip: For an entirely different experience, check out the Artisans d’Angkor’s silk farm where visitors can attend workshops to learn all about silk weaving and the metamorphosis of the material from silk worm and mulberry tree to luxurious cross-hatch scarf. The Angkor Silk Farm is located in the Puok District (about 16 km west of town via National Route 6), and is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily. If you can not make it to any of the above destinations, have no fear, Artisans d’Angkor also maintains shops inside both the Siem Reap and Phnom Penh international airports! How convenient, and how clever of them!
Artisans d’Angkor (Angkor Café location) - in front of Angkor Wat, Angkor, (011) 855 97 949 8816 and at the Siem Reap Crafts Center - Chantiers-Ecoles, Stung Thmey Street, PO Box 47, Siem Reap, (011) 855 63 963330,
Angkor Silk Farm - Puok District, call for shuttle bus reservations, (011) 855 12 222404 or (011) 855 63 5555 768
what the heck is a krama?
can’t miss ‘em! Almost every one in town and the surrounding villages
are wearing them. Some locals fashion them in to a turban to block
out the sun while others use it as a face mask to ward off the smog
emanating from the horde of motos zipping through rush house. We saw a
few mothers using them as swaddling baby-carriers and even one bold
mechanic turning it into a rudimentary towing device! Yes, here in
Cambodia the “krama” is king!
Woven out of silk by the locals, “krama” are scarves that feature colorful checkerboard designs that make them look much more modern, stylish and urban than you might expect. While we used a few krama to mop up the ever-present sweat collecting on our brows and bodies, we also bargained with the locals to purchase a few others for friends back home. The krama really is the perfect souvenir from Cambodia in that it is unique to the region, has a multitude of uses, and is still somewhat edgy in design!
Set of Drifters tip: If you have neglected to buy a krama during your entire time in Angkor or Siem Reap, have not fear. You’ll find them at the airport, but probably at higher prices, and not necessarily of better quality!