This is part 3 of a 4 part series about Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. You can read Part 1: Visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia: Everything You Need to Know and Part 2: Visiting Tonle Sap Lake and the Less Crowded Temples of Angkor. Part 4: Eating, Drinking and Sleeping in Siem Reap will be posted shortly.
Learn about Traditional Cambodian Arts and Crafts
Cambodia has a lot of social enterprises and many of them focus on developing traditional arts and crafts and developing markets for the goods. Unfortunately during Pol Pot’s rule and the Khmer Rouge, artisans including painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians and other artists were targeted and in many cases killed, resulting in many of the traditional arts, crafts and the skills for making them nearly being lost.
Luckily there are a number of social enterprises running throughout the country to revive the skills and traditional arts that form an integral part of Cambodian culture. Visiting and learning about them is just one way to support these efforts.
Traditional Cambodian handicrafts include raw and finished silks made using the traditional ikat method of dying the threads and looming the patterns. Look for traditional sculptures in stone, wood and brass. Silverwork is also common.
Three recommendations to visit in Siem Reap are the craft center near the Old Market, Diwo Gallery, and Artisans d’ Angkor.
There are two locations for Diwo Gallery in Siem Reap- a smaller venue in town and a larger location a short ride out of town. If you head to the venue in town, near the Ta Prohm hotel (get a copy of the local tourist map), they will arrange (at their cost) a tuk tuk to take you to the large gallery slightly out of town.
This gallery is worth a look for the sculptures, artworks and the photography of Thierry Diwo, a French photographer who has been taking pictures since first coming to Cambodia in 1992, and the owner of the gallery. He has since made Cambodia his home and opened the gallery with his Cambodian wife. Diwo Gallery features a collection of Angkorian statues, Buddhas, books, home and garden decor, and the photography exhibition is very interesting. You can purchase items if you want but browsing is also encouraged.
Artisans d’Angkor in Siem Reap
One of Cambodia’s largest social enterprises is Artsans d’ Angkor, with its headquarters in Siem Reap. A visit to both their workshops and the silk farm is a chance to learn more about traditional Cambodian arts and crafts.
In Siem Reap a tour includes the workshops where you see how they both train artisans and also create the goods sold in the shop. There are workshops for stone and wood carving, silver plating, silk painting, and lacquer ware.
Started in 1990, Artisans d’ Angkor’s social enterprise provides employment and develops the skills of people in villages throughout Cambodia. Employing over 1300 people total, over 900 are artisans. 48 workshops in 14 villages around the province create local employment in the village so people can remain in their villages near family rather than leaving to find work as is all too common.
Providing skills training, personal development and medical benefits for workers, the artisans also own 20% of the company.
Elegant locally made arts and crafts including wood and stone carvings, works of art and lacquer ware. An expansive selection of modern homewares including bedding, pillow cushions, and silk clothing including purses, robes, and a full line of clothing are produced and available for purchase. The products are high quality, featuring traditional and contemporary designs.
A visit to the silk farm provides an opportunity to learn about silk farming, processing, dying and weaving the silk into finished products.
If you can’t make it to the workshop, there are shops in both the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports as well as in Phnom Penh itself.
Watch Traditional Cambodian Dancing
As mentioned above, traditional Cambodian arts including dancing suffered under the Pol Pot regime.
The traditional dancing, known as apsara dancing is a form of dancing dating back to ancient Khmer times. Apsara, meaning “beautiful girls”, can be traced back to Suryavarman II, the ruler who built Angkor Wat (1113-1145). The carvings on the temples reflect this style of dancing and the carvings are also called apsaras.
You find similar forms of dancing in Thailand and Laos but it is originally Khmer. Each show is made up of several dances, usually telling a story, which conveys a lesson about life. The dancing is very interesting and somewhat mesmerizing to watch. Traditional music played on traditional instruments accompanies the dancing. If you have the opportunity to see a show it is recommended.
Our evening was organized as part of our guided tour with our driver providing transport to and from the show. The food was a large banquet and it is all quite touristy, but the dancing is worth seeing.
Learn about Cambodian Cuisine in a Cooking Class
If you like Thai or Vietnamese food you will love Cambodian food. A great way to learn more about it, and discover a few tricks so you can make great Cambodian at home after your trip is to take a cooking class.
We enjoyed a cooking class through Beyond Escapes– current pricing $24 USD for a 1/2 day class. The class included transportation, a visit to a local village and the class and enjoying a meal of what we cooked at the end. Preparing three local dishes – Green Mango and chicken salad, Fish Amok and a dessert. We made the paste for the fish amok as well.
Other options are available. Several of the restaurants offer cooking classes as well. Here is a good list of cooking schools in Siem Reap and you can also check Trip Advisor.
If you are planning a trip to visit Angkor Wat, this is the 3rd in a 4 part series about Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Part 4, Eating, Drinking and Sleeping in Siem Reap will be along shortly. You may want to read Part 1:Visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia: Everything You Need to Know and Part 2: Visiting Tonle Sap Lake and the Less Crowded Temples of Angkor. You can also find information about Kep and Kampot in Southern Cambodia, and more information about one of the world’s finest peppers- Kampot Pepper, another industry that is being revived in Cambodia.