Apr 19 2012

Handicrafts from Siem Reap: Are they really?

Published by at 3:23 am under Shopping

The word ‘souvenir’ is derived from the French for to remember, and far more than their beauty or intrinsic value that of course is the ultimate purpose of those odd trinkets we buy when we travel. We’re not really buying a thing so much as a memory trigger: for that moment on a rubbish day at home when our eye should fall on the misshapen elephant on the shelf that instantly transports us back to the lazy pleasures of a tropical land.

If this looks just like the one you saw in Vietnam ... there's a reason for that

If this looks just like the one you saw in Vietnam ... there's a reason for that.

But even though aesthetics or worth are not necessarily the most important features of a good souvenir, we do have some requirements of them. A few years ago the German development agency GTZ (as it was then known) conducted a survey among tourists in Siem Reap to find out what it is they most seek in the souvenirs they buy here. In response, an overwhelming majority felt it was important that souvenirs of Cambodia should be made in Cambodia. This makes a lot of sense. After all, most people want to feel like they’re taking a little something of the country they’re visiting back home with them, and it is important to many that their purchases contribute to the local economy too.

Which is a shame really as most of the stuff that’s sold in the markets in Siem Reap has probably spent less time here than the average tourist. The survey found that much of what is sold is produced in, for example, Vietnam and trucked here and all across the region for sale. And you can ask the market trader as much as you like whether it was made here or not, she knows what you want to hear.

And this is a problem not just for tourists; the consequences for the local economy are pretty awful. It’s staggering to imagine that even though two million plus tourists coming to Cambodia every year, the majority of whom go to Siem Reap, the province remains the third poorest in the country. Barely a drop of the rain of money that is pouring down on Siem Reap is touching the local people.

So how can you ensure your souvenir really is from Siem Reap? Well, there’s no hard and fast rule that I can tell you unfortunately. Buying from local artists is one way. For example, at Sao Mao (behind the Old Market) you can buy silver jewellery that is made here, as well as jewellery that is made out of old bullet casings, designed by a French woman, but made by local artisans. Then there is Theam’s House whose beautiful lacquer-work I couldn’t rave about enough if I tried. And shops such as Artisans d’Angkor and Senteurs d’Angkor also have all of their products made here

Within the markets you’ll find products made with lpeak that are produced here; see the picture below. And I believe, though cannot be sure, that the bamboo kitchen products are made here too. After that, it’s a lottery.

Lpeak handicrafts made by women from all over Siem Reap

Lpeak handicrafts made by women from all over Siem Reap.

However, the German agency, which is now called GIZ, has come up with one solution that should help tourists and the local economy. They have developed a seal of authenticity that guarantees that the products on which you find it are made in Siem Reap.

The Seal of Authenticity

The Seal of Authenticity.

The seals are produced using a special method, which means they are highly metallic (not printed) and they also split into four – to prevent the inevitable imitations. The project is still in its early stages, however a good number of local artisans (almost 20) have signed up and more will do so in time. Keep an eye out for the seal and help to make a real difference for local people and really bring home a true piece of Cambodia to see you through the grey days at home.

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6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Handicrafts from Siem Reap: Are they really?”

  1. [...] how many new markets there are now; they're all the same and seem to blend seamlessly into one long cheap Vietnamese hankies selling continuum from the site of the Angkor Night Market all the way to the river, and now over on the other [...]

  2. [...] without the hustle and crush of the markets in town — they have plenty of stuff that’s really made in Cambodia [...]

  3. [...] Peace Cafe, a lovely garden restaurant/fair-trade shop/community centre has been hosting classes for years. The current online schedule is a little out of [...]

  4. [...] also make nice souvenirs. Kramas can be found in any one of Siem Reap’s now excessively numerous neon-blitzed night [...]

  5. [...] the Old Market are actually made in China. Thanks to the Angkor Handicraft Association’s new gold seal of authenticity, and its recently opened ‘made-in-Siem Reap’ craft market, you can now give the crowds a miss [...]

  6. Mariaon 13 Jun 2014 at 1:34 pm


    Wow!!! Great posting.All this produce is make by hand not machine. It’s not easy to do it.

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