A variety of workshops, ateliers and artisan showrooms are home to impressive wares where you can find special gifts to take home from Siem Reap, while also learning how they are made — in Cambodia — by observing first-hand the efforts of skilled handicraft workers. Here’s our round up of where to find more meaningful artisan mementos at workshops, which are all free to visit.
The most popular and established workshop of them all is located an easy walking distance from the Old Market, attracting tour buses and independent travellers alike for its high quality goods. A guide will take you round for no charge to see the artisans at work on sandstone, wood and silver, taking about 15 minutes to see the processes involved. A large shop on the premises offers goods with fixed prices, as with all the workshops listed here. Alternatively visit the Angkor Silk Farm to see silk being spun, dyed and woven, where there’s also a similar shop stocking many of the same items. A free bus leaves for the Silk Farm every day from Artisans d’Angkor at 09:30 and 13:30.
Theam’s House is a treasure chest of contemporary crafts — think fluorescent elephants and geckos climbing the walls, stunning lacquered tableaux, sophisticated dining ware, and more including textiles and silverware. The workshop is in a slightly out-of-the-way location and most tuk tuk drivers won’t be familiar with it. But it is worth making the effort to find. The workshop is actually underneath his home and is in itself a beautiful expression of this artist’s creativity, though his funky products can also be found in a range of outlets more centrally located, including Memoire D’Angkor Hotel next door to Lucky Mall Supermarket. Cambodian artist Lim Muy Theam trains apprentices who can be seen deep in concentration at the workshop-meets-atelier. Theam’s House can arrange international shipping if you fall for any of the larger artworks.
Awaken your senses at Senteurs D’Angkor where all products and ingredients are sourced in Cambodia. Visit their workshop and shop on Road 6 in the direction of the airport to see how they make their natural products, including soaps, candles and body creams; the aromas of jasmine, lemongrass, orchid and mango will easily lull you into opening up your wallet for their affordable offerings. You’ll also find mango jam, coffee and Khmer spices with handy recipe cards. Alternatively, the Senteurs d’Angkor shop beside Old Market has shelves full to the brim with their aromatic products, which are also available in the high-end Kaya Spa next door.
Selling handmade lacquer boxes decorated with photos or detailed paintings of iconic Angkor images, Cambolac’s workshop is tucked away in a residential area near Wat Polanka. With the process taking 30 days from start to finish, a lot of care goes into creating the finished product, while similarly the company takes care of the way it works as a social business, employing many hearing-impaired young adults from the Angkor area.
If you’re visiting the Roluos Group of temples, be sure to stop by Prolung Khmer where their handmade cotton kramas (traditional scarves) come in a giddying rainbow of colours. Perhaps our favourite kramas in Siem Reap, they make for excellent gifts. Weavers can be seen at work though you can also take a lesson if arranged in advance. Next door to the looms is a ceramics area with potters at work — their wares are similarly available for purchase.
The Lotus Farm
It’s not all about kramas and silk in Siem Reap. An easy stop to combine with Chong Kneas floating village — not that we recommend a visit there — the Lotus Farm was opened by fair trade textile company Samatoa and uses lotus to weave high-end fabric. This workshop-on-stilts is educational, with helpful signboards and a guide to explain the intricate nature of the textile production. You can also have a go yourself. Of the workshops listed, this is least geared to selling products; you’ll need to head into town — and not be strapped for cash – to Samatoa’s shop on Street 26 off Wat Bo Road to buy their luxurious clothing.
The Angkor Handicraft Association Market (AHA)
With tourist markets full of items with dubious Cambodian origins, the Angkor Handicraft Association Market was set up to provide shoppers with reassurance that so-called locally produced crafts are just that. A small studio space allows for observing production up close, while the small independent stalls showcase the variety of traditional arts and crafts around where you can often chat with the craftspeople who make them, all stamped with the Handicraft Association’s gold sticker of authenticity.
Eric and Thierry Stocker are brothers whose expertise in and passion for lacquer goes back decades. They have a workshop about a kilometre behind Wat Damnak. Here you can see their creations being put together in a beautiful amalgamation of traditional techniques and themes with a very contemporary aesthetic appeal. As part of their mission, the brothers say they have trained 350 disadvantaged Cambodian women in the art.
Stung Thmey St, Siem Reap
T: (063) 963 330
No. 25 Veal Village, Kothchak Commune, Siem Reap
T: (078) 208 161
Road No. 6 (towards the airport), Siem Reap
Near Wat Polanka (follow the signs to the right off the River Rd), Siem Reap
T: (097) 743 1988
Road to Bakong Temple, Siem Reap
T: (012) 475 018
The Lotus Farm
Phnom Krom Rd, Siem Reap
Angkor Handicraft Association Market
Off 60 Metre Rd, Siem Reap
Sala Lodges Road, Siem Reap
T: (012) 327 680
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 15th September, 2015.