As Siem Reap grows, so too does the number of creative types and entrepreneurs drawn by the vibrancy, beauty and spirit of this dusty little corner of the world. The result is an absolute treasure trove for souvenir hunters looking for something original and unique to Siem Reap, all the better to trigger happy memories, or wow friends back home.
And whether your preference is for jewellery, clothing, homewares or art, we can dig up something for all tastes and price-ranges.
First mention should go to Ly Pisith. At the age of 14, Ly was a refugee who had lost his entire family. Adopted by a family in France, he went on to study architecture before becoming a designer. Eight years ago, he finally worked up the courage to move back to Cambodia, where he continued his design work before finally setting up his own jewellery shop, Garden of Desire, on The Passage.
His story is important because he touches on it so often through his jewellery. His extraodrinary, organic pieces in silver and stone are not just works of art, they are meditations on history, loss, identity and on relationships, between people and between man and nature. If he is in the shop, please don’t hesitate to ask him about his work. It will be never less than fascinating.
On the other side of Pub Street, on The Lane, Graines de Cambodge is the creation of Rany Som, a jeweller who uses natural seeds to create jewellery and to decorate silk scarves and handbags. The result is a stunning collection of richly toned colours and designs. With prices as low as $10 for a slender coiled bracelet, this is definitely one you’re not going to want to miss for yourself or for friends.
For something a little hardier, head to Saomao beside Old Market, where you’ll find a collection of jewellery including Ammo, the designs of Madeline Green, a British woman who has transformed spent bullet casings found in the soils of Cambodian into delicate pieces.
For those with the budget, Eric Raisina and Ambre are unmissable. Raisina has been based in Siem Reap for almost 15 years, where his hand-loomed and dyed silks are transformed into stunning, vibrant pieces that have been showcased at Paris, New York and Bangkok Fashion Weeks. His showroom is in Charming City where, even if you don’t have a huge budget, one of his crocheted silk scarves will definitely set you apart.
Ambre is the label of Phnom Penh-based Romyda Keth, and can be found in Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor and her own store at Hotel J7 on the Central Park. Her feminine, elegant, classic designs evoke red carpet and Capri glamour and may be a perfect fit for any special occasions coming up back home.
A little more budget-friendly, the classic designs of Samatoa are made from silk that has been made and dyed in Cambodia in the traditional way, as well as an extraordinary silk made entirely from lotus flowers. You can choose from among their collection, or get them to tailor make something especially for you.
Home & art
As a photographer, John McDermott’s name has become as synonymous with Angkor Wat as Ansel Adams’ has with Yosemite National Park. His ethereal, unearthly monochrome images of Angkor’s temples are mesmerising and can be bought in a range of formats that can work for any pocket.
Theam’s House is the home, workshop and gallery of Cambodian designer Lim Muy Theam, where he blends Khmer traditions and international design standards into a collection of lacquerware, paintings and sculptures that are quirky and fun in places, painstakingly detailed in others. They are never less than beautiful though.
Artisans Angkor Silk Farm is a free 20-minute bus ride out of Siem Reap. This is an opportunity to find out how silk is created, dyed and woven — a lot more fun than you’d think — but also a chance to visit their showroom in relative peace and quiet, as the showroom in town seems to be permanently mobbed. They also sell a range of paintings, sculptures, lacquerware and clothing designed in Cambodia and crafted by specially-trained artisans who live in and around Siem Reap. The shuttle bus leaves from the main Artisans d’Angkor show room at 09:30 and 13:30 every day.
The original and still the best, Angkor Night Market has just had an extensive redesign. Here you’ll find the usual rubbish that is made anywhere but Cambodia: elephant pants, ‘silver’ jewellery (don’t believe the claims), Buddha heads, and so on. But you’ll also find some special genuine Cambodian pieces, including kramas, those distinctly Khmer scarves that serve at least 74 different purposes in the average Cambodian day.
Finally, and best of all, Made in Cambodia Market is the creation of Shinta Mani Club. The market is held daily along Kings Road Angkor from 12:00 till 22:00 and is dedicated to products made in Cambodia, such as soaps, candles, clothing, jewellery and health supplements.
Finally, we cannot let you leave without trying Sombai’s infused rice wines, which you’ll find at both of these markets and in their showroom on, where else, Sombai Lane to the southwest of the city.
The rice wines come in a range of flavours including anise-coffee, banana and cinnamon, green tea and orange, ginger and red chilli, galangal and tamarind, and more, and are beautifully presented in hand-painted bottles each topped with its own piece of krama.
Ambre: Hotel J7, Central Park; romydaketh.net
Angkor Night Market: Off Sivatha Boulebard; angkornightmarket.com
Artisans d’Angkor: Route 6; www.artisansdangkor.com
Eric Raisina: Charming City; www.ericraisina.com
Garden of Desire: The Passage; gardenofdesire-asia.com
Graines de Cambodge: The Lane; grainesdecambodge.com
John McDermott Gallery: The Passage; asiaphotos.net
Samatoa: Street 26; samatoa.com
Shinta Mani Made in Cambodia Market: Oum Khun Street; shintamani.com
Sombai: Sombai Lane; sombai.com
Saomao: Street 9; saomaosocialenterprise.wordpress.com
Theam’s House: #25 Veal Village; theamshouse.com
Cambodia Knits: Shinta Mani Made in Cambodia Market; cambodiaknits.com
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 1st August, 2016.