Travel Report: Artisans Angkor, Siem Reap.
Artisans Angkor, Siem Reap.
January 2020. A common misconception about Siem Reap is the idea that, aside from The Angkor Temples, “there’s nothing much to see”. I hear this time and time again. Moreover, I remember reading several blogs that claimed 2-3 days is enough to “do Siem Reap”. One blogger confidently stated that he’d “seen everything” during his stay. Delving deeper, I couldn’t help but notice that his guide omitted nearly a dozen of SR’s most interesting spots. Most unforgivable of all, his rundown of what to see and do included… the fish spa near Pub Street. Mm.
We spent seven months in Siem Reap and only began to run out of projects towards the end. Not that we got absolutely everything, of course. There are still a few unticked boxes should we ever fancy a return. One cool experience which seems to fly a little under the radar are the highly impressive Artisans Angkor workshops. Here, visitors can get a deeper understanding of ancient Khmer art and meet Siem Reap’s most talented craftsmen and women. A perfect companion trip to the temples themselves.
Artisans Angkor, Siem Reap.
Launched in 1998, Artisans Angkor is a social company founded by a number of organisations, including The Cambodian Ministry of Education and The French League for In-service Training and Education. Its mission statement is twofold: to revive the ancient skills of Khmer art and provide opportunities to young, disadvantaged locals.
Fast forward 22 years and today Artisans Angkor is Siem Reap’s largest employer, with over 1100 workers on its payroll. To see these amazing people in action, you can visit the workshops for free, either by guided tour or simply strolling around independently.
The site includes a school which offers courses in wood and stone-carving, traditional silk painting and lacquerware skills. During our hour wandering through the workshops, we saw a little of everything in progress. Don’t be shy in approaching and closely observing their processes; these guys are perfectly used to being stared at.
Most of the artists won’t even acknowledge you, a few may give a polite nod or smile. Don’t take this personally, they are usually very busy and their work requires great concentration. What’s more, many don’t speak English and a number of the artists are deaf, communicating among themselves by sign language.
The apprentices typically train from anywhere between six to nine months, depending on their chosen skill. No amount of formal education is needed to qualify, everyone has a chance to prove themselves. Some personal testimonies of those who have studied here makes for some interesting reading on the official website.
What to See and do Siem Reap.
Poke around and you’ll find some interesting info panels between the various workstations. This one provides a rough overview of how to create a Buddha figurine from sandstone.
We also saw a giant board showcasing original sketch designs of the pieces made here.
After the workshops, head for the arts and crafts store where some truly magnificent pieces sit on display. Make no mistake, the creations on sale are certainly not the knock off cookie cutter goods you’ll find down at The Old Market near pub Street. As a result, be prepared to dig deep into your pockets and pay for that extra quality.
If you want to see some truly breathtaking works, head to the far corner of the store and check out the Prestige Room. Only the very wealthy can afford these high end items and photography is forbidden. On the plus side, if you spend $1750 on one of their polychrome and sandstone buddha statues, it comes with free international shipping. Yay.
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