Travel Report: Artisans Angkor, Siem Reap.
Artisans Angkor, Siem Reap.
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”. 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 is an afternoon at 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.
Launched in 1998, Artisans Angkor is a social enterprise 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.
Artisans Angkor, Siem Reap.
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’ve studied here make for some interesting reading on the various info boards peppered around the workshops.
What to See and do Siem Reap.
In fact, there are numerous info panels to check out between the artist’s workstations. Pictured above, a rough overview of how to create a Buddha figurine from sandstone. They make it sound so easy…
We also saw a giant board showcasing original sketch designs of the pieces made here. As someone who can’t draw for toffee, it’s impossible not to be super impressed.
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 here certainly aren’t 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 you can’t take photos. 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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I’m in awe! These artisans weave magic with their hands. Your post reminds me of the time when I visited a workshop in Agra, India. The place is known for marble inlay work and it takes days, sometimes weeks even months to complete intricate pieces of artwork. Thanks for sharing this post about Artisans Angkor:)
Hey Charu, I’m so glad you like this piece. I’m also in awe of these guys and their talents. Many years ago, as a 20 something, I toured a few of those Agra workshops and they are indeed equally special. I still have a carved marble elephant from that trip 🙂
Oh, that is so fascinating!!! I too have a marble elephant and a few more artifacts (since I have extended family in Agra I visit often). I’m so glad we connected in this virtual world via our blogs, we have so much to share 🙂
Thanks again for keeping in touch!
Great informative post Leighton and good you are getting it back on the map. Such talented artists
Thank you very much Alison! A special place with special people make spellbinding art.
It looks that way
What a wonderful organisation. Khmer Art is just splendorous. Thanks for bringing this place into my morning scene.
Thank you Stan, I’m glad this served as a nice accompaniment to your morning cuppa.
Some very talented sculptors there Leighton and such an interesting place to visit in Siem Reap. Hope your first weekend back in Belgrade is going well.
Hey Marion, thanks for taking a look at the talented artisans of Angkor. As roving digital nomads we rarely added to the weight of our luggage by picking up souvenirs. But I do look back at this place and wish we had found some space for a small Buddha. It’s a glorious summer’s day here in Serbia and our COVID recovery seems just about complete. Have a great Sunday!
Welcome back. I didn’t realize you were back in Serbia already. Love watching artisans at work. Especially when they are crafting one of a kind items. It was interesting to examine pieces closely to see the individual differences. Each one has its own personalized stamp to it.
Hey Memo, yes we are back in Serbia and setting the wheels in motion for establishing a long term base here. Thanks for reading again and commenting. I have been republishing my Siem Reap series which typically doesn’t set off an email notification to subscribers. However, today’s repost suffered some mysterious WordPress gremlins and failed to go through. Thus I had to put it out as a brand new post. Ah, WordPress.
An awesome source of employment for locals and to be so creative must give a good sense of self worth. I love these kinds of places. Although, I trained as an architectural draftsman, I also can not draw (other than straight lines) worth a tinker’s damn. Thanks for showing us that the beauty is still being created. Allan
Glad to know I’m not alone ha ha. Thanks for dropping by Allan, glad you appreciated these guys and their awesome creations.
I love seeing the talented artists that are trained in these studios. I much prefer to spend more for one of their pieces than the assembly line model. Did you buy anything?
We didn’t! But you know, if I could rewind…. Thanks for visiting Maggie.
Those craftsmen and women – how incredible creative are they! Watching the video, I’m thinking what if you get that far with an artwork, your hand slips and kaboom ⚡️, there goes the masterpiece! (Of course that won’t happen with them … I’m just saying if it was me …).
Interesting post Leighton – and I think I’ll pass on the hefty priced items 😉.
I think my own attempts at this would prove similarly disastrous/comical! Like you these craftsmen have nothing but my admiration.
Interesting! I (Kellye) am intrigued that the artisans only need a few months of training before they can produce the beautiful pieces of art. This must take some talent and obviously a lot of heart and passion for their craft. Thank you for sharing this hidden gem!
Yeah, a few months doesn’t sound too long eh? Impressive. Glad you enjoyed this piece Kellye, cheers for dropping by.
I do appreciate these workshops and concepts dedicated to helping the disadvantaged with getting jobs, especially in craftsmanship! The sculptures are absolutely beautiful and painstakingly detailed. If I were ever to visit, I’d definitely buy a little something to support them!
Glad you enjoyed this look at the artisans of Angkor Rebecca. I’m sure it must have been tough for them during the pandemic, but I’m encouraged to read that the centre has reopened and visitors are retiring.
What a cool experience, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s amazing how talented they are! I could barely make a pinch pot in ceramics class.
Thanks Lyssy! My own creative skills are also laughable, so power to these impressive artisans.
Kudos to those who thought of this project and the artisans who perfect their craft there. This concept should be emulated. It reminds me of Jiam Sang Sajja Bronze Factory in an out-of-the-way Bangkok neighborhood. It is a much smaller operation were people make beautiful bronze bowls using techniques from Thailand’s Ayutthaya period. Thanks for sharing, Leighton.
I hadn’t heard of that bronze factory. Which is annoying, as I spent quite a bit of time in and around Bangkok in 2015. It’s on my list for next time, should there be a next time. Cheers John!
Such talented sculptors. Looks like you really enjoyed both observing the artisans and the arts and crafts. It’s amazing to learn that this business trains and employs local talent to learn and maintain the craftwork of their country, and you also get to see them at work. Thanks for sharing and have fun in Belgrade 🙂 Aiva
Thank you Aiva, I’m glad you enjoyed this window into the work of Siem Reap’s amazing artisans. I hope the summer is treating you guys well. It is unspeakably hot here in Serbia.
The philosophy of the workshop is a wonderful concept; and what a treat to see the artists in action. I’m sure their creations are worth every penny.
Thanks, it’s the kind of place that just makes you smile. As other commenters have said this kind of enterprise should be rolled out globally across all the nations. Thanks for reading!
I know one or two these guys, it cannot be understate how important this place is to Siem Reap community. Thanks for telling it to your followers.
Thanks so much for reading and joining the discussion!
Artists and sculptures never cease to amaze me. I imagine it takes years to perfect a skill (although I was surprised to read the training lasts for months). I also can’t imagine someone watching while I carve out intricate pieces. I am currently hyperventilating at the thought of me sharing my screen while coding, obviously an activity with more room for correction than carving sculptures!
Ha, right!? I’m glad you are as in awe of these artists as I am, and indeed many commenters on this thread. The training time is kinda baffling, must be a really intensive course! Thanks for reading!
What an interesting and slightly different place to visit. It must be fascinating (tingle factor!?) to watch these talented people at work. Siem Reap was due to be our last port of call on our aborted SE Asia trip before departing for Singapore so as and when we resurrect it, we’ll make a point if visiting this fascinating place.
Thanks for reading guys. I’m sure you’d enjoy this and may even be tempted into a purchase or two.
Wow the Artisans Angkor artists work is truly magnificent. It is so important to continue these traditions so that future generations also appreciate their history, and it looks like they are really doing just that. These individuals are so talented as well!
Absolutely Allie, thanks for checking these guys out and leaving a comment.
How amazing to get to see these artisans at work. I always find it so fascinating to watch that process of turning something from simple material into a detailed work of art. I probably would have been the creepy person to just pull up a chair and watch them work for hours on end. It’s so hard when you go somewhere to really see everything there is to see in a place before the time or money runs out. How lucky that you had the time to find all these lesser known places and lucky for us you share them with 🙂
The creation process is spellbinding. I’m quite jealous I have to say, as I would be all fingers and thumbs trying to carve a buddha out of a block of wood. And yes, being “stuck” in Siem Reap for 7 months really helped us uncover hidden gems like this place. Thanks Meg!
You spent seven months here? Wow! I certainly agree it deserves more than the short time most of us give it (guilty as charged) and definitely that it has more to offer on top of the sights of Angkor. One thing we did do was visit this workshop and we were as impressed with the quality of the workmanship and the skills on display as you were. I found myself thinking that if I had the sort of house needed to show off one of those prestige pieces (and presumably therefore the cash to afford one) I would have invested for sure. The panels reproducing the apsaras from Angkor Wat, or perhaps a Buddha statue, would look stunning in the right entrance hall!
Hey Sarah, so glad you managed to see the artisans of Angkor. Yup, those high end pieces in the ‘Prestige Room’ did have a palatial vibe to them. I remember seeing a grizzly old American dude in there surrounded by eager staff. I guess they could smell a big sale. Thanks for stopping by!
Thanks for sharing this. It’s been a while since we’ve been to Cambodia and we do miss the place and our friends there.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. A part of us also misses the country and its people. Who knows, maybe we’ll return one day.
We loved our time there seeing artisans. We brought some of these marble statues and we will keep them forever.
Glad you enjoyed the artisans of Siem Reap Anita, thanks for reading.
Nice post 🤠
Thanks for your comment!
That sounds like a neat experience to see the artists in action. Their focus and attention to detail is remarkable.
Amazing to see the video and photo of the artist creating a head (and headdress) so much larger than his own head! I would have liked to see the artisans at work. I think these creations would have been way too large and heavy to bring one back.
I knew this article would be right up your street Ruth. They did have some small wooden Buddhas for sale but yes, those larger stone pieces would be tricky to get back home.