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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