Looking back on our time in Cambodia, I almost wish we had taken one more day in Siem Reap, invested in the three-day pass, and visited more of the ruins over a period of three days instead of one. With our boys ages 5 and 1, we didn’t think they could handle more than one day of ruins. Even though hiking and exploring ancient ruins is a perfect activity for little boys, our one-year-old was not happy to be spending so much time in the baby carrier. Anyway, for our second day in Siem Reap, our awesome Airbnb host planned an eventful day for us. We started our day fairly early with a tour of Artisans d’Angkor, a social enterprise that teaches artistic trades to young Cambodians in a series of workshops.
Free tours are provided, which of course strategically end in the vast gift shop. The tours were available in English as well as many other languages. We had a tour guide just for our family, and it was fascinating to learn about stone carving, wood carving, silk painting, lacquering, weaving, etching and many other trades. The mission of the company is to keep the traditional Cambodian artistic styles alive by training young Cambodian artists and helping them provide for their families with a useful trade. We toured one workshop at a time, discovering the process for making a stone carving or wood carving. Most of the workshops had a display case showing the various steps in the process, and some had stations where we could try out some of the trades. LanSomething don loved trying stone carving and etching, and it kept him engaged in the tour. Owen, however, was over it before the tour was over and I had to take him outside to run around for a few minutes before heading to the gift shop.
Something that I noticed about these workers is that they were making copies of pre-existing designs. Although doing very artistic work, in their effort to make things uniform they were replicating pieces and each piece had to pass quality inspection by the supervisor. This did not leave much room for artistic expression, but it also ensured that the pieces were good quality and uniform when on the shelf together in the gift shop.
I was also surprised by how many different workshops were housed in the facility. Here, the men were making metal boxes and bowls for silver plating later. There were other artists decorating statues in polychrome, doing silk paintings, and etching ceramic vases. By the end, I wanted all of the things they were making (which I think is the idea of the tour…)
In addition to the workshops located near downtown Siem Reap, Artisans d’Angkor also runs a silk farm a little further out of town. The tours of the silk farm are also free, highly rated and look fascinating, but we did not have the time to make it out there. However, there is a silk loom on display and placards explaining the process of harvesting and weaving silk, as well as a wide variety of gorgeous, high quality silk products available at the gift shop.
We knew we wanted to get something hand-carved from this place as our souvenir for Cambodia. Because everything was hand-made by local artisans, items were much more expensive than we could find on the street, but also much better quality as well. We couldn’t buy anything too big, because it was so expensive and wouldn’t fit in our luggage, but we settled on a neat wood carving of Angkor Wat and a stone carved elephant. It was difficult to find things in our price range that we wanted, as there were large pieces up into the tens of thousands of dollars. In all, our tour took about 30 minutes and then we spent another 20 minutes perusing the gift shop. We love trying to find local artists and patronize them during our travels, and the mission of this particular workshop was worth supporting. As far as kids go, I’d say that the tour is best suited for kids 5 and up, and the little ones could go in a stroller or backpack for this tour. I would not say the workshops are young child friendly/safe, so having them contained is important here. Same thing goes for the gift shop. There are so many gorgeous, expensive, breakable things in this shop that it could be really hard to deal with little guys in this gift shop. Older kids and teens, in my opinion, would find this much more engaging and exciting than say, a museum. Check them out and support their mission to employ young Cambodians closer to their small villages!