Individual little boutiques, art and photo galleries are scattered
across the town, though there is a concentration of places in the
Old Market area. The boutiques tend to offer higher quality, more
unique and sophisticated selections of items than the Old Market -
some focusing on Cambodian silks and tailoring, others on high
quality handicrafts, NGO-based crafts, Asian-inspired photographic
and artistic creations or specialty items such as local candles, spices
and teas. Perhaps most interestingly, a new generation of Cambodian
artists is making its mark and contemporary Cambodian art is coming
to the fore after decades of silence.
What to Buy
Hand-woven Cambodian silks, stone and woodcarvings, statues and
castings, contemporary Cambodian art, Cambodian handicrafts a
nd traditional musical instruments, temple rubbings, silver betel
containers, colored gems and basketry are among the most popular
souvenirs. The most useful and one of the cheapest souvenirs that
you can buy is a traditional checkered Cambodian scarf (krama).
If you don’t mind looking like a tourist, wear it around your neck like
the locals to keep the intense tropical sun off the back of your neck.
Cambodian Silks which are prized by silk collectors the world
over. Most of the silk available in Cambodia is hand-loomed using
the traditional ikat method of dying the threads and looming in the
patterns. Both raw and fine silks are available in the form of bolts
, sarongs, clothing and various handicrafts. Many of the pieces
available are potential collector’s items. A fascinating way to
learn about Cambodian silk is to visit the National Silk
Center where visitors can witness start-to-finish silk creation -
growing and harvesting mulberry (food for the silk worms), t
he breeding process and life cycle of the silk worm, collection
of cocoons, separation and spinning the silk, the dying process
and the creation of beautiful silk weavings on wooden, multi-harness
hand looms. Cambodian silk is available at silk shops and boutiques
across town, many specializing in silk creations such as tailored
Asian and Euro-Asian fashions, pillows, blankets, purses and other
decor and accessories. To learn more about Cambodian silk check
the bookstore for ‘Traditional Textiles of Cambodia’ by Gillian Green
Statues and carvings of traditional subjects, often copies
of Angkorian era works as well as Buddhas and various Hindu
gods and personages, are available in stone, wood and brass.
Statues make for relatively heavy, bulky souvenirs but are still
very popular because of their beauty and artistic value. The
replica of an Angkorian era bust of Jayavarman VII with its
graceful lines and peaceful smile is truly captivating and is
perhaps the most popular piece. Statues and carvings are
available at the Old Market and most souvenir shops, though
it pays to shop around for the best price and quality.
Highly-recommended is a stop at one of the local workshops
such as Artisans D’Angkor to see craftsman producing wood
and stone carvings. At Artisans d’Angkor visitors can observe
artisans making traditional wood and stone carvings and
lacquerwares following traditional techniques. Of special interest
is the traditional polychromy finishing technique that is being
practiced in the workshops. Polychromy imparts a unique patina
to stone and wood pieces. Free tours available. See the Artisans
d Angkor listing. Silver betel containers
Silver betel containers are popular, traditional souvenirs. These pounded silver containers are often shaped like animals, fruits and vegetables, and were originally used in ceremonial and everyday life to hold dried betel nut. (Betel is a type of palm nut that is chewed as a mild stimulant.) In the traditional market, betel looks like coin shaped, dark red plugs. You may see people, particularly older women from rural areas, with teeth stained deep red from years of chewing betel. Nowadays, silver betel containers are made primarily for sale as souvenirs but are still hand crafted using traditional techniques and styles. And in comparison to statues and carvings, they are comparatively light weight and transportable.
‘Temple rubbings’ are for sale everywhere in Siem Reap - the temples, the souvenir shops and the Old Market - but are, in fact, neither actual rubbings nor from the temples. They are in fact made from a heavy paper that is moistened then molded over recreations of original and imagined Angkorian-era temple carvings. Nevertheless, these rubbings are distinctive, light weight, transportable, inexpensive and uniquely Cambodian souvenirs.
Gems are a tempting souvenir. Western Cambodia, particularly in the area of Pailin, is a fertile source of colored stones. The markets in Siem Reap are full of jewelers specializing in Cambodian sapphires and rubies. Know something about gems and/or know the jeweler before spending much money.