Cambodia might not be known for its shopping, but we are here to tell you it should be! Not the classic designers of Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue shopping, but one-of-a-kind handmade crafts. We recently had a chance to visit Cambodia and were struck by the incredible resurgence of Khmer Culture and art taking place across the country. Suppressed and almost destroyed by a turbulent past, artisans are experiencing a renaissance and we have the extra suitcases to show for it.
Known mostly for magnificent temple ruins such as UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is gaining new life as the epicenter of this cultural movement. Theam’s House, the atelier and studio of Lim Muy Theam, is one of our favorites. Forced to flee to France as a child, Theam never lost the passion for his home country and returned to Cambodia in the 1990s. He now creates some of Cambodia’s finest artwork including paintings, traditional lacquerware, sculpture, silks and more. Dedicated to passing on these time honored traditions, Theam’s House trains young Cambodians in these classic arts. The compound is home to perhaps the best small gallery of traditional Khmer items in the nation, a living workshop and divine shop. Another must visit is Angkor Artisans, dedicated to the revival of ancient Khmer Arts & Crafts while at the same time improving the lives of thousands of people living in rural areas. Go for a tour of the workshops and then a long linger through the shops, picking up incredible handmade objects and wearable art.
All that shopping is sure to work up an appetite, and one of our favorite spots is Spoons, a newly opened, airy, not-for-profit restaurant that serves up Khmer classics and Cambodian street food (forest sausage, coconut chicken) in an upscale way. And finish with a flourish at Phare, the Cambodian circus, where high-flying Cirque du Soleil-style acts combine essentially Cambodian stories with traditional Khmer dance and music. Round out the day with a swim in the country’s largest pool and bed down for the night at Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor, which retains its 1932, Art Deco feel.