Creative leap in Siem Reap

Creative leap in Siem Reap

KHMER HIT

Creative leap in Siem Reap

Catherine Vanesse

26 September 2017

Not so long ago, a visit to Siem Reap was often limited to the temples of Angkor and a few souvenir markets. Today, many creators, both Cambodian and expatriates, are bringing a new artistic breath to the city.

With most tourists leaving at dawn for the temples of angkor, the streets of Siem Reap are almost deserted, with the exception of the Cambodians having come to make their day’s purchases at the market, or of the tuk-tuk drivers who try, almost desperately, to attract the few remaining strollers to take them to the famous site, with cries of “tuk-tuk sir, tuk-tuk lady”. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, the ruins of Angkor attract more than one million visitors each year, making the former capital of the Khmer empire Cambodia’s most important attraction and, for a long time, practically the only point of interest of the city. Still, Siem Reap is a pleasant town, even more so during the day, when it empties of tourists. At that time, it is an enjoyable site for a walk, from its river to its many small alleyways.

Louise Loubatieres © Vincent Sung

In recent years, a new location has been appearing, little by little, on the city’s tourist maps: Kandal Village. Nestled in a tree-lined neighbourhood just steps from Pub Street and the old market, it hosts a mix of galleries, spas, fashion stalls and social initiatives, where Khmer products and cosmopolitan design coexist.

It is a village in full expansion, explains Louise Loubatieres, a Franco-Vietnamese designer: “Four years ago, there was only the Frangipani spa-massage salon, which was the best in the city, along with a few travel agencies. Today, however, we are some thirty businesses.” Having arrived in Siem Reap in 2013, Louise wanted to produce her own collections while controlling the entire production system. She draws her models before having them built in Cambodia or Vietnam, all with an eye towards promoting fair working conditions. Decorative objects, jewellery, scarves and silk cushions all jostle for space in her workshop, forming a delicious mix of modern and Khmer influences.

For fans of silk, a detour through Les Soieries du Mekong, also located in Kandal Village, is a must.

Sirivan © Sirivan

Opposite, we discover Sirivan, a ground-floor shop with a sewing workshop located just above it. “Cambodia doesn’t really have a tradition of clothing. There are fabrics, materials, but no ‘Cambodian’ style,” explains the owner while showing us her creations. Born in Cambodia and having lived through the Khmer Rouge period, Sirivan Chak Dumas left for France in 1982 at the age of 12. Having studied fashion and design in Paris, she came back to her home country in 2009, filled with the urge to share her passion and knowledge. In addition to her men and women’s clothing collections made on-site, Sirivan also makes uniforms for some of the area’s hotels, as well as custom-made pieces. When it comes to fashion, the Margot Rejini, Shop 676 and Sra May shops all showcase their original pieces, made with high-quality, traditional materials.

Little Red Fox © Little Red Fox

Among the pioneers who settled in Hup Guan Street and who began the Kandal Village together with Louise, we find the Little Red Fox Espresso Bar, unanimously loved by expatriates for its delicious coffee, as well as Trunkh. Together, they have created a leaflet showing all the businesses on the street and in the neighborhood. Regularly updated, this leaflet is distributed in most hotels, restaurants and travel agencies in Siem Reap.

“Everybody who has settled in Kandal Village feels really concerned about Cambodia, about the people, about their well-being… This neighborhood is literally a village, we all know each

Trunkh © Vincent Sung

other, we all promote each other,” states Doug Gordon, the owner of Trunkh’ a concept store. Inside, visitors find themselves plunged into a bric-a-brac of objects: art, fashion, jewellery and accessories, furniture and interior decoration, almost everything is there! To source his collection, Doug travels across Cambodia, recycles old pieces, creates new ones, and searches tirelessly to find unique and original items. Generous with his time, Doug recounts the story behind each object, its origins, how he negotiated the price for it, or even how Angelina Jolie came to see him for her latest film, First They Killed My Father.

Niko Studio © Niko Studio

When it comes to art, Niko Studio attracts attention with its flashy colored Buddhas. Nicolette Malta, a French visual artist, creates artworks influenced by Buddhism, or perhaps the reverse! The jewellery and sculptures that Nico unearths during her searches in markets are updated under the strokes of her paintbrushes, with a unique technique and an eye for detail, making each piece into a masterpiece of its own right.

To discover Cambodia’s contemporary art scene, The Bridge Art Gallery is a good place to start. This art education center is affiliated with the Caring for Cambodia (CFC) NGO, which organizes events on its premises, and is simultaneously an art gallery, a workshop with courses taught by both Cambodian and international artists, and a location for events. For Art’s Sake, a new addition to this artistic scene, opened its doors in July 2017 with an exhibition by young painters from the Yamada School. Not far from there, Azahar Center for Peace, Yoga and Arts is the first vinyasa Yoga studio entirely run by Khmer instructors.

Vibe © Vibe

To end the day with a gourmet break, The Hive is the perfect place to enjoy cakes and pastries, while Atelier Sushi, with its young Cambodian team, offers variations on Japanese cuisine.

Mademoiselle Thyda, a grocery store, offers gourmet products from all over Cambodia, while Vibe boasts an understated vegan and organic cuisine with vitamin filled fresh fruit juices, perfect to recover from the exhausting marathon of temple visits, or simply from a busy day of shopping!

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