by Catherine Vanesse / Translated from French to English by Vincent Sung
Photos by Vincent Sung www.vincentsung.com
Not so long ago, a visit to Siem Reap was often limited to the temples of Angkor and the few souvenir markets. Today, Cambodian expatriates and creators bring a new artistic spirit to the city.
While most tourists have sprung since dawn to the temples of Angkor, the streets of Siem Reap are almost deserted besides few Cambodians who come to buy at the market or the tuk-tuk drivers who try, almost desperately, to attract the few tourists who stroll the streets to take them to the famous site with their tireless “tuk-tuk sir, tuk-tuk lady”. Ranked in 1992 as UNESCO World Heritage, the ruins of Angkor attract more than one million visitors each year making the former capital of the Khmer Empire the most important attraction of Cambodia and for a long time, almost the only point of interest of the city. Yet Siem Reap is a pleasant city, even more during the day, when it empties itself of the tourists, of the river which crosses it to the narrow streets, where it is good to walk.
In recent years, a new place appeared on the tourist map of the city. Nestled in a tree-lined neighborhood just steps away from Pub Street and the old market, Kandal Village hosts a mix of art galleries, spas, fashion boutiques and social initiatives where Khmer products and cosmopolitan design coexist.
A village in full expansion as explained Louise Loubatieres, a Franco-Vietnamese designer, “I arrived here, four years ago, there was only the spa-massage salon Frangipani, the best of the city and a few travel agencies around, now we have over thirty businesses”. Arriving in Siem Reap in 2013, Louise wanted to produce her own collections while controlling the entire production system. She draws her models before manufacturing them in Cambodia or Vietnam, with deep concerns for fair trade. In her shop, decorative objects, jewelry, scarves or silk cushion are displayed in a tasty mix of Khmer and contemporary influences. For lovers of silk, a detour by Les Soieries du Mekong, still in Kandal Village, is a must-see.
Opposite, we discover Sirivan with a ground floor shop and the sewing workshop upstairs. “Cambodia does not really have a tradition of clothing, there are fabrics, materials, but no Cambodian style”, explains the owner, showing us his creations. Born in Cambodia and having known the Khmer Rouge era, Sirivan Chak Dumas left France in 1982 at the age of 12 years. After studying fashion and design in Paris, she returned to her country of origin in 2009 with the desire to share her passion and knowledge. In addition to her collections of men’s and women’s clothing made on site, Sirivan also makes uniforms for certain hotels in the region as well as custom-made pieces. Other fashionable boutiques, Margot Rejini, Shop 676 and Sra May offer their lots of original pieces with fine and traditional materials.
Among the pioneers to settle on Hup Guan Street and to initiate Kandal Village alongside Louise, there is the Red Fox Bar, which according to the unanimous expatriates is famous for its delicious coffee, as well as Trunkh.
Together, they produced a leaflet presenting all the shops on the street and several streets around. Regularly updated, this leaflet is distributed in major hotels, restaurants and travel agencies around Siem Reap. “All the people who have settled in Kandal Village are really concerned by Cambodia, by the people, their well-being, this neighborhood is literally a village, we all know each other, we promote each other, “Says Doug Gordon, the owner of Trunkh, a concept store. Inside, the visitor can find a bric-a-brac of objects: art, fashion, jewelry and accessories, furniture and interior decoration, everyone can find almost everything! To find his unique pieces, Doug traveled along Cambodia, made new with old, created new things, excavated to find unique and original pieces. Doug gladly shares the story behind each object, his origins, how he negotiated the award, or how Angelina Jolie came to see him for her latest film props “First they killed my father “.
On the art side, Niko Studio attracts attention with its flashy-colored buddhas. Nicolette Malta, a French visual artist created pieces of art influenced by Buddhism, unless it is the reverse? The jewels or sculptures that Nico chines throughout the markets are reviewed under her brush strokes with a concern for details and a technique of her own, making each piece work in its own right.
To discover the contemporary art scene of Cambodia, a visit to the Constable Gallery will delight the amateurs. Opened in 2016, Sasha Constable, the owner and curator/artist of the gallery, promotes young Cambodian and international artists whose work is marked by Khmer culture, history, and spirituality. Another space to discover the emerging art scene, The Bridge Art Gallery. This art education center affiliated with the NGO Caring For Cambodia (CFC) is both an art gallery, a workshop with courses taught by Cambodian or international artists, an event venue, a place of internship for the students of the school Caring For Cambodia.
To end your afternoon, The Hive is the perfect place to enjoy pastries and viennoiseries, while Vibe offers a small organic and vegan cuisine served with fresh, ultra-vitamin fruit juices, perfect to recover from the visit of the temples of Angkor from previous days or a day of shopping!