Article and photos by Elena del Valle
Angkor Wat temple
After exploring the best known and most interesting Angkor Wat temples (sometimes more than once) I longed to see a little more of Siem Reap and its environs. As I was pondering options I mentioned to the hotel manager at my hotel, the Raffles Hotel D’Angkor, my interest in cultural and artistic shops or activities. His suggestions and assistance led me to visit the Golden Silk Pheach farm (see Interesting, inspiring visit to Cambodia golden silk farm), the workshop of Eric Raisina, a Madagascar born and French educated textile designer, and the House of Theam, the shop and art gallery of Lim Muy Theam, a French educated local artist, the following day.
Sirivan Chak and Loic Dumas, owners, Galerie Cambodge
That day at my hotel I browsed the small shopping arcade. While I was enjoying afternoon tea the previous day I met Sirivan Chak and Loic Dumas, two of the three owners of Galerie Cambodge, a clothing and home furnishings store and my favorite shop there. It was distinctive in that unlike many stores in the city selling foreign made goods, 90 percent of the items in the boutique were made in Cambodia. The exceptions were Panama Hats (made in Ecuador) and stunning Burma lacquered bowls made from horse hair and 17 layers of lacquer, requiring six months to complete.
Items for sale at Galerie Cambodge
Bowls from Burma, one of my favorite items at Galerie Cambodge
The shop sold housewares, sandals, and casual men’s and women’s handmade clothes with Khmer touches integrated within the chic designs. Prices ranged from $16 for cotton bags to $630 for beautiful and soft golden silk wraps (a favorite). The owners, Nathalie Safon Ridel, an architect, Sirivan, a designer, and her husband Loic, a former production manager in the high tech printing industry, had moved to Siem Reap from Paris, France. I liked their original designs with Cambodian elements and monk-blessed yuoan talismans. I appreciated that they used natural dyes, and natural fibers and followed responsible tourism and fair trade practices, buying products and working with small and family owned producers as well as supporting local non profits. Galerie Cambodge (Raffles Hotel D’Angkor shopping arcade, +855 (0)12 855 204, www.galeriecambodge.com)
Eric Raisina, textile designer and shop owner
Eric Raisina arrived in Siem Reap in 1996 and fell in love with the area. By 2001 he had based his business in the city and by 2004 he had opened his first shop. When I met the silk textile designer he had two shops in Siem Reap and one in Phnom Penh. The villa shop I visited (by appointment only) housed a showroom sandwiched between a workshop on one side, where a half a dozen seamstresses worked on bright and colorful silk fabrics, clothes and accessories, and a dye section on the other.
Silk clothing at the Eric Raisina shop in Siem Reap
“My main focus is really silk because in my country we do have beautiful silk, fantastic and really soft,” said the energetic and tall designer as he walked me around the ground floor showroom and shop in one of the city’s premier residential areas. “I thought this material is really magical.”
Bright colors and soft silks predominated at Eric Raisina’s shop
What I liked most about his fabrics in addition to the bright colors and whimsical and unexpected textures was the amazing softness of the silk fabrics. Prices ranged between $29 for a scarf to $545 for a travel blanket (my favorite). Villa Boutique Worship (Kot Chork, Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia, +855 (0) 63 963 207, +855 (0)12 580 283 www.ericraisina.com, email@example.com).
Staff working at the Theam’s House workshop
Cambodian art at Theam’s House
I arrived at Theam’s House late in the day, tired, hungry (there had been no time for lunch) and wet from an afternoon of seasonal downpours. Maddy Lim, the Cambodian artist’s sister who had recently quit her job to dedicate her time to the art gallery, welcomed me with a smile. A few moments later she introduced me to Lim Muy Theam, the artist and man behind the shop, and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. The former artistic director of Artisans d’Angkor had attended the École Boule and the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris before returning to his homeland. He now lived, worked and exhibited his art in the same building. During my visit, he described his artistic style and showed me around the back-of-the-house workshop where his staff were hard at work and the public space where finished artwork was on display.
The gallery was filled with colorful art in varied sizes and shapes. The most distinctive were the oversize acrylic paintings due to be included in the Season of Cambodia exhibit in New York City in 2013. There were also lacquered paintings (starting at $500), bronze and stone sculptures, even cotton scarves from Phnom Srok. The most popular, he said in response to my question, where his souvenir elephants and Buddhas. He was planning on making one thousand Buddhas. Theam’s House (No.25, Phum Veal, Khum Kokchak, Siem Reap Angkor, +855 -0- 12 71 20 39, +855 -0- 78 20 81 61+855 -0- 97 89 855 39, www.theamshouse.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com)
A section of one of the oversize paintings
Late the following morning I took a break from attractions and shopping excursions and scheduled a half day Champagne Spa package at Bodia Spa, a day spa near my hotel. There’s nothing like spa therapy following shopping therapy, I say. The friendly spa ladies spoke English, the spa facilities were quiet (I was the only guest when I arrived) and pretty with water features in a courtyard garden, the treatments were nice and the bubbly, gently chilled, was served with a bowl of fruit. Bodia Spa adjacent to the Heritage Suites Hotel (behind Wat Polanka, + 855 63 762 428, www.bodia-spa.com, firstname.lastname@example.org )
My treatment included a flower filled tub, fresh fruit and a half bottle of champagne