Cambodia is a country that is awash with unique artisans recreating traditional art forms or putting their own modern spin on ancient techniques. The result is a plethora of souvenirs and memoirs to remind you of your trip. Here are 10 things you can only get your hands on in the Kingdom of Wonder.
You’ll spot the krama everywhere you go because this multi-purpose scarf is the national symbol of Cambodia and used by all. The traditional Cambodian garment is used as a scarf, bandana, to cover the face, carry children, as a hammock for youngsters, to swat away flies and wipe beads of sweat and pretty much anything else in between. The checked fabric traditionally comes in red and white but many modern designs incorporate a rainbow of colours. These can be bought throughout Cambodia, in varying qualities and prices.
Rice wine with snake inside
This super-strong alcohol is produced by infusing a whole snake in locally-brewed rice wine. Originating in China, it is also considered a form of Chinese Traditional Medicine, which is widely practised throughout Cambodia, and is thought to reinvigorate and boost virility. The snakes used are usually venomous – but pose no threat to the drinker – with the snake venom dissolving in the liquor.
Traditional Cambodian art tends to feature replica paintings of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples, countryside scenes and workers ploughing the land. However, there is a steadily growing contemporary art scene growing in the country, with many boutique galleries flogging their wares. Street 178 – or art alley – in the capital boasts lines of art shops and galleries showcasing the country’s talents.
As one of Cambodia’s premium products, Kampot pepper is used in kitchens across the globe, thanks to its sharp bite and intense flavour. Granted Geographical Indicator (GI) status in 2010, the pepper is grown in droves throughout Kampot province, where the cooler climate and quartz-rich soil make the perfect climate for growing the pepper. It is produced in green, black, white and red varieties, with many plantations selling cutely packaged helpings to take home.
Purses made from trash
There are numerous organisations working tirelessly to fight the poverty that plagues parts of Cambodia. Many of these NGOs train under-privileged Cambodians in arts and crafts, and creating delightful trinkets from trash, such as plastic bags, used cement bags, straws and tyres. Friends International’s stores, Friends ‘n’ Stuff, in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh sell a range of cute crafts.
Cambodia is also a treasure trove when it comes to silver, with the country’s many dedicated silversmiths creating intricately decorated boxes, plates, bowls, rings and jewellery. If you have enough time, you can even request for your own inscribing to be added.
Cambodia is studded with palm sugar trees – the country’s national tree – and, if you’re lucky, you can catch some of the men and women who climb their skinny trunks to reach the fruit at its towering tip. Living for up to a century, the canopy can span three metres, with the tree reaching heights of 30 metres. The palm sugar tastes akin to brown cane sugar, with more caramel notes. It is used in cooking and as a traditional medicine, and is another local product that has secured GI status.
Another ancient artisanal craft that Cambodia is famous for is its carving. Whether in wood or stone, an array of carefully crafted objects is available for sale across the country. From large Buddha heads to boxes and miniature replicas of Angkor Wat, there’s no shortage of options to take home.
Cambodia is home to a unique collection of textiles, including cotton and other divine hand-woven items. Many of these can be found in markets across the country, as well as a rising number of boutiques. Leafy Street 240 in Phnom Penh is home to many of these, with A.N.D. and Lotus Silk standing out.
Cambodian silk scarf
Cambodia’s golden silk was once renowned throughout the world for its purity and soft feel. However, recent decades have seen the craft decline, with recent efforts aiming to restore golden silk to its former glory. Those interested in finding out more about the process, from silk worm to scarf, can take a free tour of Artisan Angkor’s silk farm on the outskirts of Siem Reap. Lotus Silk in Phnom Penh also produces a range of scarfs and other clothing in golden silk.
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