In any country, supporting and understanding traditional arts is a wonderful way to sustain a local culture through your travels – but in no country is this more important than in Cambodia. During the Khmer Rouge era, many of Cambodia’s traditional arts were nearly lost, and only now has the resurrection of traditional Khmer arts brought many art forms near extinction back to life. This was driven largely by increased tourism, but sustaining local art and crafts is still crucial to the cultural tapestry of Cambodia. Making an active contribution to these fascinating art forms – either through your travel dollar or through your choices of experiences – is a cause that will be rewarding both for you and for the local community.
Nearly everywhere in Cambodia is a great place to support traditional arts, but artisan villages and NGOs in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh make it even easier for international visitors to support worthy initiatives.
In Siem Reap, Artisans d’Angkor is a great place to pick up souvenirs crafted by skilled local artisans, while also supporting its arts education and training programs.
In Phnom Penh, pay a visit to Silk Island (Koh Dach) to see skilled textile workers in action, and pick up a few keepsakes to take a bit of Khmer culture back home with you.
There’s nothing wrong with a little bargaining when buying souvenirs (it’s expected), but if you’re investing in handmade textiles or other handicrafts, the cost will be higher than other mass-produced souvenirs you’ll find in other shops. Consider the time and energy that went into creating each item you’re buying before bargaining too hard. If you’re in a brick and mortar shop where prices are marked, don’t expect to get any discounts from bargaining.