Purchasing souvenir is part of a trip. But what do people expect from a souvenir?
The main answer is: “a souvenir of Cambodia should be made in Cambodia”. This makes a lot of sense, after all. Most people want to feel like they are taking a little something of the country they have visited with them back home. It is also important to many that their purchases contribute to the local economy.
There are many handicraft initiatives around Siem Reap Province, including silk and cotton weaving, pottery, stone carving, jewelry… And some of them encourage social inclusion of people with disability! By chosing where you buy your souvenirs, you can make a significant contribution in Cambodian people’s life.
What is handicraft? Why does it matter?
Handicraft is a wide variety of types of work where useful and decorative objects are made by hand or by using only simple tools.
The reason you should choose handicraft while purchasing souvenirs in Siem Reap is that it directly encourages local communities’ development. Moreover, favouring handicraft made from people with disabilities in Siem Reap provides them access to training, education and tools. Therefore, it allows them to have a fair and sustainable income for them and their family.
Where to shop real handicrafts in Siem Reap?
GFTV is a social enterprise focused on creating a fair trade environment that benefits local artisans with disabilities. Their aim is to provide a platform to develop sustainable livelihoods for people with disabilities living in Siem Reap and to create a culture of access and inclusion in the community, as discrimination is still a significant problem in Cambodia.
The shop offers a pressure-free atmosphere where you can buy Khmer jewelry, artwork, photography, clothing, accessories and carvings, with a focus on recycled and eco-friendly materials and packagings. You also have the possibility to join a workshop and learn from the artisans how to make your own item!
The Made in Cambodia Market is a small community market created in 2013. It gathers the most talented artisans and designers of Siem Reap to sell their creations in a relaxed atmosphere. Visitors attending the market will have the opportunity to purchase fine quality artisan products and luxury goods. The greatest benefit of the Made in Cambodia Market will be to these Cambodians, through direct income and skills development.
Regularly, you can enjoy a live performance, such as dance, music, circus, etc…
Fair Trade Village
The Fair Trade Village is the only permanent market exclusively retailing genuine Cambodian-made handicrafts authenticated by the Angkor Handicraft Association. The market stocks a wide range of handmade items and also provides workshops where artisans create traditional handicrafts that have been produced by local communities for centuries.
Artisans Angkor is one of the most famous craft shop in Siem Reap. Its aim is to revive, protect and develop Angkor traditional handicrafts. It was founded at the end of the 1990’s to help young rural people find work near their home village, far from the city. It’s the result of an educational project aiming to provide professionnal skills to communities with limited educational opportunities. It has 48 workshops operating in 12 sites located in Siem Reap province, and it provides employment to over 1100 people, including about 800 artisans.
The shop offers a very diverse selection of every kind of handicrafts such as wood carvings, silk weavings, lacquer paintings, clothing, jewellery, stone statues…
You can also join a free guided tour and participate in a workshop.
Rehash Trash is both a social enterprise which provides a sustainable future for disadvantaged Khmer women and their families, by transforming used plastic bags into stylish items.
At their Siem Reap store you can find some very unique gift shopping, and even attend a recycling workshop where you make your own keyring or bracelet to take away as a souvenir!
Rokhak Women Handicraft
Rokhak Women Handicraft is a social enterprise founded in 2016. Rokhak’s mission is to provide a sustainable job for disadvantaged women from Tonlé Sap Lake region by giving them water hyacinth weaving skills. From this knowledge, they craft bags, baskets and various items. This project is both a social and sustainable approach, as water hyacinth is very invasive and causes ecological problems.
Although tourism in Siem Reap has increased from around 200 000 visitors in 2005 to over 2 million visitors in 2014 with tourist expenditure reaching USD $100 million on souvenirs, Siem Reap remains one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia. Only a very small proportion of money spent in Siem Reap is touching the local people.
The influx of imported souvenirs and machine-made replicas of traditional handicraft in Siem Reap forces hundreds of artisans to other activities like farming to supplement their income. Around 80% of souvenirs sold in Siem Reap are imported from bordering countries while local artisans struggle to compete.
Often tourists can’t identify authentic products from machine-made replicas and even the sellers are told they are made in Cambodia. And this is a problem not just for tourists; it’s also problematic for the local economy.
Our tips to avoid counterfeit handicraft
“How can I make sure that my souvenirs are authentic?”
> Target locally made products
Buying from local artisans is obviously the best way. You can trust the shops and organizations we mentioned above.
> Look for the Seal
The Angkor Handicraft Association’s Official Seal of Authenticity is a government-registered label that helps visitors distinguish between locally made products and imported items and ensure they are supporting local producers.
It is visible in shops and venues that work with locally made products certified by Angkor Handicraft Association. The Seal is available to Siem Reap based handicraft producers and retailers who work with products created within the Siem Reap province. It currently serves as the only way to identify locally products made in Cambodia.
When shopping across Siem Reap, look for the yellow label, and always make sure you closely study the detail of handicrafts to ensure you are purchasing genuine handmade goods.