Two of Cambodia’s ancient traditions are, on the one hand, well known, and on the other hand, mysterious. The former is Apsara dancing, a delicate style of dancing also known as classical Khmer ballet. The latter is Khmer Martial Arts. Both stem from Cambodia’s distant past and have developed over the centuries into unique art forms.
Apsaras are the nymphs you can see carved as statues or in bas-reliefs all over Angkor. Not only can Apsaras been seen at Angkor but also at temples such as the seventh-century Sambor Prei Kuk temples in Kampong Thom province. As you can see the Apsara Dance has been part of Khmer culture for well over a millennium.
A visit to neighbouring countries, such as Thailand, will reveal the influence of the Khmer civilisation through art forms such as the Apsara dance.
The name actually means heavenly woman and these deities originally herald from Hindu mythology. In those Indian stories, these Apsaras are beautiful and supernatural female beings. They are also masterful dancers. They also, on occasion, seduce gods and men and not necessarily in that order.
There is a highly stylised form of the dance which at one time was exclusively performed at the royal palace and performed mainly by females. It was known as Robam Apsara, and the dancers of this style are often simply called Apsara dancers. In fact, there are many classical dance styles in the Kingdom.
The carvings at Angkor represented some 1,500 Apsaras in different poses representing love, passion and other emotions: it is a very subtle and intricate dance style.
Cambodian Living Arts puts on evening shows at the National Museum in Phnom Penh, which takes in many traditional arts, including Cambodian ballet. There are also a host of venues in Siem Reap that hold performances and some offer dining. If you are lucky, and in the vicinity, you can catch Apsara dancers practicing in the courtyard of the Royal University of Fine Arts, just behind the National Museum.
Also, a visit to Cambodia isn’t complete until you have attended an Apsara dance. It is a memorable occasion and the performance will leave an indelible memory.
Cambodian Martial Arts
Little known to foreigners are Khmer Martial Arts, or “Kbach Kun Khmer Boran”. This tradition also stretches back more than a thousand years. Once again, carvings and bas-reliefs on the Angkor temples provide evidence of the antiquity of this type of martial arts. The carvings reveal fierce competitions between combatants poised with stern looks on their faces and ready to strike down an opponent, or people grappling with each other attempting to throw down the other person. Originally used in combat, where it earned Khmer soldiers a fierce reputation, it is now used for sport and, if necessary, self-defence. The codes include Bokator, Pradal Serey, Baok Chambab, Kbach Kun Dambong Vèng, amongst others.
Khmer Pradal Serey
This fighting style is traditional Khmer kick boxing, a sport very popular with locals. When bouts are held, all you have to do is wander the streets of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap or any town to determine its popularity. Many cafés and restaurants are crowded with mostly men shouting and cheering the fighters. At first you might think a brawl has broken out, but Cambodians are cheering on their champion, usually with a wager attached.
A match consists of five rounds and takes place in a boxing ring. There is a one- or two-minute break between rounds. Before the match starts, boxers perform praying rituals known as Kun Krou. During the match, traditional Cambodian music is played using a drum, the Skor Yaul, a flute-like instrument, the Sralai, and the stringed Chhing.
And the fighting is fierce. Boxers train intensely for years to reach the top of their game. When they fight, they no prisoners. Powerful kicks and punches are landed on each boxer and they have to keep moving, a kind of dance, around the ring to keep their opponent on their toes.
Victory is awarded when a boxer delivers a knockout blow or a boxer is knocked down. If the downed boxer is unable to continue the fight after a 10-second count by the referee, it’s game over. Victory is also decided at the end of the match when judges decide by points which fighter was more dominant. If the points are even, a draw is called.
So, interested in seeing a live match then ask the people at the place you are staying or a local Tuk Tuk driver which TV station is staging a fight. Usually, it’s TV5 on Fridays and Saturdays, Bayon and CTN on Saturdays and Sundays. The CTN studio is only six kilometres form the centre of town, a short ride past the Chroy Changvar Bridge, and is the easiest to get to. When you get there, walk to the warehouse and find a good seat to view the match. If you want to get closer to the ring, it is standing room only.
One of the oldest Cambodian martial arts, Bokator is said to be the close-quarter combat system used by soldiers during the Angkor era, and formidable opponents these soldiers would have been. The style, known formally as Labokatao, involves close hand-to-hand combat, ground techniques and weapons. Weapons include knives, poles, bow and arrows, and … scarves.
Practitioners are trained to attack with knees, elbows, hands, feet and even the head with blows to the legs, torso and head. People often cringe when they see a fighter bury his knee in an opponent’s ribs. Fighters can attack straight on or, literally, fly in and land a blow to the opponent’s head or shoulders.
This style is Khmer wrestling; a sport where two fighters try to pin down the other’s back to the ground. A match has of three rounds. Before the match, wrestlers perform ritual dancing. A wrestler wins a match by two out of three rounds. However, after each round, the loser is asked by the referee if he still wishes to continue with the match.
As is the case with many Khmer Martial Arts competitions, a Baok Chambab match is accompanied by traditional music: there are two drums, male and female ones known as Skor Nhy and Chhmol. Traditional matches are held at the Cambodian National Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh during the Khmer New Year and other Cambodian holidays.
Kbach Kun Dambong Vèng
This style refers to an ancient Cambodian martial art form involving the use of a long staff. It has traditionally been practiced in preparation against enemies who attack villages. Now, it is popular with youths in Cambodian sports clubs.
If Apsara dancing or Khmer boxing results in a stretched hamstring or bruised arm, there is Khmer traditional medicine to sort you out. It is also useful if you have a run-in with a scorpion or a cobra, or worse, an unexpected Tuk Tuk.
Khmer medicine is a type of naturopathy using remedies, such as roots, barks, leaves and herbs to enhance the body’s healing ability, and it has been used to treat illness for ages.
Cambodian Traditional Medicine was formulated in pre-Angkorian times. It offers a holistic approach and avoids using s surgery and medication. Practitioners of this therapy are known as Kru Khmer, and it can cure hangovers.
In rural Cambodia, traditional medicine is still widely used, alongside western medicine, with the government estimating that nearly 50 per cent of Cambodians use traditional methods.
Many Kru Khmer healers combine herbal remedies with rituals to cure patients with ailments ranging from a minor infection to a curse.
In a country where modern doctors are poorly trained and health clinics poorly-regulated, many people choose to place faith in these natural prescriptions.
Changes In Medicinal Care
Traditionally, Cambodia’s Kru Khmer is learned from an older mentor.
Many of Cambodia’s latest generation of Kru Khmer have passed through the National Centre for Traditional Medicine, which began offering five-month training courses. Graduates receive accreditation from the Ministry of Health.
Although the techniques may seem strange to those accustomed to modern medicine, their efficacy shouldn’t be underestimated.
A recent development is that traditional healing is beginning to co-exist with modern medicine and often serve as a last resort for those seeking treatment.
Khmer traditional doctors are receiving recognition and training from the government. Medical books in Pali text have been gathered from pagodas throughout the country, and collated and interpreted into the Khmer.
Unclear Origins of Cambodian Traditional Medicine
The exact origins of traditional Cambodian Traditional Medicine remain unclear, but it is believed to have been founded and formalised from the Funan era to the ninth-century during Angkorian times. It was influenced by traditional Indian and Chinese medicines. These practices were combined with local beliefs and superstitions to create the foundations of Khmer medicine.
Temples in the Chenla-era Sambor Prei Kuk temple have revealed that hospital chapels practiced traditional Khmer medicine.
The temple of Neak Poan in Angkor is believed to have been the central temple for Khmer medicine during the Angkorian era, and Jayavarman VII ordered the construction of 102 hospitals throughout his realm.
Inscriptions in these hospitals describe the number of medical staff and their different roles such as hospital managers, medication-combiner staff, water-boiling staff, medication grinders and prescription distributors. One inscription has become the most renowned quote of King Jayavarman VII: “Diseases of the people make him more painful than his own illness.”
Techniques and Culture
The teacher-student relationship between practitioner and patient in Cambodian Traditional Medicine is of central importance. Kru Khmers specialise in several categories. In the framework of traditional Cambodian medicine, the supernatural world can both cure and cause of illness and therefore the cure.
Khmer medicine shares with Chinese medicine three beliefs: supernatural; natural ideas; and maintenance of a hot-cold (yin-yang) balance. Four forms of therapy are also delivered: spirit offerings; dermabrasion; maintaining hot-cold balance; and herbal medicines.
The knowledge of Khmer traditional medicine is instructed from teacher to teacher. Each Kru Khmer answer to his individual Kru Khom, through a spiritual connection, even after the death of his Kru Khom. There are intricate rules and rituals involved in this relationship.
Khmer medicine used to rely on written texts, recorded on palm-leaf manuscripts in the Pali language, and stored in temples all over the empire. Most of these original Khmer medicinal manuscripts are thought to have been destroyed in the Cambodian civil war, but some still exist, and they represent some of the most reliable sources to the origins of Khmer medicine.
Individual Kru Khmer healers may perform several roles, and Buddhist monks play a role in the practice of traditional Cambodian medicine.
History Tells The Rise and Fall
Historians have long wondered what happened to this grand medical tradition and the thirteenth-century is considered a crucial tipping point in the history of Khmer medicine. The gradual decline of the Angkor and the religious shifts to Theravada Buddhism appear to have affected the original medical culture greatly. The Siamese conquest of Angkor is not thought to have destroyed the medical traditions, but rather appropriated the medical knowledge and preserved it as Thai instead of Khmer.
The French colonial era is also thought to have affected and prevented the rise of the ancient Khmer medical tradition. The Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese occupation all continued this suppression of medical traditions. This long pressure over the centuries has resulted in fragmenting Khmer medical traditions.
Treatment by Cambodian Traditional Medicine
Not every Kru Khmer avoids treating serious illness. Many patients visit these practitioners when they have problems modern doctors can’t fix.
When a patient arrives in a pagoda, a Kru Khmer’s first job is to provide a diagnosis. A Kru Khmer will dip an incense stick into a jar of powder made from wild boar fat, coconut oil, python fat and bee pollen, and asks the patient to lick it from the stick.
If the taste is sweet then the ailment is purely physical, and if it’s sour, then the patient has a spiritual problem. The worst-case scenario is if it’s spicy. A spicy flavour means the patient is beyond saving and will die.
Patients usually stay in the pagoda for a week to a month. While there, they are sprinkled twice a day with holy water. Often, they are prescribed a potion to drink.
About 90 per cent of the people who visit the pagoda are believed to have been cursed by an evil spirit, and Kru Khmers say that people can be brought back from the brink of death by having them drink holy water.
And potions and powders aren’t the only method of treatment. Sometimes, Kru Khmer will write a prayer on a betel leaf in Pali and have the patient eat it. Occasionally, a Kru Khmer taps a patient with respiratory problems on the chest with a carved piece of blessed wood.
But most of the patients don’t fall ill again.
After a patient’s departure, a monk gives them a Katha, an amulet to wear around their waist for protection, or a spirit cloth known as a yuan to hang in their house. Many Kru Khmer moonlight as a fortune teller, why not.
Most people think of ancient temples the moment they heard about Siem Reap province. However, this wonderful land has so much more to offer to tourists out there. We are going to explore some fabulous arts that many visitors might not be aware of. Our team visited right at the fields in order to provide the most resourceful information possible to tourists out there. We also have done some interviews, and we sure hope that you will find this article interesting and useful.
Below, there will be 4 main beautiful arts that you are going to see. We are not talking about the usual stuff that you come across at the markets. The silk farm, pottery, paintings, and other handicrafts that you are going to read are all authentic and genuine. We had great experiences, and we learned so much from our interviewees. This is why we are here to share our great moments with you today. It is always nice to dive into new things and places, so let’s find out.
What comes into your mind upon the mention of the word “Handicraft”? Accessories would be the first things to pop up in some people’s thoughts while the others are bags and more. There are many forms of handicraft that you will see when you visit a tourist site like Siem Reap province. If you are not interested in cliché areas and markets, there is a new market that you should not miss.
Made In Cambodia Market has been established for a few years now. The special thing about this market is that all products are handmade. This also means no two items look the same, and that is the real beauty of handicrafts from this market. You will find a wide range of items from accessories and decoration items to clothes and more. Because the purpose of the market is to help Khmer villagers to have jobs, every purchase you make really contributes a lot.
Just like many other handmade products in this ancient province, every artisan and designer puts their heart into their work. It is not only just the good-looking items that you will get but also the high quality products. Such incredible Cambodian craftsmanship does not only show the ability of Khmer artisans but also the amount of effort they put. Even the designs and patterns of the stalls in the market itself is different from the others. Each stall has its own unique style that brings out the compliment to their products at their best. Not to mention the relaxing and tranquil vibes that you will experience, this Cambodian market is worth visiting.
Besides the fine quality handmade products, you will also get to see some special performances. On Friday, you will get to experience the live performance of acoustic music by the handicap bands. The performance starts at 6PM and ends at 8PM, and Khmer music is absolutely unique to listen to. On every Saturday, there is a live Khmer traditional dance that starts from 6PM until 7PM. As for Sundays, the market is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables that you can buy. The special thing about local fruits and vegetables in Siem Reap is that they are homegrown. That way you can trust that they are healthy and safe to consume.
If you are lucky, you will get to see the special circus performance by Phare Cambodia Circus. The circus team performs there once or twice a month, and their shows are always entertaining to watch. Not every night market offers such beautiful and cultural forms of entertainment like this. And that is what makes Made In Cambodia Market a fun place to visit.
Made In Cambodia Market is located at the corner of Achar Sva Street and Street 27. The market opens every day from 12PM to 10PM at night, and evening is probably the best time to visit. You can get to enjoy seeing Khmer products along with the windy breeze from the river in front of it. Plus with the beautiful light decorations, this market is definitely an amazing place to go.
Sitting on a small chair in front of a white canvas with a paintbrush in his right hand is a painter who is concentrating on his daily work. Painting has been one of the sensational arts that many people find fascinating. You will see several houses that sell paintings as you are on the way to Angkor Wat temple. Some of the houses have been around for more than a decade already while the others just began their business.
Chhit Say, 29 years old, is a painter who starts his painting business in 2013. With his great passion for painting, he spent 4 years studying this skill in Battambang province. Now, he has 2 painting houses on Road To Angkor and another store in the new market in front of Angkor Wat temple. “The business is difficult these days. Sometimes I don’t get to sell a painting during the whole week.”, said Say. “Most of the buyers are international tourists, but local buyers are also common.”, added the painter.
There are 5 painters who work under his supervision in total, each of whom has their own specific talents. Some are great at painting temples while others are better at painting landscapes. This is to ensure that all paintings are flawless in every order that he receives. As a matter of fact, his team always provide great quality paintings with amazing details.
Some people may think that paintings are very expensive due to their sizes and mixture of colors. According to Chhit Say, the price of his painting starts from $2 up to $300 or more, based on the picture. The painting process takes from one day up to a week, depending on the types of painting. Speaking of types of painting, he offers up to 4 specific types for his customers. These include acrylic painting, light brush painting, oil painting, and watercolor painting along with pencil drawing arts. Each piece is very unique and beautiful, and the choice is all yours.
Apart from selling paintings, Chhit Say also teaches this form of art. His students are both international and local, the course fee ranges from $300 to $350. For those who want to explore the arts, you can also contact him for a quick class. The price is $15 per hour for a person, and it is $5 for a group of 5 or above. You can choose the type of subject that you want to paint, and he will show you how. At the end of the class, he will also make some touchups to the painting to make it look great. Going home with your own masterpiece is a great idea to try, so why not?
Not many people are interested in painting or having one as part of their home decoration these days. This is one of the reasons why this art does not gain its popularity. The good thing is that new hotels and restaurants are the supporters of painting during this difficult time. Although the income is not as stable as before, at least the painters can still thrive.
If you happen to visit Siem Reap, it would be nice to drop by and bring back home this unique souvenir. You can also make an order right at the place and watch the artist creates the art that you desire. Another great thing is the fact that the painters offer nice packaging with authentic Cambodia gift wrapping style. We are talking about the traditional Smok (palm leaf weaved box) as the gift box. It is nice and neat, and it is a wonderful present to offer your friends, family, and others.
Painting is a long term gift that lasts for years to come, and it makes a great compliment to various home designs. There are many painting houses along the road to Angkor, and their works are uniquely fascinating. No matter what size you choose, at least you know that each purchase contributes to the living of local painters in Siem Reap.
Contact Number: 015 737 619
When it comes to pottery, there is one place that you should not miss when you visit Siem Reap. Khmer Ceramics has a combination of a showroom, a teaching class, and a souvenir shop all in one. Started in 2006 by a Belgian man who has an enormous passion for pottery, Khmer Ceramics is an interesting art center to explore. From dinnerware and home decoration items to sculptures made from ceramics, this place has them all for you. The fascinating thing about Khmer Ceramics is that no one piece is the same. And that is the beauty of handmade products, all of them are stunning and unique in their own way.
There are many reasons that make Khmer Ceramics & Fine Arts Center one of the most popular places amongst tourists. There, you will find yourself surrounded by items from small to big. It is amazing because it shows you a mixture of great arts that people made. On top of that, you can also place an order if you want them to produce specific items. The decision is all yours from the color to size and shape of the item that you desire. The items take around 3 days to a week to make, and their quality will not let you down. Plus with the acceptable price, you can definitely trust the production from this center.
Behind those incredible arts is a team of diligent potters who put their hearts into every crockery that they make. More than that, some of the artisans are the handicaps who were trained and given the opportunity for this special career. By purchasing the items from the gallery, you will not only support Khmer arts but also help those who are in need during Covid-19. The price starts from 5$, and all the products come with great quality and design that you can trust. As one of the top schools that teach and produce pottery, the standard of their products is second to none.
Another great thing is that you will also be able to make one of your own as well. The center offers training with a fee of $25 per person. This price covers the teaching of the course that you prefer such as glass, plate, and vase. You will surely be able to master the basic steps starting from throwing a pot on the wheel to final production. On top of that, you will also get to design your own carvings and paint on your pottery items. The awesome thing is that you will be able to bring your handmade pottery back home along with a certificate. This activity is also very nice for kids to venture into new hobby, and that is why the course is popular.
This traditional art form has been in Cambodia since the third millennium BCE. It is incredible due to the fact that the locals are still able to maintain this work and their passion till today. This is why we should make it known even wider so that people can see what Cambodian people can do. If you are interested, the company also ships the products worldwide. Every item is carefully packed to ensure that there is no breaking or cracking. You can check their website to make the purchase which is absolutely convenient.
Khmer Ceramics & Fine Art is located on River Road, and it opens every day from 8AM to 6PM. A place where you can learn and help support the local like this is worth the visit. Both the locals and tourists have great experience there, and so will you.
One of the most common art forms that local people produce in Cambodia especially in Siem Reap is silk. The unique thing about silk production in this province is that there are two different ways. We are going to dig a little deeper into this complex yet fascinating form of art below. Do not forget to let us know which type of silk production that you think is the most interesting.
Angkor Silk Farm
Located in Puok, which is 20 minutes’ drive, the Angkor Silk Farm is the oldest handicraft workshop in the province. Thanks to Artisan Angkor, our first and biggest silk farm in Siem Reap was founded in 1992. With the beginning of this silk farm, Cambodia no longer needed to import raw silk from neighboring countries anymore. At the same time, many Cambodian people also began to receive the opportunity to make a better living from this industry.
The center trains Cambodian people who live in rural areas so that they can work this type of craftsmanship. There are many steps in the training process including taking care of the silkworms, weaving, and more. This is why every product that comes from Angkor Silk Farm is filled with quality that you can trust. You can find their productions at Artisan Angkor which is in the city center. In case you are interested in seeing the actual production process, you can also visit the farm.
Angkor Silk Farm is free to visit, and you can go there by car, motorbike, or tuk-tuk. The beautiful thing about the trip to the farm is that you get to enjoy the stunning and natural view along the road. As you arrive the farm, things are not different from the environment that you have come across during your journey. The first thing that you will notice are the mulberry trees which is the food for silkworms.
There will be a tour guide who will show you around the farm while explaining each process and showing the workshop. Those are the moments that you get to inspect the silk production up close as the craftspeople do their work. Not every one of us sees a silkworm or the weaving process like that so often. This is why this tour to the farm is a great way to learn and see new things locally. The tour takes between 20 to 30 minutes, and the experience is absolutely fun.
Apart from the silk farm, you can also enjoy the surrounding nature since the place is far from the city. Instead of car engines, you will hear birds tweeting along with light and windy breeze. There is also a coffee shop where you can relax while drinking some cold beverages. The last part is definitely the gift shop that includes a wide range of items that you can purchase. From accessories and clothes to silk paintings and textiles, they have them all for you.
Great experience with great souvenirs to bring back home is a satisfying moment to try. This is why Angkor Silk Farm is one of the best places for those who want to explore new activities in Siem Reap. Not every exciting adventure has to be far, so don’t forget to give this amazing farm a visit.
While most of us think that silkworm is the only way to produce silk, Samatoa proves us otherwise. Lotus Farm was set up in the early 2000s by a French man whose name is Awen Delaval. He first started with a small factory that designed clothes under the brand Samatoa. In 2009, his interest in lotus sparked when he learned that lotus fibers can be made into clothes. After some research and practice, his first production finally came into image.
With a distance of 9 kilometers from the city, Lotus Farm brings out a new whole vibe to all visitors. The lotus fields or the ponds are filled with pink and white lotus flowers along with green lily pads. With a total of 60 hectares, the view is absolutely breathtaking. There is a house where the artisans do their daily work such as lotus fiber threading, the weaving process, and more. This is a unique sight to see because most tourist attractions in this province are in different forms.
This type of production is different because it requires a lot of concentration and patience. The workers have to make sure that the stems that they collect are of their best quality. That way, the final products also come with long lasting performance and durability. Speaking of durability, the delicate threads produce the fabric that is naturally soft, stain resistant, and waterproof. This is the type of quality that none of us regret spending on. As a matter of fact, it is worth every cent that we pay for the product from this unique material.
After the tour, there is plenty of items to see in the gift shop. All fabrics are 100% ecological, and they are also hand-spun and handwoven by the locals. As we all know, no handmade product is the same. This uniqueness brings out a great look along with the quality that will no let you down. There is also a teaching class that you can learn some weaving from expert spinners and weavers. You can make your own handicraft from lotus, and the course is so fun. Make sure to book the activity 24 hours in advance, and get ready to experience great things there.
That is not all, there is also a tea lounge on the rooftop that you can enjoy the 360 degrees view. With both the view of nature and the taste of lotus flower tea, the experience will be marvelous. You can even stay to watch the sunset, and no photos can compare to how spectacular the real view is. Refreshing and organic tea along with great food and wonderful views is the perfect way to escape from the city. Don’t forget to give it is a try because you will surely adore this experience.
Another unique thing about this type of farm is the fact that their wastes are also useful. Lotus wastes also provide cosmetic, medicinal, and nutritional properties. This plays a part in maintaining the amount of waste disposed into the environment. Not to mention that it is environmentally friendly, there is no polluting or over-consuming of the resources at all. The fact that the company maintains the sustainability between nature and production plays a part of its popularity.
The Lotus Farm is free to visit, and it opens every day from 8AM to 6PM. It is less than 20 minutes from the city center to the farm on tuk-tuk or Grab rickshaw. You will pay about $3 to get there which is an appropriate price. All visitors there really enjoyed their time at the farm, so let’s see if you find it interesting too.
The businesses we mentioned above are largely supported by international visitors as well as some tourist-related business. Those range from hotels and restaurants to travel agencies and follow by some local population. As successful as it sounds, these industries are now being hit the hardest from the current pandemic.
Due to the border closure in an extended period of time, the demands are not as high as they used to. Those that survive are struggling to adjust by laying off staffs, reducing productions, and switching their target clients to the local people instead. This is why we hope that we can contribute to the local people by sharing these amazing forms of arts. By supporting the productions, you will not only help people to maintain their job but also keeping the arts alive.
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