Souvenirs are a great way to bring home a few memories of your travel destinations – but with so many to choose from, what’s worth snapping up (and what’s best to leave behind)? We rounded up our top Cambodian souvenirs and where to buy them!
Most savvy travelers know just how important it is to leave a little bit of extra space in their luggage before jetting off to an exotic destination. Regardless of how lightly we pack, it’s hard to resist coming home with at least a few keepsakes to remember the experience. After all, taking home a great souvenir is the closest we can get to keeping a little piece of the places we visit with us.
But as fun as it can be searching for those fantastic souvenirs, it can also be a headache if you don’t know what to look for. There’s a fine line between an authentic keepsake and a dime-a-dozen trinket, and knowing the difference can be a great way to travel responsibly.
In Cambodia, where communities and artisans have learned their trade through generations of traditional craftsmanship, finding authentic pieces of traditional culture goes hand-in-hand with supporting local heritage. Before packing your bags and jetting off for your Cambodia tours, see what Cambodia has in store for your suitcase, and pack accordingly!
Textiles and Batiks
Like many of its Southeast Asian neighbors, Cambodia has a rich history of silk and cotton textiles with beautifully ornate designs and colors. One of the most famous styles of textiles in Cambodia, however, is the art of batik fabrics, which are beautifully ornate and colorful fabrics that are painted with special dyes and methods.
Many villages in rural Cambodia create handwoven textiles, with batiks a bit harder to find, but some of the most beautiful pieces come from the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles located just outside of Siem Reap. This institute provides support for communities that continue producing textiles within rural Siem Reap and Cambodia, and helps provide distribution throughout the country. Both woven textiles and beautifully dyed batiks are part of what IKTT does, so this organization is a great way to find sustainable fabrics.
When visiting Cambodia, many visitors are struck by the use of simple, straw and bamboo mats in lieu of cushy couches and soft mattresses. Once you experience the heat in the sunny country, though, the mats start to make sense. These woven mats are found nearly everywhere in Cambodia, but the more decorative and ornate designs are harder to find. Traditional mats are hand woven using only careful craftsmanship and traditional tools, so they often take hours to create a single mat. While machine-made mats are threatening these traditional craftsman who still create them by hand, some organizations and community leaders have revived the art thanks to a boost in tourism.
Since they roll easily, they’re great for putting in a suitcase or even taking on board, and buying them from traditional mat weaving villages supports local initiatives. There are plenty of villages around Cambodia, one of which is the Osmose Project at Preak Toal, near Tonle Sap Lake – where mats are made using water hyacinths! For an even more immersive experience, try your hand at making your own mat with workshops in these villages.
As one of Cambodia’s most enduring and beautiful traditional craftsmanship, copper artwork has to be seen to be believed. Although not exactly as portable as many other souvenirs, copper art is quintessentially Cambodian, and arguably the most beautiful keepsake on the market. That said, copper art is notoriously heavy, so consider sending some home via the mail, but don’t forget to mark it as fragile. Incredibly skilled artisans spend hours carefully sculpting delicate pieces of copper into beautifully ornate designs, many of which take the shape of spiritual deities and figures, including the Buddha.
Copper art can be found within many of Cambodia’s temples and pagodas, but many artisans sell these same beautiful pieces to visitors, too. Artisans d’Angkor is a great place to see how these are made, and pick up a few to take home.
Wood and Stone Carvings
Just like copper art, traditional Cambodian wood carvings are a feat of expert craftsmanship, and is one of the country’s most unique brands of traditional art. Make using traditional tools like heavy wooden mallets and created over the course of several hours carefully chipping away at the wood, with the artists skilled enough to do it usually coming from a long lineage of wood workers.
Similar to wood carvings are that of stone carvings, and anyone who’s seen Angkor Wat up close will understand why Cambodian stone carving is revered worldwide. Although many centuries went by where stone carvers were hard to come by, Cambodian wood carving is making a comeback thanks to traditional art villages in rural Cambodia.
The best place to buy sustainable wood carvings is Artisans d’Angkor within Siem Reap, which has not just wood and stone carvers, but mat weavers, copper artists and textile craftsman, too.
Soaps and Candles
Like many Southeast Asian nations, Cambodia has a penchant for using lots of natural ingredients – like spices and plants – to create scented items like candles and soaps. These are all-natural, and sometimes have unique scents and ingredients like Kampot pepper or cinnamon. The most unique, though, are most certainly those made from ingredients you might find in a Khmer curry – and the scent that it produces is different than anything else you’re likely to find in Asia!
Senteurs d’Ankor in Siem Reap produces 100% natural soaps and candles using a whole host of spices and plants – and each of their products are coconut-oil based. Plus, their packaging uses sugar palm tree – a recyclable and quickly renewable resource in Cambodia. You can rest assured that your purchase goes toward supporting important agricultural communities in rural Cambodia as well. 10% of their workforce are people with disabilities, which helps support otherwise disenfranchised communities in the country.
Find many of these products at the Made in Cambodia Market held on the first and third Saturday of the month in the evening at the Shinta Mani Resort in Siem Reap. If you’re looking for an opportunity to get an in-depth look at how traditional arts in Cambodia are made, let us know when you ask for a free quote on a customized itinerary through this incredible country. Or, better yet, browse our Cambodia experiences to see what’s in store.