Siem Reap Day 1

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Siem Reap Day 1

We awoke to 'Victory Day', a national holiday in Cambodia. The government insists that the population spend the day celebrating their liberation from the ‘Pol Pot’ regime by the Vietnamese army on January 7th, 1979. However may common people do not consider themselves liberated to the same extent as others.

It is our day to travel to Siem Reap.

Previously I have travelled from Phnom Penh by road to Siem Reap and to Phnom Penh from Battambang  by road and I feel that due to the time required by road, it is far better to have more time in Siem Reap. Thus our group on this tour is flying from Phnom Penh direct to Siem Reap.

Siem Reap means the "defeat of Siam" (Thailand) by the king in the 13th century. In those days the capital was at ‘Angkor Wat’ meaning Angkor – big city and Wat – temple.

On arrival at Siem Reap airport we are met by my good friend and guide – Kim who enjoys photography and has quite a good eye for it.

With a knowledge of what we seek in our photography and of where and when the majority of tourists are visiting, Kim is able to place us in locations at the times less frequented by tourists.

This is important during the December January February  period, as it is the cooler and dryer conditions with more sunlight hours so it becomes the peak tourist season.

The rains usually commence in April growing in levels throughout the mid year and peaking towards October. Relative humidity also increases during this mid-year period June to September.

After our arrival and lunch (Bopha Angkor) we drive to the Artisan Centre – set up by the French in 1992 to train handicapped and poor people in traditional crafts.

The Centre is now self funding and many of the artists trained here are employed in the massive restoration projects of the many temples throughout Angkor.

Silk painters after six months training (paid by the Government) are able to return to their villages to develop their own business.

Polychroming (gilding), lacquering of rubber, mahogany and teak panels is also taught  here. Designs are placed on wood with chalk powder and talcum powder, then traced with pencil or needle then painted with gold before lacquering.

Silver plating on copper is another craft taught. From first shaping the copper, placing the motif on copper then applying the silver the products are processed for sale.

After three months carving in clay, students progress onto soapstone and then sandstone. It takes three days to carve or chisel an elephant and up to a week the chisel a statue of Buddha or a Cambodian dancer.

These students work eight hours a day, six days a week  and wood is definitely the most difficult medium to use because of its grain whilst soapstone is the easiest due to the softness of the material.

After some purchases we move onto a ‘Silk Farm’ established in 1998 by the Artisans of Angkor.

We are shown the various stages of the 47 day cycle of the silk worm and how the final thread, some 400m in length per cocoon is warmed and drawn from the cocoon and wound and then spun into various qualities of thread. We view the dyeing process and the final weaving of the various threads into cloth.

Both of these establishments are fascinating and of great interest to the group and should be on any itinerary when visiting Siem Reap.

On our way back Kim took us down a side road to capture workers in the fields at sunset.

Our night concludes with a visit to the Apsara dancers, where I present to the management some 20  - 8x10” prints of the Apsara Dancers which I had captured during performances when visiting on previous tours. The Management ushered us to seats right at the front at the stage and to positions where some of the group were able to set up cameras on tripods to photograph the colourful performances.
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