On to SIEM Reap

15-18 October: On to Siem Reap

(No photos yet attached in this entry…) Flying into Siem Reap was like being part of a news crew covering a natural disaster – huge tracts of land as far as the eye could see were under water (from recent typhoons) with only roof tops and the occasional high ground managing to keep afloat!  Only the ccasional boat – people seem to have just given up and left their flooded rice fields to the elements.  A lady in PP had told me her Siem Reap shop had been flooded during storms but I did not expect it to be so widespread.  Another surprise on arrival was the lack of chaos at the airport – i remember in 2005 when we arrived with Cathy and Devon that we had been impressed with the orderly state of taxi hire for tourists.  They have gone one step further it seems and do not let any hawkers, taxis, etc at the gates but call them in when needed.  It was almost the opposite of chaos – what you might call “dead” and in a strange way disappointing when you are braced for the hustle and bustle!  Still, I got my taxi driver (a young”boy” called Ly) and headed into town and my hotel (City River) in his clapped out old Camry (no muffler and no more than the sniff of an oily rag in the tank!)  Though I had no intentions of any sightseeing while here (this is strictly business!) by the time i had heard Ly’s tales of global downturns, low tourist numbers, supporting his village far from Siem Reap, new babies on the way and all his other woes, I had agreed to let him drive me to Angkor Wat that afternoon to see the sunset.  I also gave him $10 in advance so he could get fuel to take me there.  I unpacked and had a quick cuppa at the hotel, then waited for him in the lobby.  An hour past pick up time I gave up (glad not to have to go actually) and headed off to the markets down the road.  Sure enough, a minute down the road I hear my name being called and turned to see Ly cycling frantically after me – his car had broken down and he had borrowed his friend’s bicycle to ride over an hour to let me know!  So I gave him another $10 to have his car fixed and made a date for the same time tomorrow instead!  By this time I had paid $20 and gone nowhere – but to cut a long story short, he took me to Angkor Wat (beautiful as ever) and became my personal “driver” for the duration of my stay.
Made some wonderful discoveries in Siem Reap – firstly at the market, an older man passionate about antiques and as honest and kind as can be.  I went to see him several times and he showed me where to find silk paraphenalia and sold me a silver buddhist singing bowl.  (He said he will find and keep any silk related items for me until Jan next year (though of course that seems a bit steep!)  Front of markets – far end.
On the 16th, Sylvine (on behalf of Chomnab and the KSV) took me to the villages.  We were a little restricted by the flooding as to where we could go, however i saw enough – the natural dye training centre, the different stages of skill development in the various families, the traditional techniques for moriculture, silkworm rearing, carding / spinning, weaving and dyeing.  I have zillions of photos and bought three scarves directly from one of the ladies who made them.  It was a full-on day and Sylvine talked all the way from, during and to!  She does not work directly for KSV, but for a derivative project of the EC, who conduct the national silk industry training programme.  And this led me to my next wonderful discovery… the Silk Farm.  The farm is for tourists but is in fact the national silk training centre and is (confusingly) managed by a combination of the KSV, Chantieres-Ecole and Artisans Angkor who started as part of Chantieres but found their feet as a commercial entity a few years ago (more on them later).
The Silk Farm is exactly what Rob and I have imagined for the Silk Road – I won’t describe it here because it is too long but it includes a working farm with demonstration moriculture; sericulture; weaving; and art / artifacts exhibition area; and a showroom / shop.  As well, the quality and types of goods and the display of items is just what we had envisaged in our own enterprise.  I spent half a day here taking (again) a zillion photos, but during this visit made yet another exciting and “business-shaping” discovery!
The discovery was that the shop area was stocked with items made by Artisans Angkor, who while were once part of this training centre, had now developed to a stage where they could sustain themseleves as a commercial operation.  So they ran the showroom /shop section of the farm, sourcing items from the training centre as well as their own community workshops and cooperatives (the organisations are so integrated that it is not clear who is who – the NGO web which I do not understand very well.)  Anyway, they have an outlet in Siem Reap to which I headed so fast and in such excitement that I forgot Ly was waiting for me in the carpark and he had to come and find me!
Artisans Angkor sources all sorts of handicrafts not just silk – as the photos show, the level of quality and professionalism is exceptional and they are experienced manufacturers, marketers and exporters.  Sivanna was on a day off, but came to meet me at a quick phone call from her shop staff and we spent the rest of the afternoon preparing the Silk Road stock list and order.  Finding this supplier is definitely the icing on the cake this trip and though i am very happy with orders from other suppliers, feel this one will make or break our business.  The downside is that they are expensive so will finll a different niche to our other suppliers, but all in all will fit perfectly!!