Anyone who enjoys a good industrial tour — and who doesn’t? — should visit the Angkor Silk Farm, about 20 minutes outside of Siem Reap, for what might better be termed a pre-industrial tour. Silk is being produced there in the same way it’s been done for hundreds of years in Cambodia, and the process is fascinating.
Cambodia is known for its superior golden silk, and silk weaving and production have a long history in the Kingdom. In recent years the industry has come under threat because of the rising cost of raw silk and the falling price of finished products, which have traditionally been made by hand by women in small villages where silk weaving has been the predominant trade for generations.
Now the art of traditional Cambodian silk weaving is being lost as young women abandon their looms at home for better-paid jobs in garment factories. Artisan d’Angkor, a company that endeavors to keep traditional arts alive in Cambodia, operates the Angkor Silk Farm as a way to revive silk-weaving traditions and show visitors the intricacies of the silk-making process and the beauty of Cambodian silk.
When you arrive you’re greeted by an articulate guide who walks you through every step of silk production. The tour starts alongside a field of mulberry trees, then moves to an open-air building where silk moths’ eggs hatch into silkworms, which are housed in woven baskets and fed on leaves from the mulberry trees until they’re ready to spin their cocoons. It’s the cocoon’s almost microscopically fine filaments that skilled workers transform into beautiful Cambodian silk.
In the next open-air building the cocoons are unwound onto spools, bleached, and dyed. Farther along, workers at large looms hand-weave the silk into plain and patterned scarves and other goods. The entire process is impressive and extremely photogenic.
There is no charge for the tour, which takes about half an hour, but most visitors tip the guide a few dollars. The tour concludes in a large shop offering colorful silks and other products of Artisans d’Angkor. The shop’s offerings are spectacular but not cheap, which ought to be no surprise after seeing how much skilled hand labor goes into real silk production. We were eager to buy a souvenir or two in gratitude for the tour and to help Artisans d’Angkor further its mission of preserving traditional handicrafts.
The same products are also on offer at Artisans d’Angkor’s network of stores (in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and the two cities’ airports), but the tour makes a trip out to the silk farm well worth it. The farm is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Avoid arriving at lunchtime if you can, since fewer workers are at their stations then.
The Artisan Angkor showroom on Stung Thmey Street in downtown Siem Reap offers a free shuttle to the silk farm twice a day (see their website for details). Or take a tuk tuk; most drivers know the location and a round trip should cost about $12.
Angkor Silk Farm
Close to National Road 6 (towards Poipet), Siem Reap
T: 099 555 109