Whilst on my travels around South East Asia in 2019 Cambodia surprised me the most when it came to making creative discoveries. Amongst the dusty, humid and excitable chaos that is Siem Reap I was thrilled to discover a selection of hidden gems in the heart of Kandal Village and the Old French Quarter. The area is home to a variety of creative contributors and social enterprises supporting their communities whilst adding a creative touch to the Cambodian capital. The discoveries continued as I travelled further down the country to Kampot.
Tribe Art Gallery
I had the pleasure of spending time with Tribe Art Gallery founders Nat and Terry and interviewing one of their talented artists Nak Noy for Burnt Orange City. Nat and Terry decided to leave their East London life and opt for a brighter and warmer home in Siem Reap several years ago. The gallery introduces visitors to the work of local Khmer artists such as Nak Noy and international artists such as Fin DAC and Carne Griffiths. Artists have also made their stamp with original pieces in Coconut Alley next to the gallery. Nat and Terry are the kindest hosts, happy to talk to you about the art whilst offering a cool (much needed) sanctuary from the blazing heat. Pop by and say hello if you’re in the area!
Coconut Alley with Fin DAC artwork (left), Harriet Adkin interviewing Nak Noy (right)
Cambodia is also the home to Rehash Trash, a Green Gecko Social Enterprise that recycles roadside rubbish to make beautiful items while providing a safe place for disadvantaged women to learn a skill, earn an income and feel empowered. I spent a lovely afternoon with these women in Siem Reap where they showed me how to make a bracelet and water bottle holder – all from recycled plastic bags that had been saved from polluting the environment.
Rehash Trash was developed to provide a steady income in a safe and happy environment for mothers who may suffer from disabilities, addiction, poverty and abuse. It gives women the chance to experience a job that is neither degrading or dangerous. They are involved in every step of the Rehash Trash process, from the collection and washing of plastic bags; to the preparation and crocheting of products. They also take turns to run their own workshops in the Siem Reap shop and are offered Khmer literacy and English language classes. Check them out!
An afternoon of creating and recycling at Rehash Trash
Epic Arts is a Social Enterprise that aims to increase work opportunities for people with disabilities in Kampot and generate sustainable funds through inclusive art projects. Their mission is to bring people of all abilities and disabilities together through the arts, believing:
‘in a world where every person counts and where people with disabilities are valued, accepted and respected’.
The Epic Arts cafe welcomes visitors to relax and enjoy some homemade treats, whilst also supporting local artists; a diverse range of artistic goods are available to purchase – all supporting charitable causes (including Rehash Trash and Khmer Creations). Most of the cafe staff are deaf, so Epic Arts has designed a tick sheet ordering system to ensure inclusive communication.
Epic Arts were the first of their kind in South east Asia to build a fully accessible Arts Centre. In 2009, they launched the Special Education Project to support children with learning disabilities in Kampot, and then went on to form a dance and theatre group ‘Epic Encounters’. The Inclusive Arts Course was launched in 2013; a two-year Arts- focused course that uses the Arts to support students with hearing and visual impairments and disabilities. To donate and support them, give them a visit:
(left) Khmer Creations (middle) artistic goods (right) Epic Arts Cafe
Creative treasures in Cambodia
These are just a handful of companies in Cambodia who are making a difference in their communities; offering a sanctuary of creativity and inclusion to support and empower others and bring people from all walks of life together. I am so glad to have met and spoken with the owners of all of these establishments and hope to go back and visit them one day! If you’re ever in Siem Reap or Kampot I’m sure they’d love to meet you too.
Kandal Village in Siem Reap, Cambodia