When we talk of Kampong Chhnang province, we could easily imagine beautiful places and things – there’s the storied Kong Rei Mountain, the flourishing clay pot business, striking floating houses and colourful boats for fishing.
The province, which is about 95 kilometers away from the capital city of Phnom Penh, is an inte-resting spot for tours, adventures, leisure and culture learning.
During a recent visit in the province, my friends and I took a close look at the Kong Rei Mountain – one of the main tourist attractions in the area. It’s a Cambodian belief that the mountain has spiritual powers and should be respected. In fact, many sightseers come to the mountain to pray and meditate.
According to a legend, the mountain was named after Kong Rei, the beautiful daughter of the ogress in the Khmer folktale of Puthisen Neang Kong Rei. People in Kampong Chhnang believe that the Kong Rei mountain range is the legendary woman at rest. People warn their children to not eat leaf vegetables from the mountain as they were believed to be Kong Rei’s hair.
While we stood on the other side of the Tonle Sap, we clearly saw the shape of the mountain range. To get into the side of the mountain, we had to ride on a ferry across the Tonle Sap.
But since I came to the province to personally experience making clay pots, my friends and I opted visit a clay pot maker in one village and witnessed the hard work people exert to make perfectly shaped pots.
The village was a bit far from the town center, but the journey towards it was worth all the sweat when we saw all the houses that are into the same business – clay pot making. Most of the makers also built small souvenir shops where they can display and sell their products.
One of the clay pot makers we were able to talk with shared that she was just 15 years old when her mother taught her how to make pots. Now 41, Song Aeng said that her specialty are the clay pots for soup.
“I helped my mother making pots after school when I was young. My mother didn’t have enough money to send me to school so I had to stop. That was when I fully embraced our business. I had to do good and needed to polish my skills in making clay pots as it’s the only way I can support my own children,” Aeng shared.
She added that she gets clay from the mountain or from vendors. She mixes the clay with water to soften it up before rolling it into different shapes and sizes. After smoothening the edges, Aeng puts her pots into the brick kiln where it would get fired up for a whole day.
But the work doesn’t stop there. Aeng needs to maintain the temperature inside the chamber so as not to burn the pots. After the clay pots harden and dry up, Aeng continues with the colouring and painting of the clay pots. She draws animals and flowers to make them more attractive and appealing to prospective buyers.
All in all, it takes three to four days to complete a set of clay pots.
“Sometimes, I can sell some of these pots. Sometimes, I sell none. If souvenir shops in town place their orders, I can sell more than 50 pots. Some foreigners also buy these products, but not as often I would have wished.”
“I’ve been doing this for years now. I got the skills from my mother. And since this is the only way I can think of to finance the education of my children, I take pride in doing this. I always remind my children to study as hard as they can so they can acquire new skills they can use in the future.”
The prices of Aeng’s products depend on the shapes and sizes of the pots. Some of the pots cost one dollar up. Some cost three dollars. But if orders come in bulk, she said she can offer a good deal.
But even if the work is often laborious, she believes that clay pot industry is one of the pride of Kampong Chhnang. The industry does not just drive the economy, it does help uplift the tourism sector as well.
As for me, I brought home a clay piggy bank made by Aeng. I may not have spent as much time as I want to in the beautiful province of Kampong Chhnang, but I am happy to have brought me with one of their highly prized products on my way back to Phnom Penh.