This past weekend saw Christmas come early to Phnom Penh with Raintree kicking off the festive season in style, bringing together local and regional artisanal craftspeople for the third annual Christmas at Raintree festival.
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Kicking off on Friday evening and running throughout Saturday, the festival at Raintree sought to showcase talents from Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and the region in a Christmas market boasting local products. With local music and food – even local drinks from Seekers Gin and Samai Distillery – Raintree brought the blossoming artisan scene of Cambodia in sharp focus, highlighting talents from around the Kingdom.
Drawing thousands of attendees, both international and local, this year’s festival was bigger than ever – with over 50 stalls showcasing artisans, as well as coinciding with the Pre-launch of Siem Reap: A Designer’s Perspective; a new book aiming to shine a light on the beauty of modern Cambodia.
“This year we decided to focus on Siem Reap vendors, we wanted to give them a platform and presence here in Phnom Penh,” explains Zoë Ng, one of Raintree’s co-founders, who added that over half of those showcasing their work had travelled across the country to highlight the locally sourced, locally produced crafts of Siem Reap.
Ms Ng went on to explain that she hoped the festival would highlight local products, but also the innovation and sense of artistic community that has been developing in Siem Reap over the years.
One popular stall was run by social enterprise Manava, that capitalises on the ubiquity of rattan in Cambodia to produce hand-woven baskets, bags and accessories. According to Dutch founder, Ka-lai Chan, the organisation is now working with 24 women and supporting them by providing training and an income. This, she says, is supplemented by Manava’s ongoing life skills lessons that aim to improve the financial literacy of those women working with the organisation.
Similarly, A.N.D from Phnom Penh also made an appearance in a bid to promote not just local products, but the women responsible for crafting the company’s scarves, blankets and wraps. Since opening in 2011, the local fashion brand has expanded – opening four shops across the capital and working with women in six provinces to produce ethical clothing and accessories.
Friday evening saw the Pre-launch of Siem Reap: A Designer’s Perspective by Khmer-Australian creators Nataly Lee and Hok Kang, who want to celebrate the city’s lesser-known spaces.
“We hope to give these places the voices they deserve and elevate the voices of unknown spots. We want people to see beyond the pubs and bars. Siem Reap has thousands of years of history and we want to see a greater balance, a sort of co-existence, between the old and the new,” explains Mr Kang.
Ms Lee agrees, noting that while tourists may follow guides set out through platforms such as TripAdvisor or Rough Guides, she hopes their new book will provide a more intimate illumination of Siem Reap’s lesser-known beauty.
“We want to bring out the city’s stories. Rather than create something didactic, we really wanted to capture the essence of Siem Reap,” Ms Lee says, adding that the book will be released Feb 2020 and should provide tourists with a greater understanding of the ancient city.