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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Stone perfect: that’s the target

Stone perfect: that’s the target

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Left: Statues at the stonemasons’ village of Kakoah along Highway 6, 16 kilometres from Kompong Thom town. Right: Yung Phakdey, 22, works at Srun Sokha’s business.

Initially I made small statues from ivory. It took me a year to learn to carve large statues from stone

ON Srun Sokha’s small stall, busts of Angkor’s greatest king, Jayavarman VII, rest next to small statues of Shiva and various animals. Alongside it, three stonemasons are busy at work. The steady ticking of their chisels breaks the noise of the traffic as it speeds along Highway 6.

One of the three masons is creating a statue of Buddha out of a huge block of stone. Next to it stands a completed statue almost two metres tall showing what his work will ultimately look like. It makes a good sales pitch.

“It takes two stonemasons a month to carve it,” says Srun Sokha. “But it’s not for sale.”

The statue was commissioned by a Cambodian living in Phnom Penh, who stopped at the stall while passing through. He paid a deposit of US$300 for Srun Sokha to buy the stone. The finished statue costs $1,500.

This roadside workshop is one of 30 or so in the village of Kakoah, about 15km from the provincial capital. More importantly it is just a couple of kilometres from the turn-off to Phnom Santuk. “Originally the masons settled here because they could get the stones from the mountain,” says commune chief Tem Taorn.

Now, due to restrictions placed on extracting stones from the mountain, stones are brought in from adjoining Preah Vihear province. Each stone is registered. Failure to do so would lead to a visit from the police.

Srun Sokha borrowed $1,000 from a village money lender to start her business three years ago. She has paid back the initial loan and now employs three stonemasons, who she pays for every statue they complete, regardless of whether she sells them.

Teng Sopheap, 25, has been a stonemason for five years.

“I learned from the older stonemasons in the village,” he says.

“Initially I made small statues from ivory. It took me a year to learn to carve large statues from stone.”

Teng Sopheap is chiselling away at some fine details on a smaller bust of Buddha. About five days’ work, Srun Sokha will sell it for $120. “It is hard work, but I don’t have any other work,” says Srun Sokha. “If we do a lot of statues we can earn a lot of money.”

The roadside location is vital to business.

“I sell to tourists, foreigners and Khmers, who see our stall and stop,” says Srun Sokha.

Business is good and growing all the time with the increasing number of tourists travelling along the main route from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, but it is sporadic.

“Some days we sell a lot, other days we don’t sell anything at all,” she says. I hope that we have a lot of customers in the future”.

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