Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Two faces of Angkor

Two faces of Angkor

Two faces of Angkor

Chumm Voeung carves a water buffalo’s head out of wood in Rohal village, near Ta Prohm.

While the Bayon’s enigmatic smile might be the face of Cambodia, the people working within the Angkor Archaeological Park are its heartbeat. Despite the substantial revenue generated by tourism, many of these are struggling to make daily ends meet.

One kilometre from the temple of Ta Prohm, a dirt track leads to the tiny village of Rohal.

Chhum Voeung, 30, sits in a rough wooden shack carving a large block of wood with a chisel. It is destined to be a water buffalo’s head, sold to tourists. His brother Soeut, 35, works next to him.

Soeut has two completed miniature wooden Khmer houses placed in front of him. Part of an order for 10 houses, Soeut fears he will only be able to make five houses in time, as his work is too slow.

The brothers still use hand tools to carve the wood because electricity is expensive in their village. It is almost twice that charged in the town of Siem Reap, they claim.

Part of a small cooperative that includes two women, Key Ky and Pov Leang (both 31), they share communal tools, but work separately, selling their craftwork to the traders who work around the various temples of Angkor.

Key Ky has been carving wood for seven years now.

She makes light of the physical nature of the work. “It is not really difficult,” she says. Voeung agrees that the work is not tough, though he fears for the future.

“The increased price of wood and difficulty in finding it is making things hard,” he says. He hopes to find some work outside of the village, possibly as a stonemason, working on one of the conservation projects carried out at the temples.

Further into the archaeological park and close to the temple of Banteay Srey a woman sits with her young son outside her wooden home feeding caterpillars.

Un Hon was one of many women who eke out a precarious living selling goods roadside in Angkor. She is still paying back the US$800 she borrowed from a micro-finance institution to get started. Two years ago she started farming caterpillars for the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre in the tiny village of Sanday.

Farmers are provided with a small collection box. They harvest butterfly pupae which are then sold back to the centre.

“One of the good things is the work happens at home,” says Om Srey Vat, 26, the centre’s manager. Most of the 18 farmers employed by BBC in six villages around Angkor are women.

“They can work around their family duties while their husbands go out and get another job.”

Un Hon estimates she makes about $100 each month from harvesting the pupa.

Her four children help her while her husband does occasional jobs around the surrounding villages.

“My family is in a different situation because we have an income, but the difference is not great,” she says.

With between 1,000 and 2,000 butterflies native to Cambodia, the centre was opened to the public a year ago.

Revenue raised from the 25 or so visitors who come to the centre each day helps to fund the social enterprise.

Om Srey Vat hopes to expand the programme to include pupa exports overseas.


  • Hun Sen to ‘step down’ if he loses Sam Rainsy bet over Kem Sokha

    Hun Sen has promised to step down as prime minister while opposition figure Sam Rainsy pledges to turn himself in as forfeits if the long-term political rivals lose a “bet” over the future of former opposition leader Kem Sokha, who is on bail awaiting trial

  • ‘Historic’ Khmer Rouge tribunal Case 002/2 verdict to be delivered

    The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) are to deliver the verdict on Friday, in the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, in a pronouncement hailed as a “historic event for Cambodia and the world”. The verdict from

  • Record set for world’s longest dragon boat

    Cambodia broke the world record for the longest dragon boat – a title previously held by China, Guinness World Records adjudicator Pravin Patel said on Monday. He verified the record on the east bank of the Mekong river, in Prey Veng province’s Peamro district. “With

  • Analyst: Government appointments ‘a waste of national budget’

    The government has appointed over 200 officials as undersecretaries of state, secretaries of state, assistants and advisers at various institutions since October 1. While senior officials said the appointments were aimed at ensuring higher efficiency at the national level, social analysts said the practice is merely power-sharing