While it will never pose a marketing threat for The North Face, the truly tribal backpack gracing the walls of Siem Reap’s Eastern Ages store may just be the thing for the truly authentic traveller.
It’s a rarity and will certainly separate the traveller far from the madding crowd. But it ain’t cheap, coming in at $250 – almost double the price of The North Face’s new 2010 catalogue backpacks.
The native backpack hails from hill tribe territory in the Himalayan lowlands and was crafted by either the Sherdukpen or Miji people who inhabit the Tibetan and Bhutan borderlands of the Kameng district in the western part of Arunachal Pradesh.
It’s a nifty little device, made of straps and pockets of hide from mithun, a forest-dwelling herbivore that’s a cross between a water buffalo and a cow.
The covering looks like horsehair, but it is, in fact, palm fibre that has a water sheeting effect, or so promises Tony Estes, one of the three proprietors of Siem Reap’s Eastern Ages store, which is a spin-off from the renowned store of the same name in Chiang Mai.
The store is a repository of all things ethnic and hill-tribal, a cornucopia of hard-to-come-by Asiana collectibles. Hours can be whiled away here poking around, and the owners are keen to show off their stuff. Co-proprietor Billy Wilson, a 67-year-old former California trucker, holds up his pride and joy, a dinky little crossbow from somewhere in the hills bordering Laos and Cambodia. This comes complete with a tiny bamboo quiver and small arrows that are just a step up from darts.
Meanwhile, Tony Estes reaches into a glass case and withdraws a tiger’s tongue, a solid silver opium trade token from the Golden Triangle. Then there’s Tony’s collection of rare and ancient ethnic beads. And the collection of opium scales. And the pipes. And the costumes. And on it goes…