After a cotton krama, a colorful lacquered elephant by the artisans at Theam's House has become the must-buy Siem Reap souvenir. Cambodian artist and designer Lim Muy Theam was the creative director of Artisans d'Angkor, the organization responsible for the revitalization of traditional arts and crafts in Cambodia, before leaving to open his own crafts atelier and art gallery in his beautiful home. Theam exhibits his own art in the gallery space near the entrance, and shows exquisite objects he has collected, from Buddha statues to antique musical instruments, in the small salas and main showroom.
Most visitors are here to buy Theam's modern takes on traditional Cambodian arts and crafts, including lacquerware, painting and sculpture. Wander through the various rooms and you'll see artists and artisans at work out the back, doing anything from painting canvases to carving. Amongst other things, they'll be painstakingly painting and sanding the elephants that have become Siem Reap's must-have souvenir.
Avoid buying the bad copies you see in the market - not only are these poor quality reproductions but they represent a loss of income to Theam and his artisans. Theam now has a couple of shops and his objects can be bought from other stores, but it's a real joy to visit Theam's House, where you might just find the artist at home. Tip: it's tricky to find. If your tuk tuk driver doesn't know it, call Theam's House and they'll explain or they'll send you a driver.