The Temples of Angkor: Part IV: A Detour
As awesome as the temples of Angkor are, too much of a good thing isn’t always best. Today we were a bit burnt out for any major temple exploring, so instead we planned a detour. Our plan was to do two things: visit the local silk farm, and end the day with a sunset at the popular Pre Rup temple.
Joining up with Mr. Tong again, we drove an hour out into the Cambodian countryside where we would begin our tour of this fair-trade silk farm. Owned and operated by the Khmer people, this farm produces fine silk products from the ground (and worm) up.
Upon arrival we met our guide, Lis. He was a friendly guy, who informed us thoroughly on each step of the process in making silk products. Our first stop was a wide open field with rows and rows of mulberry plants. Under the warm Khmer sun, these leafy green plants thrive — which is a wonderful thing considering the silk worms love to dine on their leaves.
Under a tin roof, in an airy wooden building on stilts, the silkworms feed and grow in beds of mulberry. Lis showed us the worms in each stage of growth. As the farmers watch the silkworms grow larger, they gently pick them out of their beds when their skin turns yellow.
At this stage the silkworm is placed on a spiral wicker plate hanging from the wall where the worm begins to form a cocoon. It’s from these silky cocoons that the silk is produced. Lis informed us that they harvest about 80% of the cocoons while the worm is still inside before the silky outer layer becomes too hard. The other twenty percent are allowed to hatch into moths in order to mate and lay new eggs. The twenty percent that live fulfill an average life cycle of approximately forty-seven days.
We left the home of the silkworms and Lis guided us to a long open building where the silk is extracted from the outer layer of the yellow cocoons. Inside, the cocoons are boiled in a cauldron of hot water so that the silk can be pulled off and collected onto a large spool. Immediately after this, the silk is slowly unspooled as careful hands pull out the knots in the thread while respooling the finer silk onto a new spool.
The refined silk is then bleached white to remove the corn-yellow color. The white sometimes remains unchanged, but it often acts as the canvas for new color dyes. Some silk products are dyed a single color, while others are dyed in a simliar way that one would tie-dye a hippy shirt. These patterned dyes form incredibly intricate and beautiful arrangements when they come together on the looms.
Lis led us out of the silk extraction and dying building to show us how the patterns are added to the silk through a process of highly planned and executed tie-dying. According to Lis the men and women who produce these fine works of art are paid above minimum wage, have a twenty percent share in the company, and only work eight hours a day, six days a week.
Those at the looms were talking and seemed to be enjoying themselves as they executed their handiwork. I asked Lis how long it takes for them to produce a typical silk scarf on the loom and he told me that it takes about five days! This fact alone helped me appreciate why the finer patterned scarves in their shop started at 100 USD each.
Siem Reap’s fair-trade silk farm was well worth the visit. It was fascinating to see the silk process and come to appreciate more acutely the art of silk production. After the tour (which was free!), we enjoyed some ice cream on site with Mr. Tong before heading back to the hotel for lunch.
Taking our time to relax and read in the afternoon, we were well rested when we left our hotel later in the day. At four o’ clock we were off to stake out a spot to watch the sunset at Pre Rup. This is a popular Angkorian temple to watch the sun dip below the horizon for its great views of the forest and rice paddies below. Shortly after arriving other tourists packed in like sardines to catch a glimpse of what can’t be easily forgotten.
It was a beautiful scene that I attempted to shoot as a time-lapse video, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out. I did however happen to get a quality test shot that I took when composing the time-lapse. The sun was framed perfectly between a majestic stone lion and a tower on the left.
Stop by for “The Temples of Angkor: Part V! On day five we extend our reach of the temples by visiting Banteay Kdei, one of the furthest from Siem Reap, who many argue was built by women because of its finely carved reliefs. We finish our tour at one of the largest religious sites in the world, Angkor Wat. And we close out our time in Siem Reap with a traditional Apsara Dance. Thanks for stopping by!