An Art Lover’s Guide to Siem Reap

Veer off the archaeological trail to the art-gallery map and uncover some of Siem Reap’s contemporary spoils.

By Laurel Tuohy

Jul 13, 2020

PROVING IT’S MORE THAN JUST A TEMPLE TOWN, Siem Reap has lately blossomed into a happening creative hub, where both locals and expats contribute to a burgeoning arts scene. A number of independent art spaces have sprung up around town— here we round up some top spots for a DIY Siem Reap art tour.

A good place to start is One Eleven Gallery, which features both Khmer and international artists covering diverse topics in a wide variety of styles and mediums. The gallery’s position near Psar Chas, the “Old Market,” its late hours and a bar in the back make it the perfect place to get your bearings, soak up the riverside atmosphere and rub shoulders with Siem Reap’s artsiest locals and expats.

One such local is prominent Belgian painter Christian Develter, whose “Chin Urban & Tribal” series oil paintings hang at One Eleven, not to mention on the walls of the city’s coolest hotels and cafés. To see more of Develter’s original paintings and lithographs, head to the newly opened One Eleven Develter, dedicated solely to his works, just across the river in Psar Chas market.

With a focus on Khmer talent, the French-run Batia Sarem Gallery, a 10-minute walk south of One Eleven, provides a platform exclusively for local artists. The goods here reflect “the spontaneity and dynamism” of the local scene, as the gallery’s director, Martin Phéline, puts it, celebrating art less bound by censorship than that of Vietnam and less tied to formal international training than Thailand’s.

Another place to catch emerging local talent is Mirage Contemporary Art Space. Director Serey Siv, a photographer himself, showcases a roster of Cambodian and international artists in a newly renovated space. The gallery is on the west side of the river, just a five-minute walk from the cool, kitschy artisanal shops that make up Kandal Village—a thriving bohemian district that’s a creative destination in its own right.

No survey of the city’s art scene would be complete without a visit to its most famous contributor. Hop in a tuk tuk for the 10-minute ride to Theam’s Gallery. Owned by prolific local artist Lim Muy Theam, it’s got to be one of the most beautiful art spaces in town—an expansive, colorful, antique-filled house packed with Theam’s own paintings, photography and sculptures. Theam trains up-and-coming artists, who can be seen in the property’s workshop; he also invites guests to learn about Khmer arts and crafts by viewing his own private collection. Finish up your tour with coffee and ice-cream in Theam’s shaded tropical garden.

While it’s perfectly easy to explore Siem Reap without a private guide, if you need advice on buying art or have limited time, operators like Siem Reap Art Tours (tours from US$95) can bring you on a bespoke loop around the town’s studios in half a day.

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