En­joy a tall latte sur­rounded by the flavours of 16th cen­tury Cam­bo­dia

The Phnom Penh Post - - LIFESTYLE - Hong Raksmey

AS COF­FEE be­gins to sat­u­rate the mar­ket in Ph­nom Penh and be­yond, with many cafes shut down one af­ter an­other, young en­trepreneurs who are still pas­sion­ate about the busi­ness are find­ing ways to at­tract cus­tomers.

As some cafes be­gin to cater for ex­otic cat and rep­tile lovers, a lo­cal cafe is at­tempt­ing to turn back time and usher its cus­tomers into the 16th and 17th cen­turies.

At a glance, one can hardly no­tice any­thing ex­traor­di­nary; just a small cart in front of the cafe. But step be­yond that and you will see peo­ple busy wear­ing their tra­di­tional dress (Kben) which seems like a group of dancers pre­par­ing for a per­for­mance.

The Va­pak­toir Cafe (Cul­ture Cafe), as its name sug­gests, is a place that shows off to the next gen­er­a­tion, tra­di­tional dresses that the Kh­mer wore reg­u­larly in the 16th and 17th cen­tury.

It gives them an op­por­tu­nity to know and ex­pe­ri­ence wear­ing them, be­sides tak­ing photos for fun and pro­mot­ing them on so­cial me­dia.

The dresses orig­i­nate from the eras of Longvek and Oudong that have their cap­i­tals named Longvek and Oudong Meanchey, which are lo­cated in Kam­pong Speu Prov­ince about more than 40km from Ph­nom Penh.

Sranh Van­neth is the man­ager and younger sis­ter of a so­cial me­dia star, Acha Thom, who owns the cul­tural café and is the well-known con­ser­va­tor.

Van­neth said the cafe opened 10 months ago, and that, “here, we sell cof­fee and other bev­er­ages, while wear­ing the tra­di­tional dresses of the Longvek and Oudong peo­ple. We have about 30 sets of dresses and set of Ap­sara as well as other ob­jects”.

With sup­port from cus­tomers, es­pe­cially stu­dents, she of­ten asks for their opin­ions and if they wanted to wear the tra­di­tional dresses. “Of­ten, they an­swered that they didn’t know where to find a place to wear them. They be­came in­ter­ested when they saw us post them on our web­site,” she said.

They didn’t know where the dresses orig­i­nated from, Van­neth says, adding that they just knew they were Kh­mer. “When they ar­rived here, our team shared in­for­ma­tion with them and they ex­claimed ‘Oh! They are like this, Bong’.”

Wear­ing a Longvek dress, Pheng Ch­horda, a grade 11 stu­dent said: “I like tra­di­tional dresses be­cause I don’t want to lose our an­ces­tors’ tra­di­tions. I want the next gen­er­a­tion to know the styles of Kh­mer dresses. I am happy and ex­cited be­cause I have wanted to wear such dresses for a long time.”

In re­sponse to some youths la­belling Kh­mer tra­di­tional dress as Kar­ket, a fe­male lead char­ac­ter in the fa­mous Thai drama se­ries, Van­neth said she would like to say that it is wrong.

“Don’t speak like that. It does not be­long to the Thai tra­di­tion. It is Kh­mer. The Thais pro­moted it as a busi­ness but the dress we are wear­ing is the dress of the Longvek peo­ple.”

She said she al­ways sug­gested that she wanted our Kh­mer peo­ple to know clearly about what be­longs to Kh­mer. “Don’t com­pare that we are like this like that. In fact, it be­longs to us, but we don’t re­al­ize it our­selves,” she said.

Drinks at Va­pak­toir Cafe range from cof­fee, milk cof­fee frappe, pas­sion soda, green tea, iced le­mon tea, and fruit juice. Prices range at about 4,000 riels ($1).

Staff at the cafe help cus­tomers wear the tra­di­tional out­fits and take photos from a dig­i­tal cam­era for mem­ory.

Guests who are com­pany staff and oth­ers spend 5,000 riel per per­son while its 20,000 riel to wear the tra­di­tional dress, in­clud­ing tak­ing photos.

Stu­dents just do­nate a fee of 5,000 Riels to help hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tiv­i­ties and cul­tural cafe de­vel­op­ment.

Stu­dents can visit Va­pak­toir Cafe to study and ex­pe­ri­ence tra­di­tional dresses, says Khe­marak Bunna, a teacher at a com­puter school. She adds: “I want them to un­der­stand their cul­ture, though some­times I pay from my own pocket.”

Va­pak­toir Cafe is lo­cated at # 2228, km6 com­mune, Russey Keo dis­trict, Ph­nom Penh. Phone them at 069 838 989.


A univer­sity stu­dent wears a tra­di­tional Longvek-era dress at Va­pak­toir Cafe in Russey Keo dis­trict.

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