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Backstreet Academy — Connecting travelers with local talent

We love endeavours that give our guests earnest experiences — something that offers a true sense of local culture and customs. For people that want to do rather than just see, Backstreet Academy has put together a program of hands-on experiences both enlightening and entertaining…


I am not particularly crafty, but I am adventurous and in that spirit some of Journeys Within’s Siem Reap team and I decided to try out a couple of recently launched Backstreet Academy experiences.

Working with NGOs and through word of mouth, Backstreet Academy locates talented crafts people willing to teach their traditional art-forms to the public. First up for our crew was bracelet making with a local Copper and Silver smith. One of the few left after the Khmer Rouge reign, Sam Orn and his wife Ms Chea Chan Sarouen run a shop just outside the centre of town. Friendly and engaging, as well as tremendously talented with metals, the pair guided the four of us to creating our own gorgeous wearable mementos.

With a little help from our hosts, the entire team left with souvenir bracelets we were excited and proud to wear.

Guests are encouraged to connect with the local artist while learning their craft. Both friendly and approachable we learned the story of Sam Orn and his wife, with the help of a facilitator, who help translate for those artists who don’t speak English.

Backstreet Academy has gathered a wide range of talented people to teach their craft to willing tourists and have a workspace where this is possible. Want to learn about Cambodian boxing or the finer points of Apsara dancing? You can spend the afternoon testing your own co-ordination with well trained athletes. Want to try your hand at oil painting or sketching? Let a Khmer artist help you create your own Cambodian landscape keepsake. (I did and it was a blast!)

Me quite proud of the final product of my oil painting class.

From palm hats and pottery to stone carving and cocktail classes, each activity is hosted by a local who has spent years perfecting their craft. Each visit takes guests off the beaten track, to the homes and work-spaces of these artists — a great opportunity to see a different side of town.  The classes range from approximately 1-4 hours making them the perfect addition to almost any itinerary.

Of course you aren’t going to learn how to be a professional oil painter in an afternoon but what you will get is a tonne of laughs, the opportunity to chat with local artists and a beautiful souvenir that you can brag about having had a hand in creating.

These kind of community based tours help the artists supplement their income while offering a meaningful experience (and in most cases a souvenir to take home) to visitors — exactly the kinds of programs that we love discovering!
Want to get arts and craftsy? Let us know — we would be happy to fit these in to any itinerary that visits Siem Ream, Phnom Penh or Luang Prabang!

2 comments on “Backstreet Academy — Connecting travelers with local talent”

  1. this looks great! fantastic opportunities to connect with Khmer Artisans! Feel free to contact me if any of your customers want to make some bullet jewellery!
    Sam Orn is a legend…and I have heard great things about backstreet acadamy too – would love to get their contact details!

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