In Myanmar and Cambodia—cousins in suffering and recovery—a renaissance of artistic craftsmanship is pushing out new signs of growth.
Of all the regions in the world a traveler might venture, Southeast Asia must be the easiest to love: The food is delicious. The transportation is cheap. The hotels are plentiful. The streets are fragrant with temple offerings—crushed tuberose and sun-warmed marigolds. Everywhere you look, there’s a wall heaped with fuchsia bougainvillea, or a flowering orchid that’s cleaved itself to the trunk of a jacaranda tree. And best of all, despite the ubiquitous and at times discomfiting presence of the digital age—the monks tucking their cell phones into their saffron robes; the battered rubber-and-wood floating house on the Mekong with its gleaming satellite dish—it is still a place where artisans and their work can be found in abundance.
As a traveler, my happiest discoveries always involve something handcrafted, made more precious as the experience of encountering them becomes rarer. Every decade brings a diminishment of places where you can find people who are still creating, by hand, things that their families have been making for generations, for centuries. Sometimes an old method is enhanced with technology; sometimes not. What’s certain is that these crafts and traditions stay alive only as long as there are customers and people to appreciate them.