Between 2004 and 2014, the Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia saw a 326% increase in tourism, with backpackers and jetsetters alike coming to explore its mythic temples. Saron Phen, an oil painter in Siem Reap, has capitalized on the tourism boom since 2003, using his shop in the Central Art Night Market to introduce tourists to the Khmer way of life.
“I want to show people around the world Khmer culture,” he said. “I want them to understand it through my paintings of Angkor Wat, Apsara dancing, harvesting palm sugar, floating villages, mountains, and the Tonle Sap Lake.”
Saron Phen was born on October 26th, 1979, shortly after the Khmer Rouge genocide ended. His parents, left impoverished by the violence, decided to leave their son with an elderly woman in Kampongchan Province. It was there that he lost sight in one eye.
“I was playing outside and fell. At that moment, a stick pierced my eye, and I haven’t been able to see out of it since. It doesn’t hinder my painting...I just need to take care of the good eye I do have!”