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Lam Phel, Thach Tu keep Khmer culture alive

 VietNamNet Bridge – Coming to the Mekong Delta city of Tra Vinh, tourists often visit the Khmer pagodas, admire the beauty of Ao Ba Om tourist area or just ride around the city to marvel at the ancient trees.

VietNamNet Bridge – Coming to the Mekong Delta city of Tra Vinh, tourists often visit the Khmer pagodas, admire the beauty of Ao Ba Om tourist area or just ride around the city to marvel at the ancient trees.

Lam Phel.


However, you are missing out especially if you have any interest at all in the traditional arts of Khmer people. If so, go and visit the studio of artisans Lam Phel and Thach Tu.

In Khmer’s traditional tuong (opera singing), artists wear masks during performances. Currently, in the Khmer community, there are only three artisans making these unique masks left, one of them is Phel.

He said: “Each character has its own nature and origin so it needs a proper mask. And artisans need to know about Khmer culture to make suitable masks for negative characters such as Ketkasa, Dukkdasay, Krongrep, Khomphika, Phiphet and good characters such as Hanoman.”

Visiting his studio, tourists will see his works which require him to be patient, dexterous, meticulous and hardworking as each mask need a private cement shape. Moreover, viewers will sense the soul in each work which becomes lively due to his talent in combining colors and sticking colored paper.

Born in a family with a long tradition of making paper masks and through the ups and downs of time and family, Phel went through some tough times to support his passion for the craft. In 1979, he went to battlefields in Cambodia, and at that time he sought experienced artisans to learn from. After arriving back in the country in the early 80s, he had overcome many difficulties to keep his love of the craft alive and he was fortunate in the fact that in the 1990s the government supported the Khmer culture, seeing many arts troupes developed and giving Phel more work to do.

“I want to hand over the tradition to younger generations but no-one wants to be involved and I worry it will be disappear,” said Phel, whose studio is located at Base A Hamlet in Tra Vinh City about two kilometers from Ao Ba Om tourist area.

Thach Tu.


Meanwhile, Tu is addicted to Khmer pagoda architecture. To Khmer people, a pagoda is the most sacred place and pagoda architecture is very complicated to make and decorate. Tu, though, is considered as one of the best artisans in this field.

From a young age, Tu followed his father, a talented Khmer pagoda artisan, to help construct pagodas in Tra Vinh, Soc Trang and Bac Lieu and learn about the elegant Khmer architecture and design.

Tu surprised the art world with a pencil painting of Ao Ba Om image on a water coconut leaf in 2002. He said: “My life is geared to honoring the ethnic culture of Khmer people and I want to keep it alive for younger generations.”

He also makes Buddhist statues of white stone, bronze and cement. If you want to see the master in action and learn more about Khmer culture you are free to visit him at Hamlet 4, Chau Thanh Township, Chau Thanh District, Tra Vinh City, right behind Hang Pagoda.

Source: SGT

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