Angkor Village’s Apsara Theatre has evening performances of classical dances. I asked the manager if I could take a few portraits after the artists had finished their show, and they said okay. To make things a challenge, I had about 5 minutes to photograph everyone, the external wall of their changing room to use as a background, and the only Khmer I knew was hello and thank you. I used the Profoto B1 to illuminate the darkness, and my tuk tuk driver as light stand and translator. I asked them to look into the light, and captured a few quick pics.
127km NE of Siem Reap, is the group of monuments and ruins called Koh Ker. It’s relative remoteness compared to other temples means that it receives far few visitors, it’s less “renovated” and overall feels more of an archeological site rather than a tourist attraction. Nearing the end of my time in Cambodia, I was now used to my routine of getting up way before dawn. I hired a car and driver from the hotel, left at about 5AM and we were at the Prasat Thom pyramid not long after 7AM. After Prasat Thom I explored the various other ruined monuments in the area. We drove to each one by car, and I explored the ruins on foot. The whole area was heavily mined which means that it would be inadvisable to ditch the guide / driver and wander off looking for more ruins. There are signs at all the ruins I visited stating they have been cleared of mines. After my visit to the landmine museum I was well aware of the possible consequences if you …
While in Cambodia I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days photographing the wedding of Suon and Pao. The groom’s sister worked at the Lotus Blanc Hotel where I was staying. One morning, as I returned to the hotel after shooting the dawn, Suon walked into the lobby in a wedding dress. The staff explained that a local photographer would be taking some photos of the bride and groom at the hotel, before they began the traditional khmer wedding celebrations that would last for two days. Knowing I was also a photographer they said they’d be quite happy if I’d like to tag along and take some pics. Hoorah.
By coincidence, I write this post just after reading about a Buddhist British woman being deported from Sri Lanka for having a tattoo of Buddha on her arm. She wasn’t aware that in Sri Lanka this is seen by some as highly offensive, and she was arrested before she even made it out of the airport. Of course, tourists should be aware of local traditions, but this would be an easy mistake to make considering that in several other countries Buddhist tattoos are signs of devotion. In Cambodia many monks had tattoos on their backs and arms.
Siem Reap Pagoda Cats is a small organization trying to help the stray cats that live in around several Buddhist temples near Siem Reap, Cambodia. French ex-pat Josette Vanneur does a daily tour of the temples making sure the numerous felines have food and water, along with arranging medical care including neutering. If you like cats, or just want to read about someone trying to make a difference, visit their Facebook page Siem Reap Pagoda Cats.
Angkor Wat is the most popular place in Siem Reap to see the sunrise. For sunset the title is held by Phnom Bakheng. The temple is on the top of a small hill overlooking the surrounding forest and the Western Baray. The number of tourists allowed on the temple is restricted, but it’s still crowded at the top. Arrive early, bring a book, and enjoy those twilight moments.
Banteay Srei may not be on the same scale as Angkor Wat, but the detail and beauty of its sandstone carvings are unmatched. It’s about 90 minutes by tuk tuk from Siem Reap but well worth the journey. To see the temple in its best light arrive early. You’ll also have the added advantage of beating the crowds and the heat.
Prasat Kravan is the exception to the rule. Angkor Wat and nearly the all the other famous temples in the region are carved from sandstone, with foundations of laterite. The builders of Prasat Kravan (allegedly following the advice of a pig) built their temple of brick. The interiors of the five brick prasats (towers) have wonderful detailed carvings. Several local kids were using the temple grounds as a meeting place, and luckily for me they were more than happy to have their photos taken.
The title of this post sounds like the start of a joke. A monk and a lawyer walk into a bar… It’s almost a given that the joke will be based around the godliness of the monk, and the parasitic or predatory nature of lawyers. This hostility to lawyers isn’t even a recent phenomenon, in Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth, Dick the butcher says “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” One day, while at Angkor Wat, I see a Buddhist monk in traditional orange robes taking a photo of his son. Great moment so I also take a pic. A few minutes later we bump into each other inside the temple and begin chatting. His name is Nheam, and the boy is his adopted son. He has been a monk for many years, and the boy was an orphan and needed a parent. As you might have guessed, he’s a lovely, lovely man. I ask what he does everyday, and he says he’s studying at the local university to be a lawyer. Being …
After the horrific years under the Pol Pot regime, Cambodia was no longer at war, but huge swathes of the country were (and still are) covered in landmines. During peace time, landmines continue to kill. They kill farmers trying to work the fields, they kill children who see something shiny in the grass. They maim, wound, and cripple indiscriminately. Aki Ra, was forced to spend his childhood in the jungle with an AK-47. After the war he began to disarm mines by himself, using his bare feet and a stick to discover them, and then a screwdriver to render them safe. Years later he set up a museum to show others some of the items he had found. If you’d like to learn more or make a donation visit the website Cambodia Landmine Museum. I met several Cambodians who’d lost limbs to landmines, some during war, some during peacetime. Any country that has produced landmines (or even worse continues to manufacture them) needs to deal with the long term consequences of their actions.