Rule number one for me – no internet, e-mail or mobile access. Worth it.
So yeah, last week I came back from ten days running around Cambodia and Laos. These two countries have been lurking on my list of places I fancied visiting for the whole time I have been in Taiwan, and while I barely managed to scratch the surface, at least I have a clearer idea of where I might want to return to if I do ever darken their doorsteps again. Excluding two trips to the UK, this was also my first ‘foreign’ holiday since Bali, so I was quite looking forward to it.
Jewel in the crown, and more or less the focus of my trip, was seeing the ruins at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Clearly, several tens of thousands of other people from around the world have also had the same idea, and we needed to be up early in the morning every day if we were to stand a chance of seeing anything without being mauled by bus loads of Korean middle-aged sightseers en-route to the next Korean restaurant.
As I mentioned in my last mini-post, I have bought a new camera and I was lucky enough to be able to borrow some of the lenses from Abe during the time there. Pretty impressive stuff, and I was particularly amused by the wide-angle zoominesss of the 16-35. As result of that, getting up stupidly early, and hunting nice light with Abe, most of my pictures fall into three categories:
- Sunrise photos, poorly exposed and badly coloured.
- Sunset photos, sporting large numbers of Korean tourists.
- Stupidly wide angle shots of everything – especially the photogenic ‘pointy boats’ that ply their trade on the Mekong.
Our original plan was to fly into Siem Reap to check the ruins, jet up into Laos, and drift back to Phnom Penh along the Mekong river. Sadly this plan was compromised by a number of factors, including Abe’s emergency departure back to Taiwan halfway through, and the fact that the guidebook I was relying on for up-to-the-minute travel information was written in 2001, clearly before the authorities had fully embraced tourism and certainly before the Japanese gorvernment had started paying for a web of paved roads across the country.
The first half of the trip, starring Jonny Biddle and Abe Sitzer
While it seemed all the more exciting that the road route alongside the Mekong was accompanied by threats of bandits, prone to completely washing out and policed by highly corrupt officials, the updated roads have effectively put the boats out of business, and the buses that now use the road are clearly moving too quickly for any ambushes. Drat. One thing is for sure though – the officials still stink of corruption, and we had to grease the wheels of international travel with piles of 1$ notes at every booth. Ach well.
Anyway, some photos, in approximate chronological order.
Abe enjoys one of my jokes.
Sunset shot #00345a
Boatman at the floating Vietnamese village … rather a tragic ‘floating Favela’
All the temples building blocks are literally piled up on top of each other – not great for longevity, but nice for distressed photos.
The trees looked like molten wax, descending from the heavens.
… or maybe industrial piping. One thing is for sure, when compared to my travels to Mayan temples in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, this certainly rivals or beats them.
Amazing faces carved into the rock.
Faces, in fact, were everywhere.
Abe wearing the ‘Abe-iators’ … again at sunset. Cough.
Up on the hill with all the other bleeding tourists, by far the best sights were to be had taking photos of them instead.
I like this photo just for that one guy looking at me in the middle of proceedings.
Improbable post-dawn shot of Angkor Wat.
Oh look! A dawn shot of a boat. And a pond ripple!
Much amusement from watching the local trasport. This girl clearly has it all worked out.
… and this one, perhaps less so. Managed to capture a 5-person scooter, but missed out on the golden 6!
Empire of the Sun
Yes, I know, another pointy boat + sunset shot. But hear me out … I was a little confused by the bite taken out of the top of the sun when I took this photo. I thought it could be a cloud, but it did not seem to make any sense. I stumbled across a solar eclipse web site when I returned, checked … and so it was! A partial solar eclipse. So there.
Pretty cool graphic, huh.
Back to earth with a bump – and riding the local buses to my next destination was a real treat for the senses … accompanied by the faint whiff of Betelnuts and the screaming of pigs strapped to the roof.
Pointy boat. Sunrise. Yes. But what followed was a completely fantastic few hours floating down the Mekong from Don Khong to Don Det – precisely the target for this section of the trip.
Kids splashing on Don Det (a place that was equal parts charming and irritating – there seemed to be a backpacker tractor beam installed in the place).
Back to Cambodia
When I got through the border, I realised my travel options back to Phnom Penh were limited in the time I still had left. So, I bit the bullet and jumped on a very bumpy backpacker bus in a 12+ hour trip back to the capital. Quite good fun though, since I managed to accidentally
locate the only Taiwanese girl on the bus and we spent the next two days hanging out and only speaking Chinese.
Cruising the markets with my ‘Thrifty Fifty’ F1.8 was super fun – just snapping away as people went about their business.
… and catching some of the emergent night-time entertainment was quite delightful. It seemed that the Khmer Rouge banned all music and much of the evening gatherings. The nascent pop music and nightmarket scene was like seeing Taiwan in its early days, I would imagine.
… and seeing some of the older people, it was sobering to think what they went through in their years. Visiting the Killing Fields on the final day was a particularly jarring experience, and it was uncomfortable being reminded of the feats man is capable of – one must say though, that the people of Cambodia were full of spirit and humour, and I really was rather taken with them. Hope the future is as bright as the past was dark.