Both my Muse and I were tossing and turning restlessly as the dim outline of my window started to grow brighter. My Muse questioned my rather heavy dinner choice of a spicy Indian feast the previous night but she also had worries of her own vaguely recalling a promise to Yosef to enlighten the masses on what the term Street Photography meant to us. Me. When it became clear that sleep was no longer a possibility and roughly at the time when streams of tuktuks, cars and buses head to Angkor Wat to experience the legendary sunrise I made myself (and my Muse) a nice cup of tea and set to work.
I don’t know why Yosef picked me as I don’t consider myself in any way a Street Photography Master although I do rarely leave my house without at least one device capable of recording images. Many smart and articulate articles (pun!) have been written about street photography, the approach and the gear so, intimidated, I will look at the topic more or less from the pondering angle and see where that takes us.
Some of you in the colourful 52Frames community know that I live in Cambodia where I run my own photography business - well, the term “business” could be slightly overrated, it’s more a one woman band marching to the beat of her own drum somehow making money doing the thing she loves!
Wow, Cambodia, you gasp! Exotic and pulsating with that relentless energy and slight madness of all Asian lands where towns and cities awake with honking of horns and cries of chickens, steam rising from giant rice pots and dishes made of those chickens too slow in the waking-up process. Now, I can’t lie to you and tell you that I often roam the streets at the crack of dawn enjoying the amazing photo opportunities arising on every corner, no - I am in bed, but I do know that early morning is indeed a very special time of day here in the far east (or far west - depends where you are, reader!). The photographer or the curious observer are both rewarded with cooler temperatures, golden light and the smell in the air which will always remind me of summer holidays. Here life happens in the morning or at least more so than in the middle of a hot day when many take to the national sport of extreme hammocking elsewhere known as siesta. Mind you, that’s good to photograph too!
To me Cambodia no longer holds the exotic stamp and mystery of the unexplored. But saying that I am bored here would be a bit blaze as well. It’s been my home for over 6 years now. I live here and my eyes are accustomed to the bizarre scenes. I do still chuckle at the array of overloaded vehicles and get excited at the sight of monks in their bright orange robes but I admit that at times I would rather spend hours in a nice, cool pine forest taking photos of moss and cones or get lost in the cobbled streets of Europe. I confirm the theory that the grass is always greener on the other side - unless you change your point of view.
I am a believer that there is ALWAYS something to photograph be it in nature or out on the street. Our 52Frames challenges help us along nicely and channel our vision to a specific topic each week. I sort of wish our Street Photography challenge came along earlier in the year when I was in fact lost in the cobbled streets of the Czech Republic (my other home, the original one) or when I went to Bali and explored something completely different and very new.
So here we have the dilemma - the new versus the old and ingrained. What makes for more interesting photography topic and what’s the advantage? Knowing your surroundings like the back of your own hand or photographing something new with completely fresh eyes? In the end it’s the viewer who decides what they like but who’s judging us, anyway?
I find that there is a difference in our outlook on these various known and new places. Having analysed the style of my photography from a new place versus the familiar one I notice that when I am somewhere new I take more wide angle shots recording the overall look of the location, the views, the mood. On my home turf I can be seen taking a photo of a droplet of water on a blade of grass while the temples of Angkor are getting the view of my back. Go figure. It really confuses the locals….Gentle tap on my shoulder: “Madam, the temple is THAT way!"
When it comes to people photography I find this task much easier here in Asia. Life is, in some aspects, so much more colourful, yet simpler here. It happens outside, in plain view, sometimes leaving little to the imagination. There are local customs and traditions, there is everyday life, there are messy shops and markets, there is traffic with no rules, there are monks, people planting rice, people harvesting rice, conical hats, cheeky kids with the biggest grins and the list goes on.
Ever since the purchase of my Fuji X100T I pretty much retired my big and bulky Canon DSLRs (7D and 6D) - for street photography and general walk around purpose anyway. My big camera buddies and their lenses will always have a place in my working life but I value the benefits of travelling light more and more these days. There is something liberating in the simplicity of having just one small tool with you. You make it work and you confirm that the best camera is the one that you have with you. You learn to know your settings (and change them fast) and your limitations. You use your legs for zoom if you have to and get closer to people, say hi and show them the photo you took. You have the advantage of being discreet and kind enough not to poke too much glass into people’s faces. You sit and you wait and see what street life brings you. Or you move with the flow.
While shooting life in Cambodia, rather than being in Aperture Mode I often switch to Shutter Priority to either be ready for those fleeing moments of crazy situations that never repeat or slow down to pan some amusing traffic action and get creative. Of course there are situations when Aperture Priority will be better suited such as mulling around in dimly lit markets or taking portraits of people in their natural environment. Mind you, "snapping people" fast is sometimes essential before the dreaded “V” sign makes appearance. So you are stuck between what you know you should do (politely ask for permission) and what you actually want to do (take that candid shot of the person there and then). It’s a fine line where, with a zoom lens you can get away with that candid shot and your “subject” unaware that you took a photo of them whereas with a prime lens (no zoom) you will have to use your little legs to get closer and articulate your way around taking the desired shot. I use a mixture of body language and my embarrassingly basic Khmer language skills to obtain permission followed by a short chat and showing my “models” how beautiful they are (admittedly not so easy if you shoot film!). It’s always appreciated and mostly received with giggles and in good spirits.
The 52 Frames Street Photography challenge took place a while back now but it came around at precisely the right time after all - when I was travelling around Cambodia on a motorbike. It was a mixture of different shapes and sizes of the familiar with a dollop of something special and unknown on the top. The cherry on the cake. I was at home but outside my comfort zone at the same time. So I put on my tourist goggles and snapped away.
When the management of Rainbow Lodge contacted me to discuss the possibility of running a long weekend photography workshop on their premises I was immediately interested. Not only because anything away from Angkor is a very welcome change for me but also because I had never visited that particular corner of Cambodia.
I now have some order in my formerly messy thoughts - it’s finally clear to me that Koh Kong is a province as well as the main town in the province and just off the coast nearby there is also the Koh Kong island. Tatai is the name of a small town from where boats carry passengers upstream the Tatai river all the way to Rainbow Lodge. Simple! The Rainbow Lodge is a charming property just a few steps off the Tatai river bank and a short boat ride from the Tatai settlement.
life along the quiet river...
Having flown to Phnom Penh and then continued by road, the views start to get interesting roughly from where the national road #4 forks off to Sihanoukville. We veer off to the right and follow the newly resurfaced road #48. Although secondary in ranking, it beats the main communication in the country, the road #6, by a long shot. A very long shot. Leaving the populated areas of Phnom Penh and surroundings behind with plastic littered everywhere the views are now starting to reveal elevation, misty mountains in the distance and an absolute lack of human presence. How very lovely. And from then on it just keeps getting better. The clouds are gently rolling in with a faint promise of rain and we do get a few teasing drops here and there, the light is soft and golden, the tarmac is smooth under our wheels and I am humming (in my head) to my favourite tunes.
Tatai valley unravels its beauty to us just as we reach the Tatai settlement and the bridge which marks our disembarkation point and the last stage of the journey - a short boat ride upstream the Tatai river. Some ten minutes later the boat engine is suddenly quiet and when I finally put my bags down at the bar/check in area at the Rainbow Lodge it seems that somebody turned off the volume to everything and even my breathing and thinking are way too loud for this scenery.
peaceful views and rolling hills...
There is so much to do at the Rainbow Lodge! Making friends and being social is just part of it but if you seek solitude and your own company, your retreat can be just that. There are kayaks which you can take up and down the river, you may want to take advantage of the many interesting tours on offer or just indulge in extreme hammocking with emerald green views of the jungle.
My June and September photography workshops will consist of several exciting components. We will travel by boat, venture to the waterfall which, by the time June comes, will be full of roaring waters and become the perfect place to learn the “milky water” tricks and give your tripod the workout it needs. Alfresco breakfast in the waterfall vicinity is planned for later in the morning. We will visit the spooky mangrove forests and the surrounding colourful fishing villages, set our foot in the jungle and watch it come alive with all its vibrant sights, smells and sounds of the green season. Just across the river there are settlements nestled among emerald rice fields and fringed off by the mountains behind. You name it, we have it: birds, water buffaloes, rice planting and harvest in different stages, friendly hellos from local inhabitants, orange flashes of monk robes, everything that spells Cambodia - minus the temples. And that’s a bonus, right?
waterfalls, jungle and photography...
The beauty of this place, to me, is in its remoteness, peace and quiet and the comfort of the accommodation along with friendly approach of the owners, tasty meals and - surprisingly - a comprehensive selection of wines! The owners are attentive, knowledgeable and happy to help with just about anything. All three daily meals are included in the price of the accommodation and very very tasty!
This time my trip was pretty intense exploring all the sites suitable for photography and the verdict is that they all are! It will be a great break for all the busy city folk who have called Cambodia their home for some time and for first time visitors alike.
mangroves, villages, fishing and jungle...
Watch this space - all will be revealed soon.
Perhaps the most important thing to mention is that the Rainbow Lodge Photo Workshop will be open to all photography enthusiasts regardless of their level of skill or the gear they bring. With maximum of 8 participating photographers I will ensure that all get my personal attention and together we will prove that the best camera is the one that you have with you!
The Rainbow Lodge team have an array of exciting, affordable day trips available for non participating partners and friends so nobody will get bored!
Save the date - the first workshop dates are 12th to the 15th June 2015 inclusive and more details will follow soon.
Follow us on Facebook to get the latest updates hot straight from the oven!
For those who just can't wait, inquiries can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org
and finally... some more reflections...
Photowalking is the act of walking with a camera for the main purpose of taking pictures of things that the photographer may find interesting.
It is often a communal activity organised by camera clubs, online forums or commercial organisations, sometimes in the form of a walking tour. Often the aim is to practice and improve one's own photography skills rather than a specific focus on documentary photography.
While the camera need not be a digital camera, in practice the low cost of digital photography and the ease of digital photo processing and online photo sharing allow a casual approach in photowalking.
While related to street photography, photowalking is differentiated by its impetus to photograph things of interest rather than people specifically. As with any walking that may go a few miles or kilometers, photowalking can also promote physical fitness.
…. the thing is, there is so much more to Siem Reap than “just” the temples. Trust me, I am a photographer. It doesn't matter if you just arrived or have lived here for half a decade. The lively streets of our little town provide countless source of entertainment – at least for me. How long have I wanted to get a picture of pigs bellies up on the back of a moto? Or other weird and wonderful methods of transportation for that matter.... It's all there, on two, three or more wheels, carrying variable loads and countless passengers. My collection is growing steadily ever since I got inspired by a wonderful book called Carrying Cambodia still for sale today (Monument Books for those who are interested). But it all requires a bit of patience, being in the right place at the right time and being ready with your camera or phone.
People photography can be daunting and so can venturing into a local market armed only with your limited two-word Khmer vocabulary and your camera. There is safety in numbers though and with the right approach and attitude there is a possibility to capture real local gems. From the gory meat section not suitable for vegetarians nor the faint hearted via the fish quarters one can wander past nail and hair salons all the way to the cooked food court and with a bit of courage try some of the items on offer. I always go for the puffy spongy pancakes sold by 10 for just over 50c.
Then we have our colourful pagodas. Local knowledge claims one of them to be at least 400 years old and that is OLD. One would think that after five years in the kingdom of wonder I would be immune to the sight of orange clad monks but no, I'm still clicking away. And the same goes for conical hats bobbing up and down with rice harvest....I can't help it, it just spells Asia.
Now, with our riverfront so nice and green and kept it's actually a pleasure to stroll in the early morning hours when the temperature is still relatively cool and local happenings are in full swing. Taking photographs in a new, exotic place is almost always easy – everything is new and photo-worthy. But what if I was to drag you out of your snuggly bed on a Sunday morning and take you on a short photo walk through the town you have called home for some time? Would you come? Come on, you know you want to! No big bulky equipment is necessary, your phone or pocket compact camera will do a perfectly good job - wait a minute, YOU will do a good job of it. With a few hints and tips on composition and possibly discovering what all these buttons do, you can create amazing images.
My photo walks will run on selected Sundays through the streets of Siem Reap with variable routes and topics. Next one will be Siem Reap in monochrome. In the pipelines I also have some evening walks focusing on low light photography, use of tripod, playing with shutter speed and all that jazz. Locals and visitors alike are welcome so I'm looking forward to seeing you there!
Winter is here!
Mere 20 degrees and my a/c pony finally gets some rest. Hot shower is a must and the bathroom door remains firmly shut to eliminate any kind of breeze; my skin prickles nonetheless. Mornings arrive crisp and clear with a hint of smoke in the air. My neighbours with obsessive compulsive sweeping disorder have to work harder than usual to keep their front yard leaf free.
My floor tiles are cold. Even mid-day breeze is refreshing and I finally remember the sensation of shoes on my feet again.
Cycling all day produces almost no sweat – an unknown phenomenon.
The sky is deep blue and the air is dry. My hair doesn’t know frizz anymore.
I make myself a hot chocolate and put socks on as the evening draws near.
The bats fly over in the remaining traces of red and stars come out one by one, bright as little diamonds on dark blue velvet.
The air is fragrant and cicadas are singing their evening song.
The winter is finally here. I am absorbing every cool moment of it and enjoying it while it lasts!
I am a frequent cyclist – I cycle to and from work, I cycle to go shopping, I even choose to spend my entire holiday on my two wheeled horse. I am a smiling cyclist – I often have small insects stuck in my teeth. I am a grumpy cyclist – I curse a lot at people who drive like insert your favourite swear word here regardless of which country I am exploring. I am “up for a ride anytime” cyclist. I am a cyclist photographer with a soft spot for nature.
Sunday dawned misty and quiet – a refreshing change from previous few days arriving with a loud bang, tingalingalinga notes and wailing from the nearby pagoda at wee hours of the morning, daylight still several hours away. By the time my luxurious lay in was over and coffee on the boil the sun already burnt through the mist and promised a clear crisp day with a slight hint of coolness; winter must be on the way I thought.
We depart and soon the township of Siem Reap is behind us, and we are getting closer to the Angkor park through the outskirts on bumpy dirt roads where the diminishing wet season and recent floods have left their mark. The simple right angle pattern of country roads soon spits us back on tarmac and we are grateful for it. Dodging the official entry points and ever present Apsara hound dogs we enter the park through a lesser known opening without being noticed. Here it may be worth mentioning that we are on officially public roads and not doing anybody any harm – we are not here to explore the temples, quite the opposite actually – we are focusing on fauna and flora of the forested areas that just happen to be near the ancient sites. Outside the Angkor Park Cambodia mainly has rice fields to offer and we don’t like to get burnt….much.
Cycling through the forest / jungle is quite a joy. Away from civilization – or so it seems – we meet not a single soul for a while. Occasionally singing and chattering announces a group of local women collecting fire wood and carrying their bulky load back to their nearby village on rickety old bicycles. Friendly hellos, shy smiles and quizzical looks all spell Cambodia and we enjoy the brief exchange as much as they do. No doubt they will talk about crazy barrangs crawling on forest floor for the rest of the day.
Quick glance up through the canopy of trees and vines reveals patches of blue and wispy white-grey clouds adding to the image of perfection.
We focus on things often unseen by most – and very easily overlooked when attention is on the overall scenery. While mammals and other larger animals have all but disappeared from the scene, the undergrowth is teaming with life. Countless species of ants roam the forest floor, spiders of all shapes, sizes and colours capture their prey into intricately woven webs; bugs, lizards, frogs, stick insects, moths and other creatures I lack names for are going on about their daily business unnoticed – well almost. Mosquitos, on the other hand, are taking advantage of our sweaty presence, look – lunch just arrived! Smothered from head to toe in OFF we rise to the challenge.
Macro photography reveals another world. Getting close to your subject literally means close – and on your hands and knees, or other peculiar contortionist position which often prevents normal flow of breathing – just as well; the tiniest move destroys your focus and it often takes several attempts to come away with a subject looking at you with a sharp eye. It’s mostly all about the eye!
The aim here is not to get into the ins and outs of macro photography and I have tons to learn still, it’s more about how cycling and nature and photography go hand in hand.
Then the light changes. Green and blue hues become dull, the wind picks up and it signifies only one thing – rain. There are betting shops in Phnom Penh (and I bet elsewhere too) that make living out of general population guessing the time it will start raining. Sophisticated I thought when I first heard about it and also very seasonal. Amateur attempts of mastering the art follow the pattern of sky greying, light changing rapidly, wind picking up, leaves dancing in spirals and…… approximately 8 minutes later the rain arrives...
Today we are not counting minutes, we are lucky to have one of the outer gates of an unnamed temple to our disposition as a hiding place with no other wet or dry soul in sight. The heavens open and the show seems to have no end. Impatient we dodge the first drops to reclaim our bikes, now sparkling clean, and then we give up. We are going to get wet. Very wet.
The innocent, winding sandy jungle paths suddenly become rivers – in places knee deep. Water gushes from higher grounds and follows the given direction of the forest trails, the surface churning and muddy making it hard to guess how deep the water is. Our bikes are getting a good wash here.
Grinning and with stinging eyes we finally arrive in town, clear wet t-shirt competition winners and I make a note to self to reach for a black t-shirt next time. Not a thread is dry on us and ironically now the sky is blue again; we look like we arrived from another planet and Mother Nature can be proud of her efforts.
My country, my Beer – Cambodia. This is what every other poster states and indeed, sipping on one, I am recalling the events of the past weekend.
March and April, the hot and dry months, are best spent in A/C as many expats living and working in Cambodia would no doubt claim. The rains are yet to come and rice harvests have left the fields resting in a dress of cappuccino colour waiting for a coat of green in the months ahead. As we are speeding on national route #6 north, the pancake resembling landscape shimmers in the heat and only a tree or two or the occasional cow break up the distant line of the horizon. This is no unknown territory to us, the three ABOUTAsia Travel ladies who finally, taking advantage of the low season pace, managed to set out to do what they promised to do a while back – spend a weekend further afield, explore something new, get away from it all in Siem Reap and have fun. Valentina, myself and Caroline.
With little to see along the way, we are dosing, nearing Sisophon which marks the turn off to follow a dusty corrugated road to Banteay Chhmar; our driver – Michael Schumacher’s long lost Cambodian half brother hands firm on the steering wheel periodically announcing his arrival to all motos, pedestrians and cows with prolonged assertive horn blasting. This is indeed Cambodia and humble driving gets one nowhere, we are used to it but still, grasping onto anything near, white knuckled.
The 63 km stretch from Sisophon to Banteay Chhmar is to become a paved road in the next year or two, depending on how work flows along. It will no doubt make lives of the inhabitants of the area much easier, but today we are “off the beaten track” knowing that the harder the road the worthier the destination – as many of my travels through Asia proved in the past. Fine dust fills the air with every passing vehicle and on the tip of my (half bitten) tongue I have: “Are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet?” and at the same time I feel sorry for all the people who have no choice but to live along the roadside waiting for the road work to be finished.
And then we are. There. The Citadel of the Cat – a name which has fascinated me for ages and I am happy I am finally here. Shaken but not stirred, we arrive at our home stay – a simple set up which is exactly what it says on the tin – a home stay. We stay at somebody’s home. They have done it before and we are not as exotic creatures as we imagined but we still raise an eyebrow of the passersby and cute grubby children scream “hello” at the top of their little lungs. Several small and varied home stays are scattered throughout the village, centrally managed by The Banteay Chhmar CBT Homestay Program allowing visitors to take in the remote beauty of this forgotten corner of Cambodia at a reasonable pace, without having to rush back the same day.
For mere US$7 one gets a simple private room in the wooden upstairs area of this traditional Cambodian house (double bed) with a frilly mosquito net overhanging, clean sheets and battery generated electricity from the evening hours until the morning – allowing for a sleep with some fan generated breeze. Toilet facilities are very basic, shared, downstairs. Babies, grandma, chickens and dogs are also provided – free or charge. This is a truly unique and absolutely 100% genuine Cambodia.
Like Angkor Thom, the temple of Banteay Chhmar was accomplished during the reign of Jayavarman VII in the late 12th or early 13th century. Preservation of Banteay Chhmar is currently being led by Global Heritage Fund, a non-profit organization based in California.
The temple of the Cat – with no cat in sight – is a giant jigsaw puzzle. Largely unrestored, this huge labyrinth of rocks and towering trees is a magical place to explore. We are completely alone save for a Spanish speaking couple crossing our path once but they soon disappear in the foliage and we are left to our own devices again. The gorgeous afternoon light shining through the trees provides for an excellent photo session with the girls, who eventually get sick of the clicking of my camera and pursue their own image capturing. I get busy trying to steady my lens on a stunning pink lizard basking on the hot rocks.
As the evening draws near and we are out of sugar cane juice power, having circumnavigated the temple, we head back just as the moon appears in the sky and the sun is setting behind us.
Earlier in the day we nodded “yes” to something which promised to be a “temple dinner”. Now ready for the evening covered in mosquito repellent we leave our darkened home stay with a torch ready for the walk and eventually end up back at the temple, under the cover of darkness with only torches and candles flickering in the wind signifying a rather out of the ordinary event.
Our dinner is simple (rice, omelet, soup with vegetables and minced fish) but the surroundings make up for it. In Siem Reap a Temple Dinner is a grand event costing several thousands of dollars, here, however simple and humble, the Banteay Chhmar temple dinner “cousin” is setting us back US$5 extra for the 3 of us. Bargain. As we finish our meal a small group of people counting about 11 souls arrive – they are, as we find out, Thai travel agents exploring new territories, eco projects and cultural heritage; here focusing mainly on the traditional Khmer dance. It is our lucky night and as we can’t beat them, we join them, arms and hands twisting and turning, accompanied by the oh-so-well-known ting-a-ling-a-ling-k’ching-bing tunes. Here in the candle lit settings, with complete strangers and a language barrier, we let go of our cultural differences and form a circle, assuming the role of celebrities once more, flashes of compact cameras blinding us from time to time. I fear the images which are promised to follow…
When the night is no longer so young, or at least in Bantey Chhmar terms, we head back, exhausted from the day events looking forward to a horizontal position preceded by a much needed shower. Both perfectly possible, however, the nearby wedding celebration, in a truly Gangam Style, ensures that earplug making business is still a lucrative one, or at least it should be. I wish I had thought of these amazing, squeezy, brightly coloured inventions before I left Siem Reap. They would have been very very handy.
The bass vibration and music eventually ceases – around midnight, my tired brain registers…. To my delight. And to the delight of Mickey the Mouse and his night roof surfing buddies who resume to have a party on the tin roof above my head. Scuffling of little feet and sliding noises. My brain plays a cartoon movie which makes me giggle. Am I delirious? Brilliant…. and yet again I am thinking of earplugs. I eventually doze off only to be brought back to consciousness rapidly by the nearby pagoda announcing yet another day of wedding festivities to all relatives and neighbours, near and far. Very far. It is 5 am and the sun is yet to rise. There is no point losing sleep over it, I figure - quite literally - and take the opportunity to enjoy the cool breeze and my vantage point of the 1st floor of the wooden house to observe the morning village activities of sweeping the yard, washing last night’s dishes, preparing new pot of rice for the day to come, people slowly waking up to another day in rural Cambodia. It ticks all the boxes and I slowly get over my underslept grumpiness. Coffee will fix it.
A strong one with condensed sweet milk. Plenty of it – a delicious taste of Cambodia available literally everywhere, the Mondulkiri coffee is a must try. We are far from Mondulkiri here, close to the border with Thailand (the border lies mere 20km east), where cassava business is valued in Baht and the drying (and rather smelly) root is filling literally every front yard. Laborious process of planting, tending, harvesting, transporting, cutting, drying and bagging of the produce – all done by hand with almost no machinery involved and for very little profit in return, makes the livelihood of most of the people in the area.
Rice, it would be my guess, follows in the second position.
All Cambodians have a life long love affair with rice. It is a part of almost every meal and it is indeed what we have for breakfast, along with some more eggs and fish. When, later on in the day, I ask the rhetorical question “I wonder what is for lunch” Caroline wittingly replies “I suppose breakfast….”she is right and Valentina and I choke back a giggle.
Back on the road through dustland with bum massage included, we hit the smooth surface of route #6 in no time it seems and all is plain sailing again.
I take home with me a newly found appreciation for the aircon unit in the office and the few creature comforts in my humble abode in Siem Reap. I make a promise to myself to buy earplugs. I have enough photos to work on to keep me busy over the week until the next adventure.
This was the Citadel of the Cat. Not for the faint hearted but worth writing home about!
Skies just about to burst, view from my balcony, Siem Reap
It’s the same every year….
We choke on dust for 6 months literally gagging for some moisture sent from the sky. We beg the weather Gods to send us some rain. We bake in the oven aka Siem Reap and by April we are growling sweaty mess suffering the mango madness.
Then it comes, out of nowhere it seems. Heavens open and we are swimming, yet somehow Siem Reap still manages to be dusty. Beats me.
With the wet season I am entering a new era of identity. I ditch all my white tops purely for safety reasons - and I am not talking only about dirt! Black is the new black and that’s my rule. Splash of colour is provided by the ever so necessary scarf which is also a dust buster and I will not leave my house without it. I can safely retire my hair straighteners and look frantically for frizz fighting products on the supermarket shelves. Not much luck there as I try to manage my hair with mind of its own into a semi presentable head of curls. Note to self: try harder or shave it.
We talk about the rain. We talk about if, how or when it’s going to rain. We even have a bet how long before the rain. We watch the sky with respect and wait for the rain. It comes, as a general rule, during lunch break or just before knock off time which makes me reach for lesser used and not so flattering words. I also reach for my blue plastic rain coat, made of durable substance the smell of which takes me back to childhood, blow up pools and balloons. Cycling in the rain, looking like a giant condom, is great fun. You end up wet either way – inside out, as my blue plastic raincoat encourages sweating.
Breathability = 0.
This time I am not getting drenched, I sit in the safety of a restaurant with a clear view of the street, watching nature unleash its force. Rows of colourful “condoms”on bicycles amuse me. Today we have strawberry, banana and blueberry flavor battling the head wind and lashes of horizontal rain in a true rainbow fashion. God, there must be about 15 of them, I imagine all the tour members, minus their hats and flags, anxious not to be separated, so regardless of the weather they battle and pedal on. I am smart and have a beer instead. I can happily live without a TV.
The rainy season brings emerald green back to life. All shades of it. Cappuccino coloured lands transform almost overnight into patches of green, rice shoots promising a new rich harvest and cows are happily roaming and chewing. This time of year is lovely and very photogenic, despite the mud that comes with it. You must let Cambodia get under your skin. Ironically, in the middle of the rainy season, when you return from a day in the country and want to wash Cambodia off your skin,there is no water coming out of the tap. This, again, makes my vocabulary flare up as I use the more peppery expressions.
View from one of the few hills around
It was time to leave the work "ball and chain" behind and head to the hills. Actually, let me rephrase: head across the Siem Reap province plains towards Battambang. It would be unfair to say that the 170km stretch of National Road #6 and #5 sees no hills but they are very few and far between.
Cambodia's second largest city can be reached in couple of hours - these days thankfully on sealed roads all the way. My first encounter with National Route #6 was in 2004 and this is another story altogether, so watch this space!
Old Pepsi factory, colour co-ordinated
One would hardly guess the population of Battambang to be over 140000, there is a very relaxed feel to the city although in the last few years things have started to happen. Ambitious buildings are appearing where last year there was only abandoned land and tourism is on the rise.
But don't let this deter you from visiting Battambang, even if you are looking for Cambodia of the past. In certain parts time has stood still. This wasn't my first time in the city, nor the last. Having seen the "must sees" (Phnom Banan, Phnom Sampeau, Bamboo Train, Ek Phnom...) on a previous visits, I had a special agenda in mind: old colonial buildings and urban decay.
The weather Gods provided a perfect mood settings for such task, the blue skies of the morning turned in to patchy grey and rain was hanging overhead eventually turning into a drizzle. We headed to the abandoned Pepsi factory which has been left untouched since mid 1970's. Not knowing what to expect, we sneaked in and explored the complex of buildings; rotting concrete and maze of corridors providing living space for number of families, children playing, clothes drying and dogs too lazy to preted to care. Old wooden crates and bottles are still stored the way they were left on the last working day and to a collector's mind they whisper: cobweb covered treasure....secured by a rusty padlock behind old roller doors, ghosts from the past.
Looking for a road...
When the rain has passed we headed out again, into the fields, enjoyin the green open spaces of the surrounding fertile countryside. Getting lost a few times, covered in mud, we eventually found a way back to the city.
Train station, where time stood still
It was a flying visit.
The next morning, rising early with the chanting and ting-a-ling-a-ling wedding music (which follows me everywhere I go) we checked out of our cheap and cheerful hotel, had a quick brekky and were on our way again. Driving along we found another gem: the half restored Railway Station where a giant clock reads 8:00, unsure of the date. I could have spent hours there. Battambang also has a fair share of picturesque pagodas, but time was pressing.
Return journeys always seem to take shorter time than getting there and so, occasionally getting soaked by passing rain - nature's own airconditioning for the motorcyclist - we were back in Siem Reap.
Great weekend adventure with tons of photographs to get through at the end of it. It's a hard life...and I will definitely be heading back to Battambang soon!
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.