After my morning trip to Ta Prohm, we took a little break before our next adventure. I stopped in at a Thai restaurant in Siem Riep. Since Thailand is right next door to Cambodia and only a few hours from Siem Riep, there’s about as many Thai dishes on most menus are there are Cambodian ones. Sitting down, I was surprised to see that the menu was pretty similar to what the restaurants back home serve. However the Pad Thai was the best I’d ever had. Good stuff!
By then the day was getting pretty ridiculously hot. Where as the previous day had been overcast, today it was nearly all merciless, relentless sun. As we drove out to a small village on the outskirts of town so that I could shoot more portraits, my head sagged and nodded off into sleep - tired from the many days of early starts.
30 minutes of driving led us to the countryside where rice paddies lay open but for the small berms that divided the plots and held the water needed to drown the rice crops. April is the end of the dry season so there were few crops being grown and the fields were a mix of brown and green. Once in the village, nothing more than an open bar with a small store and place for locals to hang out, I got out and set to work finding subjects.
I have to admit, I was still a little reluctant at this point to approach people. I didn’t know the language and not sure how well I’ll be received. Asking the often busy adults to stop for a photo wasn’t easy for me. Plus there just weren’t that many out and about. The kids on the other hand were more than ready and willing to jump in front of the camera.
With the sun ruthlessly bearing down, my enthusiasm for shooting quickly waned. 90 degrees doesn’t seem all that hot, but mix in the high humidity and the climate becomes debilitating. I often thought about the American men who were drafted into the Army to fight in nearby Vietnam. I can imagine them stepping off the plane and thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?” The heat, the rain, everything so different from home. And then to get shot at. I felt lucky to be a casual tourist with no place to be nor hard work to attend to.
After less than an hour, we happily retreated to the air conditioning of David’s Landcruiser and rumbled along some back roads to our next stop - which honestly, I wasn’t sure where that was to be. We stopped amidst a couple rows of outdoor clothing stalls and a mound of smelly trash tossed right off the road. On a side note, if I were the ruler of a third world country, the first thing I’d do is make trash collection a national priority. Once the trash starts piling up, pride of ownership goes down and the entire place becomes an undesirable dump.
Anyhow, I was happy to see that our destination was a huge lake occupied by numerous cabanas along it’s shore. And one of them was for us! With great joy, I ordered a Tiger beer from one of the locals. As I mentioned in a previous post, Cambodians don’t really have bathing suits - certainly not bikinis (nor Speedos for all you Euros) so the adults just go in wearing whatever they have on. Which I happily did too.
As I was standing in the West Baray lake shooting, I began to feel something like an animated grass brushing up against me. It soon dawned on me that I was being grazed upon by small fish that were enjoying the skin of my feet and ankles. In town they are many shops with tanks of these fish set up so, for a dollar or so, you can sit on top of them and have a fish foot massage of sorts. I was getting the treatment for free. Still, I hoped there wasn’t something more menacing as a follow-up. But the locals didn’t seem to be worried so I just put it out of mind.
In between naps, I headed out into the water to snap photos of the kids doing what kids everywhere love to do: play and jump in the water. The kids took pleasure in jumping in my general direction which was fine but for the fact that my camera and lens kept getting soaked. Water spots on the lens just won’t do!
In a way, I feel like taking photos of kids, especially third world kids, jumping in the water is almost a cliche. I’ve seen so many of them over the years. To that, I answered myself in saying that I still like my images and if this was all I had then I’d have a right to be disappointed. In many ways I feel like a National Geographic photographer covering the story of the people and place from all angles. Maybe I should send them my portfolio? Hmmm…
At any rate, taking a nap in the cabana, wet from wading in the water, was such a welcome relief. One thing that I especially enjoyed is that this was truly a local’s destination - there was maybe one other tourist there. Everyone was so friendly with nothing but smiles from everyone. Unlike Southern California, beer drinking was not only allowed, it was almost to be expected. A mere raise of one’s hand and a woman from a shop would quickly bring out a cool, but not quite cold, Cambodian Tiger beer. Paradise was just a few degrees away.
Note the steps down to the beach - the only way down too. The top step is missing, the steps are almost two normal steps apart, the beams are narrow and angled back. Even sober, walking up and down them is no easy task. I’m surprised there’s not bones down below from all the wounded drunken warriors who fell through the gaps and couldn’t get up.
Though I would have been happy to continue to sit in the hammock and do nothing, there were more temples to visit so off we went.
The moment after I snapped this photo, I took a step back. In one hand I had my iPhone and in the other my Canon 5D MII. My foot stepped into a foot deep hole. I fell backwards my feet flying into the air, cameras skidding into the dirt. Though dazed and laughing at my klutziness, I was intact as were my now dirt covered cameras. The guys came running as I brushed myself off. Although I laughed it off, inside I was damn happy I didn’t sprain or break something as my ass hit the ground.
Preah Khan is a huge temple complex that’s only partially been restored. Its long hallways that give way to the creeping jungle give it its own sort of spooky feel.
Found this monkey swinging from a tree vine…
The ancient Khmer ruler who built Preah Khan dedicated this temple to his father. Like its neighbors, it’s awe-inspiring and beautiful. Probably my second favorite of the trip. Still, at this point I was on temple overload - which wasn’t helped by the fact that even in the late afternoon, it was still sauna-like hot.
I felt much like I did towards the end of my stay in Florence. After awhile, each painting, no matter how stunning, becomes just another masterpiece and loses much of its impact. As much as I enjoyed the sights and felt lucky to be here, I was also relieved when we headed back to the car for the short trip back to Siem Riep and my hotel.
Can’t believe that tomorrow is my last full day in Cambodia. I’m looking forward to something completely different. Stay tuned!