Hurray there are Monkeys

2014-03-07

Kampong Cham, Cambodia

I took a bus back to KC. It was long, but uneventful. Once back we continued on our similar routine with Kim working during the day, and me sightseeing. One of the more interesting trips around the city was to so called Man Hill (Phnom Pros). I was told that there were monkeys there, and I was not disappointed. We Found a great tuk-tuk driver in front of the bus station. I say we, because I made the trip with an Ugandan friend of the head of mission for MSF. He was a likable fellow, and I really enjoyed hearing about his life back in Africa, but he was not a photographer and so he had little interest while I was shooting photos of the monkeys. At one point he said, “You really like da monkeys!” I tried to explains that of all the pictures I took I was hoping for just one or two great ones, but I am not sure he got it.

Finally monkeys!

Anyway, there were monkeys everywhere. Running around on the Buddhist temples, in the courtyard. In fact they surrounded me. I wished I had brought some bananas, but they seemed happy to just steal my water bottle.

By the way the temples and statues were nothing to ignore either. What a great time I had.

 

And now the Seventh Wonder of the World

2014-03-03

Siem Reap, Cambodia

My hotel in Siem Reap was really out of the way. So much so that no one seemed to know exactly where the hotel was. That seems to have become a theme for this trip. Booking online is easy. Finding it after you have booked it seems to be the challenge.

Entering the town of Seim Reap

Anyway, after circling the city a few time we finally found it. It was far from downtown, but fairly close to the Ankgor Wat ruins. The free breakfast started at 7:00am, so I told my driver to meet me at 7:30. By then the sun had already risen a good bit and it was very toasty. The entrance to the ruins were about a 15 minute drive. After paying the $40 US fee for three days of entry–by the way they took my picture and put it on my pass–we were finally on our way.

And now, onto one of the Seven Wonders of the World! The road was really starting to fill up with bicycles, tuk-tuk’s and minivans. After we entered the park, it was still a long long way to the Ankgor Wat ruins. My guide book suggested that I leave the largest and finest set of ruins till last, but my driver would have nothing of it, and drove me right to the main entrance. It was massive! Surrounded by a gigantic mote it must have been a mile square. There was a stone walkway/bridge which even at this early hour, by then it was 8:30 am, was filled with people. I just kinda of shuffled along, almost in a daze, with everyone else. It was hard not to just shoot a million pictures. Everywhere you turned there was a magnificent view. Once I finally entered the courtyard things really started to get exciting. Of course all of the shots had people in them, but I reasoned that they would just give scale to the massive stone structures. I also promised myself that tomorrow I would, forgo breakfast and get a much earlier start.breakfast and get a much earlier start.breakfast and get a much earlier start.

I took the better part of two hours to just skim the surface of all of the nooks and crannies. These people really loved to line things up, so that if you were looking down a narrow tunnel,, at the end was a view of a majestic statue, or stairs, or another entrance, or in most cases another bunch of bunch of tourists.s It was easily to get turned around. There were 4 entrances that were a good bit apart, but I finally found the right way out. My driver Crystal was waiting patiently.

As soon as I got back in the tuk-tuk we were off again. The distance to the next set of ruins was very long. I had thought about bicycling the route the next day, but after I saw the distances and the heat, I booked Crystal for the next day also. This first day I finished up at 3:30 and when I returned to the hotel I slept the sleep of the dead. I was so whooped I immediately fell into a drug like induced coma, and didn’t get up until 7:30 pm. On at whim I called Crystal, and asked him to bring me to downtown.

Pub Street in downtown Siem Reap

I was not ready for downtown. It’s as if all of the crowds from the ruins made their way to Night Market and Pub Street. Pub Street was especially full, with one after another restaurants of all types. I picked one at random called the Temple. I tried to get a table on the street, but they were all taken. Inside, to my delight was a large flat screen TV with two pool tables. I ordered a drink, a pizza, and decided to shoot a game of pool.

Afterwards I strolled down the night market until I came to a store with a big neon sign that proudly proclaimed, “NorthFace.” Now this I got to see! I bought a pair of NorthFace pants, because remember I had tourn pants, because remember I had torn the seat out of my last pair.

The next two days were an exact repeat of this one, except of course that I got earlier starts. I found that I had a good two hours before the crowds started to arrive.

Even thought the trees are destroying the ruins I just love this shot!

Kim & I in Phnom Penh

2014-03-01

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Ok, now we are really in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia for some R&R. Kinda like a mini- vacation for Kim. All we had to do on Saturday was rest, relax, visit the sites, and Oh, yes Kim had to go to the local hospital to get the rest of her immunization shots. You know, rabies, typhoid, yellow fever. The usual fair for a tropical paradise.

So after a nice luxurious breakfast on the terrace of the Asia Tune Hotel. Yes, that is in fact the same one that I had booked the reservations at for my arrival in Cambodia, but I booked it a day earlier. But now, I was right on the money –time wise.

Our rooftop restaurant

We caught a tuk-tuk right out front of the hotel. We went directly to the hospital figuring we should get the most fun things out of the way first. Kim was thrilled to find out that indeed she only had to have one shot, and not the multiples that she had planned/dreaded on. An hour later and we were off to visit the sites. The first place we went was the Tuil Sleng Museum. Just your average high school that was turned into a torture camp during the Khmer Rouge. Like the Nazis, they also kept meticulous records of their victims. When the Vietnamese army liberated them (yes, that is the same army that we fought) in 1979, there were only 7 prisoners left alive! It seems that the only ones that made it were artists and photographers that could help document the torture. These paintings and photographers are plastered all over this ghost of a high school.

Truely saddened by this visit, we decided to try something more upbeat in the form a the Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda. Lonely Planet calls it a “oasis of calm with lush gardens and leafy havens.” Visiting the actual temples was my least favorite part. Just wondering around, taking photos on the grounds was awe inspiring. There were a lot of tourists, mostly oriental, visiting, but the grounds were large enough to easily accommodate them all.

After site seeing it was time to head back to our hotel. Always an adventure because the drivers pretend to know where you want to go, but they would just wonder around, sometimes aimlessly, giving the traveler an extra tour all for the price of the direct route.

Back at our hotel we showered, and took a nice long nap. Then we were ready to hit the streets again. This time going down to were the Mekong and the Tonle Sap River meet. A nice dinner was topped of by a slow sunset cruise on the river. We had everything from orange togaed Buddhist monks, to oriental tourists, to local lovers. It was a great way to wind down the day.

River cruise with the monks

On the way home we walked along the river-front Sisowath Quay, and stopped for a refressing scoop of ice cream. Back at our hotel we had a mixed drink on the rooftop bar. Great ending!

The next day was Sunday, and Kim decided that she had had enough fun for one weekend and she would go back to work in Kompang Cham, and I sadly, would take off the next day for a 6 hour boat trip up the Mekong to one of the seven wonders of the world. The Temples of Ankor!

 

2014-03-02

Phnom Pheyn, Cambodia

After another nice rooftop breakfast, I bid adieu to Kim. I wondered around the city, and watched Cambodian TV in my room (not as much fun as it sounds). In the evening I went back down to the riverfront, but it was not as much fun as it was when my wife was here.

However, by the next day it was time to stop feeling sad and get on with the adventure. And early morning tuk-tuk ride to the river where I bought my tickets for the “fast boat” ride up to the town of Siem Reap. The board was shaped like a gigantic cigar boat, but once we were underway it in fact moved at a very moderate clip. Most of the passengers either sat on the roof or on the bow of the boat. Mercifully, it was cloudy for most of the morning,

We passed hundreds of fishing boats, cargo boats, and we often had a good view of the so called floating villages. These were houses that were built on floats. They seemed to congregate in one area for a while and then move on. They also seemed to be complete wooden houses with balconies usually with metal roofs. It definitively was not like Sausolito in California, but it seemed like they were making the best of what must be a hard life. Anyway, for me they were very picturesque and you can believe that I put on my telephoto lens and snapped way too many pictures.

 

My First Days in Kampong Cham

2014-03-01
Phnom Pheyn, Cambodia

Well, believe it or not, I find myself back in the capital of Phnom Pheyn, but this time with Kim.

After arriving in Kampong Cham, I could see that Kim was really busy. Yes, yes, I knew that she had a real job, but somehow I thought that there might have been more free time. We did spend every evening together, but she was frequently preoccupied with thoughts of her next days work. So that meant that everyday I was free to go off and have an adventure. No problem there.

But first they, meaning Doctors Without Borders, asked me if I would re-photograph their chest X-rays. I jumped at the chance to get to see the hospital and maybe even help out. They, after all, were letting me stay in the MSF guest house. That was the least I could do. Apparently, they had photographed them twice before, but they must have not been good enough.

So the next day I met Dr. Pascal at the MSF office. We got on a couple of bicycles and made our way the few blocks to the hospital. I followed her to the X-ray viewing room, really just a small dark room with a light box. I think it was also her office. I setup and photographed 64 X-rays in all. Just in case there was an exposure problem, I recorded each one twice.

I setup my camera on a plastic tripod that they had, and I used my remote timer to trigger each photo. I was a little nervous seeing as I had a new as yet untested camera.

I had a nice local guy for my assistant. He put up each slide, and when I was done he changed them out, so it went very quickly. In about an hour I was done. Then Dr. Pascal asked me to photograph the hospitals exterior as a favor for her. I few clicks and I was done. When I asked her what I should do with the bicycle, she said why don’t you just continue to use it while you are here.

That has made all of the difference in the rest of the week that I spent in Kampong Cham. Aside from just tooling around town, I made several excursions out into the country side.

The first trip was to the so called Bamboo Bridge. After a nice breakfast in town, I headed out along the Mekong River looking for the bridge. It was right on the outskirts of town. You really couldn’t miss it. It was just as they called it, a huge long bridge made entirely of bamboo. It stretched from the shoreline about a half a mile to an island. I road my bike down the hill to it making frequent stops along the way to photograph it from all angles. When I got down to the beginning of the bridge I decided to walk my bike. Partly because it looked a little dangerous, what with all the motorbikes, tuk-tuk’s, and cars, but also because I intended to take a whole hell of a lot of pictures. It’s not very day you see a bamboo bridge.

As you can imagine, there was quite a lot of flex to the bridge. Especially when a truck would role by. They seemed to constantly be doing maintenance on it. I thought to myself that that was probably a good thing.

It took me the better part of an hour to cross. I made frequent stops. I was amazed by where I was. It was so surrealistic! Here I was just a few days ago freezing my ass off in Pipe Creek Texas, and now I was in Cambodia crossing the Mekong River on a bridge made entirely of bamboo… on a bicycle. This was one of those memories that give you flashbacks for the rest of your life and I intended to savor it as much as I could.

Reaching the other side there was a makeshift toll booth where they asked me for 4000 riels–a dollar. I paid it and got back on my bike and started pedaling through the village. Some of the single lane rode was paved, but most of it was just dirt. The road seemed to go on forever, so that after pedaling for over an hour I turned around. I had passed an amazing looking Buddhist Temple along the way and decided to stop and photograph it. I was not disappointed. There was a crudely scratched sign on a post that said $1, but I never found anyone, or any place to leave a donation.

The first thing that struck me was the contrast between the beauty of the temple and the grounds, and the squaller that most of the towns people lived in. If there is a god, I just know that that is not what he had intended money to be spent on. By the way, I see the same condition all over the world, including the US.

Nonetheless, I had a great time walking around and photographing the site. The detail of the architecture and carvings was just stunning. It was so peaceful and serene and calming being here. I could see why the orange clad monks that you saw everywhere you went in Cambodia, always had such a wonderful smile.

Just as I was about to leave the island I saw a small road leading to a campground and restaurant. 10 minutes later, and I found a wonderful funky place, with an open air restaurant. I had a delicious breakfast–again–while gazing out at the Mekong delta with all it’s birds and butterflies.

Before I crossed the bridge I stopped to photograph it from the beach. There were a lot of large beached wooden boats. It looked like they were using them to make the matts of bamboo used for the decking.

I slowly crossed the bridge again, and road on back to town stopping along the way at the funky smelly crowded market to buy some exotic kinds of fruit. What a great day!

2014-02-26
Kampong Cham

Does it seem like I am going backward in time to you? Now you know how I feels to be halfway around the world. If I wanted to make it even MORE confusing as I write this I am actually in Siem Reap visiting the temples of Angkor Wat. But that is a story for another day. You see I am a little behind in my story telling.

Anyway, the next day, I think, was Wednesday. Kim and I shared some coffee on the terrace overlooking the Mekong River. By 6:30am she was off to work in the hot, humid coolness that passes for a morning.

Having breakfast on the terrace

Kim off to work

I pedaled my bike to town, had a nice egg and rice breakfast, and decided that I would explore in the opposite direction from yesterday. Kim had told me that there was a pretty nice Buddhist temple, and there was. The problem was that I reached it in about 5 minutes. Not wanting to let the morning go to waste, I kept on cycling until I hit a small town market. It was very crowded. It almost blocked the street entirely. I walked my bike through it, but instead of following the paved road, which veered inland, I took the walking path that followed along the River. There were many simple houses along the way. At first I thought that it might be a dangerous thing, but I quickly figured out that it was very safe. Most people ignored me, unless I directly engaged them. That is except for the kids. They all said, “hello, hello, hello…” And repeated it until I replied , “Hello.” When I added, “Goodbye,” that seemed to stymie most of them. The parents, for the most part we quiet, but seemed to beam pride when their little 2 year old said, “Hello!” I don’t know what that was all about, but it was nice to interact anyway I could with the villagers.

Soon, I came upon 3 men using a gigantic hand saw to cut 1″ planks out of a very large timber. I just couldn’t help myself, so I just stopped and stared. They ignored me for a few minutes, but when I asked, by sign language, if I could take a photo, their faces came alive. They nodded that it was OK, but when I got there one of the men said he wanted to take a photo of me sawing the planks. I was a little reluctant to give him my new expensive camera, but I put it on automatic, handed it to him, and climbed up. I think they thought that I would not be able to do it, but after sawing about a foot in a perfectly straight line they seemed duly impressed. I even got a pretty nice photo of me in the process!

I climbed down and was on my way again. Not too much further, was some guys firing a strange form of local brick. They were stacking them in a huge oven. It looked like they were getting ready to start a fire. Again, I just stopped and stared and soon I was invited to come have a look. A few more photos later, smiles all around and I was on my way.

A few miles later the path ended. I stopped, had a couple of sips of water, and went up the hill to the paved road. I got back on my bike. Even though the road was mostly flat there was a stiff head wind. Also it was close to noon now and probably about a 100 degrees. I got pretty sweaty very quickly. After stopping for a warm coke at one of the many roadside stands, I pushed on until I got back to the Buddhist temple. Wow, another incredible compound. So beautiful and peaceful. Almost in a medatative state I wandered around for about an hour. No one seemed to mind, so a again took plenty of shots.

Back at the guest house, I turned on the air, took a shower and laid down for a much needed nap to wait for Kim to return from work.

2014-02-27
Kampong Cham

The next day was a slow day. It was the one before Kim and I were to take off on our extended vacation/vaccines trip to Phnom Pheyn. Oh yes, Kim has to go to the hospital there and get a series of injections.

And I had a list of errands to run. So after the usual coffee on the veranda, waving goodbye to Kim, I set off to the big city market. But first, I was feeling perky as I mounted my bike, so I set off on another adventure. This time I pedaled well past the bamboo bridge. About an hour later I came to another small village. There was a huge tent that blocked half the road, making it one lane only. I could see that it was a traditional Cambodian wedding. A gawked at it, but not enough to get invited, whitch I was afraid they would do.

I turned around and headed back to town. Reaching the market I had to find a small duffle bag to take on our trip. I had only brought a large roll-around suitcase. No one, and I mean no one understood what I was looking for. Finally I spotted a stall that had backpacks. I tried to sign, the shape and size of the thing I was looking for, but my charades had little effect. One particularly helpful old lady actually dialed someone on her cell phone, and handed it to me. The guy did kinda speak English, but he also couldn’t figure out what I wanted either no matter how many times, I shouted, “Duffle bag, suit case, backpack with a handle, to carry clothes in.”

I handed the phone back to the wrinkly old lady, thanked her with a little bow, and started to walk off. She grabbed me by the hand, and led me outside into the morning sunlight where a young man on a motorcycle was waiting for me. He motioned that I should get on the back, but I motioned that I had a bicycle. He then motioned that I should follow him, and off we went circling through the crowded streets. Ten minuted later we arrived at a small shop where a you man came out to the street to meet me. He said his name was something I couldn’t understand even though he repeated it in English five or six times. He took me over and showed me a variety of cooking pots. Examining them carefully for a few minutes I said that they were indeed nice, but I was actually looking for a suitcase-duffle bag. Oh, he got it now, and said I had to go back to the market where his mother was, but go to the opposite side of the market.

Follow Me!

I thanked him profusely, and drove off like I actually knew where I was going. Truth is, I didn’t even remember where the market was, let alone his mothers stall! I pedaled around aimlessly for a while until I found the market again. Actually, you could smell it long before it came into view. Eventually, I found a stall that had bags. They were more than I wanted to spend at $15, but I sprung for one anyway.

Leaving the market I happened to go by the store where the helpful guy was, I lifted the bag out of the front basket to show him that I got one. How much, he asked. Embarrassed I said $10. He shook his head to indicate that I had gotten taken advantage of.

Next up was a electric coffee-maker for Kim. She hated the coffee from Cambodia so much that I brought her two pounds of Starbucks. She had to go downstairs to the kitchen each morning to brew her coffee. Wouldn’t it be nice if she had her own coffee-maker in her own room? You think the duffle bag was hard? I will leave this one to your imagination, but in the end I did get one.

Next up was tickets for the bus to Phnom Pheyn. That was easy. Hey I’m starting too get the hang of this, I though to myself. For the final two challenges I had to cash a hundred dollar bill, and get some more minutes for my phone. That was a little more tricky. Cell service is incredibly cheap here. I got Sprint to unlock our iPhones before we left, so all I had to do was buy a SIM card for $2, and insert it in the phone. Then I had to purchase minutes. Most foreigners that I spoke to said that $1 was enough, but I also wanted internet access, so I purchased $5. After loading it onto my phone I got a text saying that I had 10,000 minutes available, but two days later I got another text saying that I only had $.97 left. It might have something to do with the fact that I found an option on my phone to create a wifi “hot spot”. Just for grins I created one and used it to log my iPad onto it. It worked great, but I guess it used up a few of those 10,000 minutes.

I found a cell shop and purchase another $5 worth. I wanted to ask the staff just what it meant, but no one spoke any English. Check-check, and I was done for the day. By now it was really hot, so I headed back to the MSF Guesthouse for some air conditioned relaxation.