Sunday, January 29, 2012

Part 3, Photographic Highlights of Siem Reap & The Temples of Angkor

Gentle reader, 

I’m limiting this article to just a few photographs.  These chosen from over 500, may not be the same ones I would choose the next time I look at the group.  The truth is this:  The area is a photographer’s paradise.  I posted just under 200 at  Enjoy! 

During my time in Seam Reap I stayed at the Tan Kang Angkor Hotel, and am happy to recommend them.  Their website is 

Like most other tourists, I headed for the ancient temples of Ankor.  The first stop was at Ta Prohm.  It’s fascinating because it’s been left in pretty much the same condition in which it was found many years ago.  Current noterity includes the fact that Ta Prohm was used to film scenes from Lara Croft, Tomb Raider starring Angelia Jolie.
Hey Movie Lover!  Does this look familiar? 
I went through some of Angkor Thom realizing that I would want to come back at a better time to do some serious photography.  Too much direct sunlight for my taste, and way too many tourists to allow for a pleasant and leisurely visit.  Still I’m delighted to have made this adventure.

My driver took me to Angkor Wat for sunrise.  Next time I’ll have a better idea for photographing this most famous of all temples.  This day provided a delightful self guided tour.  I met a delightful young lady from China and we spent two or more hours photographing together. Her nick name is 11 (Turns out this is because she has a friend whose nick name is 7).  I sort of got the humor and immediately chose 44 as my nickname for the day.  Next time I come back to Cambodia I’ll allocate an entire day to Angkor Wat.
Number Seven ! 
The Banyon is also a place where I would like to spend a whole day.  This is a marvelous complex of some 37 towers each with faces carved upon them.  Most have 4, but some have two or three.  As the light changes this place is truly a photographers dream.

Banteay Srei is another of my favorites. Just as we arrived there was a commotion of sorts.  A man with an small parade following him was chanting loud enough to be heard for some distance.  Mr. Va, my driver, explained that the man was removing some unwanted spirit that was occupying his body.  The spirit would leave him once her arrived at the center of the temple at Banteay Srie.   This is another temple where it would be well worth the time to spend the whole day.
Ghost be gone! 

It’s not just about temples.  Mr. Va recommended we spend a sunset on the water at Kompong Khleang.  The boat was expensive, $40.00 USD.  Had I known and had I wanted to trouble my self I could have recruited another 3 tourists and we would have all gone for $10 a head.  However, this was delightful because for the evening and the sunset there were no other crowds.  A few boats in the water, but on my boat there were just three including Mr Va myself and the boar driver.

In Seam Reap there are photo opportunities, but I spent most of the day light hours outside of town.  The night market provided one nice shot and I thought it a fitting end to this little 3 part story.

Abundant Blessings, 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Part 2 Cambodia, Initial Impression on a First Trip

Gentle Reader,

As the title implies my intention is to return to Cambodia.  I find it to be welcoming, extremely interesting and quite unique.  I could return for another vacation, but would not want to do so in early January. I'm happy for the locals, the tourist business is booming.  For me, wanting to be civil and still get a decent photograph amongst hordes of tourists and tour groups, it's frustrating. It's not the ugly Americans here, we are in a minority.  The Koreans, Russians and Chinese are predominant.  Maybe I'll return during the rainy season.  Exactly when is another question.
Tourists Lined up to watch the Sun rise at Ankor Wat January 5, 2012
As it was I came back with over 800 images which I managed to cull to something over 500.  Of those I’ve put just under 200 in PhotoBucket.  You can see them at

There is much written about the border scams and how to avoid them.  Here is what I learned which might save you a few baht / dollars / pounds:  On the Thai side simply walk to the departure stations.  You either have your visa from somewhere else, or you get a visa on arrival in Cambodia.  The Thai visa stations are a scam. They charge you at least twice what it's worth.

Walk across and go to the visa on arrival office. Now you are Poipet Cambodia!  You will need your passport, a passport photo, $20 US.  For whatever reason the Cambodians are now asking for an extra 100 Baht.  (Scam creep from the border)? I didn't have 100 baht visible, they settled for 90.   After the visa is in your passport and your passport is in your hand go get on the free bus.  It will take you to the big bus station on the outskirts of Poipet.  The Cambodians took a lot of grief about scams. There were several comments on different websites indicating the scams were so bad that avoiding Cambodia might be a good idea. Lonely Planet apparently collected tons of complaints. The Cambodian government responded by providing free transportation to the big bus station, which was no doubt a government project. The Thai's have done nothing.  Not surprising as they are not at risk of losing revenue at the departure point. I've never seen a scam at a Thai arrival point. I've regressed, gentle reader.  Take the free bus!  Our driver was instant that we board immediately.  No time for a restroom stop.  Turns out there were better, cleaner restrooms at the big bus station anyway.

At the big bus station several options are available.  I took a $10 seat on a van.
Two hours later I was in Seam Reap.  The highways are in really good condition.  The van drops you off at a central location where you will be met by an ample number of tuk-tuk drivers.  It's fine to barter and if you don't find one pleasant to deal with just choose another.

My driver was Va, I used him for all the time I was there.  Nice enough fellow who knows the area and can help you find anything you want. He has good ideas for photo times.  Sometimes he disagreed with the venerable Lonely Planet.  Most of the time we went with his suggestions, but he is very sensitive to what the customer wants.  His price to me was $20 a day.  Maybe I could have found one cheaper, but maybe not.  It was money well spent.

My Driver Va, and his Tuk-Tuk
The people are small, gentle and serene.  They do not automatically smile as tends to be the habit in most of Thailand.  However when they do smile it's genuine. Most would light up a room!  The amazing thing, at least to me, is that after all they have been through in the past half a century they seem to not hold a grudge. I say they are gentle, but they are also warriors when they need to be; heck, the national sport is Cambodian Kick Boxing.  One day I’ll return and photograph expressions and feelings. There is much to be photographed, learned and written.
The cleaning ladies at the Tan Kang Angkor Hotel where I stayed.
The recent history of these people includes the ravages of the Vietnam war.  America’s involvement included support of the Khmer Rouge.  The Khmer Rouge killed as many as 4,000,000 of their fellow Cambodians!  America dropped of thousands of tons of bombs on their Cambodia. The Vietnamese invaded and, using Cambodian forced labour, put down a mine field that stretched the length of the entire Thai / Cambodian border.  This ordnance is still killing and maiming people!  When I visited the land mine museum and the war museum I was amazed at some ot the things I saw, including unexploded Russian bombs, artillery and explosive devices from America, China, Russia and even Bulgaria.  
My guide at the War Museum.  He spent 4 years as a
demo man in the Cambodian Army fighting the Khmer Rouge! 
I’ll leave you with these rather hard facts and close this with a promise to post another article about my trip to Ankor Wat and a few of the other amazing highlights around Seam Reap Cambodia.

Abundant Blessings,

Monday, January 02, 2012

Part 1 Chiang Mai to Nan Rong and "The Talk" with Maliwan's parents

Gentle reader,

This was written in an internet cafe where I was, by at least 50 years, the oldest customer.  The rest are playing internet games and chattering among themselves. The noise level is such that this will be a good lesson in concentration and maybe an even better lesson in patience.  (I'd really like to unplug a couple sets of speakers, but it's best I remember that all things are impermanent and this shop is here for everyone's pleasure).  Being on the road I without my computer there will be no attempt to include photographs now; I may come back and add a few once I return home to Chiang Mai I think I have a couple of good ones so far.

As you can imagine I'm quite a bit taller than the average Thai and sometimes that presents challenges.  Where to sit on a long bus trip, being one of them.  I learned that if you are in the first seat on the right hand side of the VIP bus there is a storage shelf directly infront of you and at just the right height.  Unlimited leg space is a wonderful thing.  Failing that most seats on the VIP bus are O.K.  The first seat on the left has no room and the legs get quickly cramped.   This is all true, except that if the VIP bus is not a double decker then the first seat has no leg room.  Maliwan bought the tickets to Nan Rong in good faith and was even told the seats had plenty of leg room.  Oh well, the trip was only 13 hours!   Make sure you know which bus style you are buying tickets for, or you could end up with a leg cramp.

For me, main event was "The Talk" with Maliwan's parents about the wedding.   As I write this Maliwan is going to the temple with her mother to talk to the monk and pick the "lucky day".  Who know?  We might have it settled before this gets published.   I'd like to back up here and tell you a little bit about Thai culture, but realize that I feel grossly unqualified to explain any of it.  Having said that this wedding has an importance that I had not considered.  Maliwan's mother feels she has lost face in the village because of her children's divorces, carrying on and so forth. What happens in a small village is gossip and bad mouthing. The upcoming wedding is an opportunity for her parents to "show off" some good from one of their children.  My cultural ignorance leaves me with the best choice being just to go along with the flow.

Maliwan and her parents
My dear friend, teacher and adviser Khun Lek gave me some suggestions about negotiating this wedding.  One of her suggestions was that we should have the ceremony and the party at a hotel.  That way we could control the cost.  In the village it would be acceptable for people to run down to the store for more beer or what ever and just put it on my tab.  Now I'm all in favor of a good party but since I don't drink I'm not going to be in the mood to spend a fortune so other people can get blitzed for free. Lek also gave me some suggestions about negotiating the dowry.   In this culture the groom is expected to give a dowry to the brides family.

So we had "the talk" and her father suggested a dowry and then I suggested a dowry and also mentioned that I intended to have the wedding at a hotel.   The dowry wasn't much of an issue but her mother was devastated by the hotel idea.  Old people would not be able to attend, problems would happen, it would be more expensive and on and on. Clearly it was very important that the wedding and the party be in her home, as tradition dictates.  We hit a brilliant compromise,  the wedding will be at their home, I increased the dowry and her mother will pay for the whole party.  That provides the advantage of my not having to shuffle money into the booze store and let's her control the amount of the dowry that is left over after the party.  If she spends it all, that's fine with me, if she spends only a little, that's fine with me.

Gentle reader, the lucky wedding day is: 23 November 2012. The wedding will be in a small village known as Thabaag. It's about 5 kilometers outside of Nan Rong in Buriram Province. I'm not at all sure how many people will attend.  Most will be from the village, I'm told 20 or 30 but suspect the number may swell.  I have no expectations that any of my family will attend, though they will be invited.  Actually I do have one niece who is trying to make arrangements, I'd be so delighted if she could make the trip. I really have no idea what will happen at this wedding.  The legal marriage may be the act of signing the government papers, not sure if we do that in Nan Rong or Chiang Mai.  Likely is matters not. I asked if we would go to the temple, and was told no.  We will tamboon with the monk, but that's not an actual part of the wedding ceremony.  It's going to be a village celebration at the home of Maliwan's parents.
Rot is really Maliwan's dog, but he likes to hang out with me 

Maliwan's great niece, I love the light in this one

Gun, Maliwan, Kwanjai, and the parents

Roof tops, Nan Rong 
I had lunch with Maliwan the day this article was originally posted.  She asked a very interesting question.  Why do I have this blog?  I received some good feedback from a couple of friends. The blog will continue, though it may take a slightly different path in the future.  More feedback would be welcome.

Abundant Blessings,