Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’

Top SOTMs From The World Tour

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

934631_894563031536_987718179_nThe messages I heard from my SOTM subjects during my trip around the world fell into various categories.

Some were of hope, of ambition, of a wish for a better world. Others of advice, wisdom passed between generations. Sometimes they were a desire for loved ones not to follow the same path as the person who spoke to them.

Some were just plain sad. Others, hilarious. But they showed how much fun it is, how difficult it can be and how fragile a thing it is to be alive and around others.

I’m pleased that I got the breadth I was looking for in my subjects. I visited townships in South Africa, wealthy apartments in Dubai, a Korean school for girls, Japanese guest houses and the Australian outback, among so many other places. I found people willing to share their stories in all of them.

As difficult a task as it’s been to make such choices, here are some of my favourite SOTMs from the trip that circled the globe which I undertook from June 2013 to May 2014, across 20 countries, capturing hundreds of people’s stories along the way.

There are many more that are similarly great, and my original plan of choosing a top 10 was soon abandoned. So this isn’t a definitive list, and there are many gems from the tour not seen here but visible on the SOTM site. Just browse the map, or for World Tour in the site’s search engine, to see them all.

Click on any of the images here to see their page on the Someone Once Told Me website and, where appropriate, their translation pictures.

09022014I spotted Boy in Manila’s North Cemetery in the Philippine capital. I was taken with how he looked, just as he was, with the tomb where he lived in the background. So that’s exactly where I took his photograph.

His friend, who was ill himself, once told him: “Stop Smoking And Drinking

01052014I met Timmy in Club Charles, a hipstery bar in Baltimore, USA. Film director John Waters was also in there, as apparently it’s one of his favourite bars.

After his photo, Timmy told me a story of how he wanted to be prom king, and how his girlfriend provided a twist to his quite gripping tale.

The whole time I was wondering how come he was talking about a girlfriend, because he was clearly a gay man.

Afterwards he explained how he now had a wonderful boyfriend, and it all made sense again.

01012014I’m a big fan of proverbs. They’re very much in the same vein as Someone Once Told Me quotes, and this one is a sort of proverb, excitingly in Khmer.

Malin told me in Phnom Penh how her Cambodian father once told her: “Don’t Live Like A Snake, Don’t Die Like A Frog” What excellent advice.

01032014Lisa chose to share a fable that she heard from a Kenyan conservationist. Again, fables are just up the SOTM street, being passed on through the generations and lodging in memories along the way.

We met at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Lisa plans to do her bit for conservation, and got inspiration from this phrase which is a wonderful lesson about doing what you can, no matter how little influence it will have.

I later learned that Mandela never visited the university, even though it had been named after him – but then, many things are named after him and he probably didn’t have time to see them all.

04092013Mel’s story is one of love, coming from the mouth of her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. Mel clearly didn’t like being in front of the camera, but I’m really glad she agreed to pose by the sea in Sliema, Malta.

Her grandmother once told her: “You Are Beautiful”

05092013Miu’s story, captured in Kyoto, Japan, is one of a passion for education, a parent’s desire for their children to be educated. Her mother, tight for money, would tell her: “I’ll Buy You Any Books You Want”

06042014Israel’s story is a lesson worth remembering. A financial expert, he explained to me in New Orleans, USA that a client of his taught him how whatever you save for, whatever you plan for, something will always crop up and need money to be spent on it.

So get used to it, because that’s just life.

07062014Matt once talked to a homeless guy in the States, who told him this.

I told him I agreed, how it was a great and upbeat phrase, not one you’d think someone who’s homeless would come up with.

“Thanks,” Matt said. “Can I interest you in a ‘Best Day Of My Life, No Big Deal‘ wristband?’

That was in January 2014, in Manila, Philippines. I’m still wearing it now.

08072013Aldo is a brave soul, because he’s the goalkeeper for San Marino, an international football team which doesn’t have many players to choose from, on account of the nation having some 30,000 inhabitants. He once let in eight goals against England and, famously, 13 against Germany.

However, he also once stood between the sticks against the might of the Italian national side, who peppered his goal with shots. He let in four but it should have been much more, if it weren’t for his cat-like performance that day.

After the game, a fan tweeted him a message that literally translated as: “You Played Incredible”

08102013This is a cute story, told by the adventurous and not a little handsome Cameron. But it also features a wriggling baby crocodile in Darwin, Australia, so simply had to make this list.

10022014Aruna has a beautiful tale of how her father cheered her up, by sending her this message on a postcard when she was a lonely teenager. She posed on the Thai island of Koh Lanta with a little help from her son Shaan, who’s holding the postcard in question.

The phrase means: “The Good That One Does Has No Immediate Recompense: It Will Come By & Of Itself”

11092013I met two women in South Africa’s Port Elizabeth called Mama Gladys. Both looked after children, one in an orphanage, the other a creche. The latter is the Mama Gladys that you see above.

She runs a creche in Walmer township, a rather tough place. She said she was concerned about the welfare of some of the local children, so she began a place where their parents could leave them when they went to work, or were just unable to look after them.

Her quote, written in Xhosa, means: “The Creche Is The Good Idea” which one of her friends told her, when encouraging her to start the venture up.

But something remarkable happened when I was perched on a rickety chair, taking two photographs of Mama Gladys – one in Xhosa, the other in English – and her wriggling charges.

She dug a mobile out of her considerable bosom, took a call, then tucked the device away again, revealing softly that her sister in law had died.

You can see the difference in her expression in the two photos on the SOTM site.

14072013Fabio Lamborghini is the definition of charisma, as you might expect from the nephew of Ferrucio, the inventor of the supercar which still bears his surname today.

Fabio said his Italian uncle once told him: “Fabio, The First Secret For Getting Money Is To Economise. Don’t Spend Too Much. Remember!”

Fabio didn’t seem to see much irony in his millionaire uncle, who made cars that only the super-rich can afford, telling his family to watch their spending.

He also said he took one of the Lamborghinis out each weekend.

Me: “Do you drive fast?”

Fabio: “Yeeeees.”

Me: “What do the local police think about that?”

Fabio: “Nooooo, they are very happy. Sometimes I give them the keys to one of the cars and tell them to borrow it for the weekend. So they are happy.”

Everyone’s a winner here, clearly.

16082013This one gets on the list because Michele, a bar owner in the tiny town of Bagno di Romagna in Emilia Romagna, Italy, once heard soldiers from the French Foreign Legion singing it in Albania. And I love that.

It means: “Doubt Maybe… Give Up Never”

16122013Not only do I totally agree with this, it also contains Benedicta’s dazzling smile and a view of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The line at the top of the pad, above the ‘n’ in ‘things’ is a hair pin, because the page ripped. It wasn’t one of mine.

17022014I wrote about Pete soon after I’d met him in Hong Kong. He went from compering at a comedy club and rolling out the laughs for the entire audience, to weeping in my arms an hour or so later, after recounting the story of his dead mother. One of my most remarkable SOTM experiences.

20082013First time in Austra, and Vienna. There I met a rocket scientist, Ryan – another first. Turns out he was once told this, as well. Brilliant.

21082013Not only a great quote, this sums up the Google generation and yet,  according to Julika, it came from a Latin teacher who looked like Julius Caesar. I was pleased to get a slightly different view of the Eiffel Tower in the background. Her SOTM reads: “You Don’t Have To Know Everything – You Just Have To Know Where To Find The Answers!”

26112013Duncan is dsylexic and wanted his SOTM, taken at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to be written in his own way. So that’s what we did. An admirable chap. His SOTM says: “You Can’t Use Your Disability As An Excus”

28082013I took this picture of Doris at the Missionvale Care Centre, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Life there is tough, with high rates of unemployment, extreme poverty and widespread HIV infection.

So it was heartbreaking to hear Doris’ story, which clearly made a hard life even tougher. Her SOTM says: “Your Husband Went To Transkei” He left without a word and Doris doesn’t know why.

29082013Atakan was told: “Don’t Even Trust Your Father!” by his father as he was leaving home to travel to Istanbul for university.

What I like about it is that afterwards, Atakan told me fathers and sons have a close relationship in Turkey. His story demonstrated this.

10092013Another one from Missionvale Care Centre, a place I can’t get out of my head.

Linda, who helps run the place, said a handymen called Bishop was working hard one day, and when she asked him why he told her this. These pots are in the centre’s garden and commemorate people who have helped the place with their work, but who have now passed away.

Some months after this photo, Bishop, who showed me around the township on foot so I could photograph it, caught pneumonia and died. So his name will be on a pot now, I think. A really sad end to a powerful story, but I will cherish my afternoon wandering around Missionvale township, with Bishop, for the rest of my life.

31102013Sally was a shy girl, as were all her classmates. But I got a number of them to think of SOTM stories. This one was my favourite.

My love of proverbs means that I was always going to be charmed by this phrase, which is apparently such an old expression in Korea that Sally actually wrote it in Chinese characters.

It means: “After A Typhoon There Are Pears To Gather Up”

I like it so much I even use that quote myself, which is perfectly in the spirit of SOTM, of course.

It has been a blessing to have learned so much from so many fine people around the world.

SOTM World Tour – Ten Top Travel Photos

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

1660320_10153786052195241_1554794481_n“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” Robert Capa once said.

Unfortunately for the poor bugger, he got too close to a landmine one day. Still, this is one of my favourite ever quotes.

While he was clearly talking about getting close to your subjects – he was on one of the barges which landed on the Normandy beaches for D-Day – I also like to think that to get closer to the world is also to improve your photography.

And that’s what the SOTM World Tour did for me. It took me out into places I’d never heard of, to busy, neon-stained alleyways, across African plains with skies that last forever and fighting arenas stacked with sweating, shrieking, betting-slip brandishing crowds.

These are ten of my favourite images from my year-long trip around the world, from the many thousands that I took with my Nikon D5100, my iPhone 4S and then, toward the end, my Nikon D7100 after my 5100 fell apart. It was only a few months old but I guess world travel was just too much for it.

I’ve only ever self-taught myself how to take pictures, and being out in the world was the best lesson of all.

The top image shows pupils from Sekolah Rendah Batu Marang school, in Jalan Batu Marang water village, Brunei. The charming Kathy Wharton is their English teacher and she kindly took us around, showing us her school and the water village, perched on top of perilous-looking stilts, where her charges come from.

After I posted some of these images on Facebook my friend Helen, with whom I stayed, told me I’d “captured the real Brunei”. Which pleased me greatly.

999168_10153125055170241_2082429276_nThe throbbing Shibuya Crossing, in the heart of Tokyo, has many smaller roads and alleyways running away from its busyness.

The gentleman above was the waiter in a noodle place, cheap and very tasty, in one of these veins. I fully intended to return, so good was the food, but was distracted by Tokyo’s many other shiny attractions and never made it back.

So it’s fortunate that I did ask him for a photo upon my only visit. He didn’t speak English but when I smiled and pointed at my camera, posed with great confidence and grace. And I liked his white wellies.

1379715_10153361940225241_114641734_nWhen in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, I was taken to the remarkable Shamwari Game Reserve by my friend Kimberley. There I went on three safari rides and was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place.

One time we spotted a serval hiding in the bushes. I saw it twitch through my viewfinder and instinctively pressed the shutter. When I looked at the screen afterwards, this shot is what I saw. It’s my best action photo, I think.

1025647_10152945200410241_220286925_oThere isn’t that much to do in Geneva. It’s pretty enough and very clean, but a bit too sanitised for my liking.

But at least Lake Geneva has public pianos for people to tinkle. I saw this young woman sat at one while delving into her bag. My camera was completely the wrong exposure levels so I was rapidly adjusting dials, willing her to hold her position for a few seconds longer – when she looked up.

I knew my exposure was wrong, but took the shot as I liked what I saw in my viewfinder. The moment then passed.

I looked at the image I’d taken and it was virtually black, totally underexposed. But as I was shooting in RAW I had hope. When I got it onto my computer, I was able to change the exposure – and was thrilled with how it turned out.

So if you’re not shooting in RAW, you should consider doing so. There may come a time when it will save you.

1377245_10153328471465241_1474946143_nI have always wanted to visit Uluru, fairly in the centre of Australia’s outback. When I was a boy it was more commonly known as Ayers Rock.

But even though I was enthusiastic about it, I was still hugely surprised about just how hypnotic it is. Enormous, red, hugely different to the landscape around it, a monstrous pimple squeezed up from the earth, back when the planet was still being formed.

Looking at the rock during sunrise and sunset is to experience kaleidoscopic colours and shapeshifting shadows. You might think staring at a large rock can’t be that exciting, but somehow, it is. You’ll never feel old again when you consider how what stands before you came into being more than 600 million years ago.

Also, about 2.5km of Uluru is buried below the desert soil. Mind. Boggled.

I chose the shot above because I got Kata Tjuta in the background, once known as the Olgas. They’re a collection of 36 domes and in many ways are even more remarkable than their neighbour.

She’s the flashy one, who puts out with her russet looks, getting most of the attention, hogs all the postcards, while Kata Tjuta is visited as something of an afterthought, an added extra for tourists who’ve come to see the hot girl in the neighbourhood. But I loved them both.

1497771_10153699331050241_17606286_nThe Lumpinee stadium is beautiful because it’s fragile. It’s about to be knocked down and relocated, which makes the sweating, kicking, yelling all that more intense.

Like the last time you make love to someone you’re soon to part from, you savour everything because you know it won’t happen again. Their imperfections become adorable because it’s about to be all over.

Built in Bangkok in 1956, the stadium looks like it might not last too much longer. Look away from the shiny ring, where respectful Muay Thai fighter knee and punch and kick one another.

The apparently leaky ceiling is made of corrugated sheets, with many long-stemmed fans shivering like leaves on a trembling pond. The cheap seats aren’t even seats, they’re benches and people just stand anyway.

And the VIP seats are just part-plastic chairs, although they do afford an excellent view of the action. Despite this, I really wanted to move into better positions but was restricted to shooting where I was perched.

As a result, my 18-200mm Sigma lens came in handy, and of all the shots I got that night, this was my favourite. I turned it grayscale to add a bit more mood to the young man’s determined glare.

1656396_10153863531660241_1299583810_nI was on a food tour in Hong Kong and was taken to a dim sum place for breakfast by the smashing Laura, who runs Hello Hong Kong Tours. 

It was a local place for local people, and I loved it immediately. It’s one of the places in Hong Kong that still has people pushing food carts round, which supply you with your choice of dishes.

While there I spotted this chap walking around with a big metal kettle, topping up the ubiquitous Chinese tea that sloshes around in eateries all over the city. I was desperate to photograph him, he looked fantastic.

I grabbed some half decent shots of him at the next table, and then suddenly, out of nowhere he shimmered and appeared at our table, directly opposite me. I managed to take this photo, and then another.

I preferred the second image, but it’s not pin sharp because the focal point was over his shoulder. So after suffering that slight disappointment, I decided to have my camera on autofocus sometimes, especially in an unpredictable environment, to ensure that focus isn’t an issue at least.

After my shutter had flickered a couple of times, he spoke in Chinese and apparently said: “You have to pay me now, because everyone wants my photo, because I look like Buddha.”

We all laughed, and he said: “No, seriously, you have to pay me.” But he was joking, and when we left I shook his hand. It was like a lobster with a grudge.

1521421_10153707330765241_2000555735_nThere’s nothing so good for the soul as seeing a happy elephant.

There are plenty of these at the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand. These remarkable, beautiful creatures have been abused at some point, often by some of those in Thailand’s logging industry. The guilty ones must have black souls.

Eye-gouging, beatings, pelvises broken by forced matings, the stories run a chill though your blood. And if you ever want to ride an elephant, do bear in mind that they are beaten and broken as babies, treated horribly, in order to get them to allow humans to ride them – so don’t.

At least they are happy here in this sanctuary. This chap was having a damn good scratch of his nads on this concrete pole. Or it might be a female. I was too polite to ask.

photoWe were out of Kampot, at the very bottom of Cambodia, when a tremendous storm shattered overhead.

After making it back via a slightly traumatic tuk tuk journey, we found the town flooded. This is a common occurrence in these parts, and the population were clicking into gear, chucking out buckets of floodwater from shops and restaurants, using squeegees to push back the tides in a well-practiced fashion.

The local children seemed to delight in all the fuss. These two characters were going up and down the flooded road, so I got several shots of them with my camera. But this one was the first that I got, grabbed with my iPhone as they rode past and run through an Instagram filter.

It’s not totally sharp but captures their spirit best of all the ones that I took.

993629_10153064585165241_104983892_nThis lady lives in a shack in Missionvale township in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

She lives alone and says she is lonely. Someone told me later that her husband had died in a fire after they lit a stove indoors, which also destroyed all her possessions. She is also HIV positive and washes clothes for her neighbours, in exchange for food so she can go on living.

She has had her room tidied up by Missionvale Care Centre, a charity which does incredible work in the community. The floor is mud, so they’ve put mats down, but when it rains the ground is still soggy beneath her feet. The roof leaks also.

The light was perfect as she sat near the doorway, so I took her photo with her permission. I’m very fond of it, and yet it upsets me whenever I look at it.

The world is both a beautiful canvas to work with and a terrible sight to see. Thank you for looking at my pictures.

SOTM World Tour – Cambodia’s Temple History

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Angkor Wat is big. It’s famous. It’s so revered by Cambodians, it’s on the country’s national flag.

But is it any good?

I think it’s ok. It is worth visiting, but not for too long. Bits of it are impressive and as it’s regarded as probably the world’s largest religious structure, it demands respect.

The temple is actually part of the Angkor Archaeological Park, which contains the remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire that date from the 9th to the 15th century.

It’s the most famous site on the park, so we stopped there first. But really it’s just a huge temple complex, with many plain parts, and with lots of faded carvings which overwhelm by the sheer force of their numbers and lose their impact the longer you are there.

To give an example of its architectural splendour, Angkor Wat itself has more than 3,000 apsaras, or heavenly nymphs, carved into its walls, each one a unique design. There are 37 different hairstyles shared between them, also.

Now archeologically, that is remarkable. But seriously, how long do you want to stand around, looking at wall carvings? And while each might be unique, the differences are very subtle, so they don’t immediately strike you as individuals. While these are lovely carvings, how massively different do they look?

The carvings are superb, don’t get me wrong. You’ll note the faces of these ones are scratched out – that’s probably because the Khmer Rouge abolished religion and would often deface or behead any Buddhist imagery.

1461721_10153628956845241_1004384247_nAs I said, Angkor Wat is worth looking around for a while. Here’s some of what I saw.

This corridor was covered with carvings, depicting a variety of scenes, and as such this was a good place to linger and take it all in. Here’s a close up.

And here’s some of those lovely nymphs. Hello, ladies…

Here’s the best looking nymph of them all.

It was blisteringly hot that day, so any shady spot was highly desirable. I never noticed this before I posted this first photo, but check out the living Buddha on the left side.

The grounds are worth a quick look, but the best thing about what’s there is that it’s all so big and sprawled out. Otherwise it’s nothing special.


You can get up high in Angkor Wat and check out the view.

575443_10153628966215241_455528629_nWhich looks like this.

And this.

But after an hour, an hour and a half max – push off. There are much better sights to drink in, just down the road.

When we left Angkor Wat, Adventurous Kate and I hopped back into our tuk tuk, driven by the excellent Mr Mean.

Friendly, always laughing and smiling, handing out bottles of chilled water, you’ll struggle to find a nicer chap than Mr Mean.

I liked saying his name a lot, because it was so at odds with his demeanour. (It turns out you pronounce his name Me-An, but he introduced himself as Mr Mean, so it stuck). If you ever go to Siem Reap, visit New Angkorland hotel (a very decent place to stay and quite reasonably priced) and ask for Mr Mean as we booked him through its reception, so they should have his details.

He took us down the road to Bayon, part of the city of Angkor Thom and on the way you pass these fellows on a bridge with a once-grand entrance, making you feel like you’re entering a secretive, lost city which could count King Kong among its residents.

Now this place is more like it – smaller, and largely crumbled, it nevertheless has much more personality than Angkor Wat.

There are carvings here, but not so many that you become blasé about them.

There’s so much charm about this place.

Bayon is a Buddhist temple and has 37 towers, most sporting four carved faces.

1465214_10153628981530241_155999281_nThe many faces to be seen at Bayon are similar, but located in different parts and positions around the temple, making them very photographable. They’re thought to be of Loksvara, Mahayana Buddhism’s compassionate Bodhisattva, or perhaps a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman VII, the king who built the temple.

My money’s on the latter. You know kings and queens and authority figures everywhere – they give, but they like to be recognised for having done so.

1486833_10153628983875241_1211641003_nAfter a spot of lunch, Mr Mean expertly took us to my favourite part of the temple complex, the brilliant Ta Prohm.

I’ve a three-temple maximum, as I’ve previously mentioned in other blog posts. This was the third of the day, the best and one of the most remarkable I’ve ever seen.

1456061_10153628994570241_2080326739_nThis temple complex was abandoned for centuries, and as a result has been overgrown by giant trees, who have dismissed man’s feeble attempts at making a mark on the land, simply pushing their way past mere stone.

1461860_10153629012040241_179151178_nIt now looks like where Indiana Jones would go for a weekend break, and actually the first Tomb Raider movie was filmed here. Closest I’ll ever get to Angelina Jolie, probably, although I did used to live on the road where Lara Croft and her game was created, in Derby.   

Someone should tell the CIA that the FBI are now running overseas operations. And on a tight budget, clearly.

The place is quite eerie.

1497452_10153629002245241_1159445123_n

It made me wonder, again, what the world would look like if human life vanished from it.

These roots were so big, they now have to be supported.

I spotted this woman having her picture taken in one of the roots. This is clearly a theme of hers, but whatever it is, that dinosaur is quality.

What remains of the inside of the temple still has much to offer.

1456793_10153628999755241_91411417_nHere’s another Buddha to be found inside Ta Prohm.

Finally, Mr Mean took us to Banteay Kdei, a monastic complex which is in poor repair but is slowly being restored. Now this did break my three-temple rule, but despite feeling a touch of temple fatigue, I enjoyed seeing this one also.

The late afternoon light played happily with what is left of this mainly ruined site, and made for some interesting shapes.


This site may be ruined but it’s still worth a visit.

This kid was curious to see what was in the Big Blue Box parked near the temple’s entrance, but sadly for him there didn’t seem to be anything in there.

While inside we came across this Buddhist shrine. I was told that the Buddha’s head is new, because the Khmer Rouge beheaded it and destroyed the original.

The nun you see here gave Kate and I a blessing and tied coloured string round our wrists. I wondered if they’d last the week, but more than a month later, it’s still on both our wrists!

So if you go on the hunt for Cambodia’s temples, these are four that you should definitely check out, and you can do them in less than a day.

Finally, as we left Banteay Kdei, I bought a Coke for Kate, Mr Mean and me. The woman who sold them was a charmer – look at that smile!

That’s all for my time in fascinating, if occasionally frustrating Cambodia.

SOTM World Tour – Cambodia

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

DSC_0003I didn’t know what to expect from Cambodia. I was keen to go because Kate raved about the place, and also I wanted to delve into the history of the Khmer Rouge, a group whose name I knew but whose scale of crimes I was unsure of.

What I found was a complicated country, enriched by many of its people, hindered by others. It’s a fascinating place which has understandably weaved its spell over many non-Cambodians. However, while it’s easy to like, it’s a tough place to love, depending on your experiences.

Let’s start with how I found the country to be a photographer’s dream. Its landscape is eye-catching, even its simplest architecture is carved out with an aesthetic eye, and many Cambodians are keen to pose for the camera, making street photography a real joy.

I spent a happy afternoon in the capital, Phnom Penh, walking around taking photos of the streets and its inhabitants. This gent was keeping a fire going on the street, presumably for culinary purposes.

DSC_0056I found this chap astride his hog, which I was quite taken with.

DSC_0012And speaking of motorbikes – well, we are in South East Asia. The motorbike here is king, and there are literally endless examples of them in Cambodia.

DSC_0040-2 This family were astride one bike – and there’s frequently an awful lot more people, and goods, to be seen expertly balanced on bikes around here.

Texting on a bike with a small boy on the front, while neither of you wear a helmet? No problem.

DSC_0079-2None of these bikes were going very fast, but you still wish people would protect their noggins while on them.

You see babies and small children perched on many bikes, and those kids clearly grow up to have expert balancing skills.

This chap didn’t seem to have a bike, so I assume he pulled people around with this contraption. Tiring work, clearly.

DSC_1038I popped into the capital’s Olympic Stadium one evening (no idea why it’s called that as the Olympics were never in Phnom Penh) just to look around, and stumbled across an international friendly, Cambodia – in blue – against Guam.

Guam were much better than Cambodia, sadly, and won 2-0, the second goal coming from an own goal. I did capture this shot, a split second before Cambodia’s goalie came charging out and got clattered – by his own defender, the chap in blue.

There were no tickets or anything at the ground, you literally just walked in. The crowd was sparse, too.

I later learned that the stadium was the site of executions by the Khmer Rouge. This is an example of how much terrible history is never far away from Cambodia’s landscape.

While the game went on, there was some rather loud UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ music polluting the airwaves behind me. All around the top perimeter were people of varied ages, but mostly older folk, waving their arms and legs around aerobics-style to the beatz.

It was painful to listen to but the whole thing was a great idea, because as much as I hate exercising myself, it’s the right thing to do of course. Not that this philosophy ever made my Bikram yoga classes any easier.

DSC_1032 This guy dreams of being a choreographer on Cambodian X-Idol Factor, I reckon.

DSC_1022Excitingly, one day Kate and I stumbled across a network of temples not far from our Phnom Penh lodgings, called Wat Ounalom. It is here that you can literally crawl into a tiny, hot room, crammed with many Buddhas and dominated by a dark-coloured one.

It was overseen by this gentleman, who gave us a blessing and sprayed water over us. 

He kept saying “eyebrow, eyebrow”, the only English word he seemed to know, and immediately afterwards we found out that an eyebrow hair from Buddha is kept in that tiny chamber. So the story goes, anyway, but I was delighted to have been so close to such a relic, albeit one that does require a dash of faith in accurate historical records.

At one point I managed to get up high in Phnom Penh, atop the rather nice Green Palace Hotel. It has a rooftop bar that affords excellent views of this captivating city.

DSC_0845And while looking down on the sun setting over Phnom Penh. I met the Rather Amazing Amy Hanson, who runs the Small Steps Project, and also her friend Benedicta Bywater who runs Safe Haven Cambodia Children’s Trust.

Both do superb work in helping the poor in this country, so do check their respective charities out. Amy runs an annual, brilliant, celebrity shoe auction which contains the former Scooby Doos (shoes) of very famous types.

And both took part in SOTM, happily. Here’s the tour de force that is Amy.

And this is the unforgettable Benedicta.

But while I did enjoy my time in Cambodia, it’s clear that the country’s many problems include an increasing level of crime. 

I’ve never newly-arrived in a country and heard of, or experienced, so much crime in such a short space of time.

In no way were we looking for it, or asking about it, but as we went about the place we randomly met travellers who had their cameras snatched out their hands on Phnom Penh’s streets, or witnessed backpacks being ripped off of people’s backs in broad daylight by motorbike riders, and other such stories.

My Swedish friend stayed at the same hotel as we did in Phnom Penh and was violently mugged while in a tuk tuk – he fought back in a street battle involving him, five thieves and his driver who came to his aid. He retrieved his friend’s bag but he then went to Siem Reap and had his phone stolen there by a gang of street children. Again, he managed to retrieve it.

We came across these stories easily, and more. Worst of all Kate got extorted $200 to get her own iPhone back after she lost it on the way to Kampot and the man who found it made his costly demand, after failing to sell it for a better price.

Interestingly, while some Westerners we encountered seem willing to claim that there is nothing, or very little, in the way of criminal acts in Cambodia, the chief prosecutor of Phnom Penh says that there has been a yearly increase in crime in the country.

He does blame that on an increase in political protests, a claim which seems false to me and has certainly been disputed by Cambodian human rights groups.

Also, the British Foreign Office gives advice for travelling to the country and states how as of 2013 there has been increase in the number of crimes reported by Britons in that country, particularly in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, where a fellow traveller told me he personally knew five women who’d recently had their drinks spiked.

And just the other day, a Finnish woman I met travelling in Thailand went to Sihanoukville and was attacked by two men on motorbikes. The next day she says the police took her bike and refused to return it unless she paid a fine (she cried for an hour and they eventually gave it back for $10).

When she then returned the bike to the hire place the owner said it was damaged and that she had to pay a fine (she cried for another hour and they eventually returned her passport). She’s now left the country and says she isn’t coming back.

My position is that Cambodia is a hugely interesting country, with a wonderful landscape and terrible roads.

It’s also got an awful, compelling history which needs to be healed yet still told,  and while it’s got an engaging population there’s an increasing element that is fed up of being so poor and is starting to steal what it wants. If they continue to do this, people will stay away, not invest in the economy and Cambodians will be worse off, through the fault of the more unscrupulous members of its society.

Here’s a noble expression told to one Cambodian woman by her father, and I rather wish that more of her countrymen and women would take heed of it too. Click on the image to learn the translation.

If you’re interested in Cambodia then you should certainly go – but be more vigilant there than anywhere else. It is absolutely not a place to drop your guard such as by leaving your camera or bag within easy snatch-and-grab reach of expert motorbikers, the victims of which I met in Phnom Penh.

And if you do go I recommend popping down to Kampot, a slightly ramshackle town well worth the trip.

DSC_0374 The place is famous for its pepper, and also known for its amusing roundabouts. Here’s the one which pays homage to a giant durian fruit (which Kate hates and says smells of feet.)

There is one theory as to why many of these roundabouts have large statues on them – it’s so that any uneducated people can get about without having to read road signs. So it’s straight on till the durian roundabout, then left until you hit the salt workers’s roundabout etc etc.

DSC_0203Kampot is sweetly run down in parts but also very interesting to look at, and some of its buildings are actually in decent shape.

DSC_0495We stayed in the excellent Magic Sponge, a smashing guest house that was affordable for us ($12 a night for a large en suite room which actually had two double beds.)

The owner is a flawlessly friendly Alaskan called William. No idea how an Alaskan ended up at the bottom of Cambodia, but he runs a great setup down there. If you go, tell him Kate and I said hello.

One day we went to Kep, which has superb crab. On the way we stopped at a Muslim fishing village, which is pretty small and quiet and not visually interesting in the slightest. Tours of the area often include it on the itinerary but it really isn’t worth a visit unless you’re actually a fisherman.

Still, while there I spotted one boy and his cat.

DSC_0441 Here’s just one example of the beautiful architecture that you’ll find out in the countryside, ageing beauty queens who must content themselves with passing flirtations from those biking by.

DSC_0481 And it was while we were in Kampot that our tuk tuk got stuck in terrible mud on the way to the Les Manguiers resort, located just a little way out of the town.

I had to push the machine out of the thick, grasping, infectious mud. I managed to do so and felt manly afterwards, I don’t mind telling you.

mud While we were at that place, a storm lashed down with the rage of a bear awoken early from hibernation to find that a fox has stolen his supply of honey and is now wearing his slippers.

When we managed to get back to Kampot itself we found many of the town’s streets had flooded. This is a regular event and the locals took it all in their stride, as you can see.

DSC_0334 In Kampot I also spotted this guy. He was looking over his shoulder while still driving at speed a lot longer than he should have been…

And there’s plenty to photograph on Kampot’s network of wide streets, which are sometimes smooth, often not and frequently do not have pavements. When they do, they’re sometimes in such bad repair that everyone walks on the street anyway.

That’s it for this bumper blog edition. Next time, I learn about the Khmer Rouge and their appalling reign in Cambodia in the 1970s.