Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘cambodia’

Back in Kompong Cham


When I first visited Kompong Cham, in January 2012, the weather was hot and dry, and the ramshackle bamboo bridge connected the town with Koh Paen island in the middle of the Mekong.  This time around, the weather was hot and wet, and the bridge had been washed away by the rising river water, to be rebuilt again once the rain has abated later in the year.  Some things hadn’t changed though.  Like Kratie, my previous stop, the town still has a low-key charm, thanks mainly to its warm and generous people.  One of the women featured in this post (the last but one picture, a Cham muslim woman photographed in the covered fish market) I also have a picture of from my first visit.

The wet weather meant that I didn’t get out and about as much as I would have liked, so these pictures are all from the market and the town centre.

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Tour de Cambodge


I think Cambodians may be the friendliest people on Earth – and those in rural communities may be the friendliest people in Cambodia. In the countryside around Kratie, I encountered hospitality, curiosity and bemusement in roughly equal measure. Small children lined up at the roadside to high-five me as I cycled past. When I stopped to wander through a village, adults asked questions about where I was from and what I was doing there, and often encouraged me to photograph them or their friends.

I’ll never never be much of an athlete, but travelling by bicycle is probably my favourite way of getting out into the countryside. I like not having to rely on someone else to show me the sights and being able to stop whenever I choose. It helps that the landscape in this part of Cambodia is pretty much flat as well – no gruelling hill climbs for me, although there are plenty of small angry dogs and perilous pot-holes to avoid. The only racing I did was against the weather, sprinting back to town before the regular afternoon deluge set in.

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Back in Kratie


When I first visited Kratie, in January last year, the place looked very different.  A fire had recently destroyed the town’s market so the traders had had to set up temporary stalls along the riverfront.  Now, the market has been rebuilt and is thriving again, and the view of the Mekong from the town is happily unobscured.  I had good memories of Kratie from my first visit – I kept recalling meals I’d eaten there, pictures I’d taken, the book I was reading – so I was pleased to see that the town had been revived.  On top of that, it was also good to be somewhere familiar again, for the first time since leaving Vientiane a few weeks earlier.

My previous visit was part of a trip I took during the Tet holiday 2012, when I travelled from Saigon, through the Mekong delta, and into eastern Cambodia:  my Mini Mekong Trip, as I now think of it.   At the time, I wrote about how one day I wanted to go on a longer Mekong journey, following the river from southern China to the delta in Vietnam.  And this is what I’ve been doing for the last couple of months: my Big Mekong Trip, now sadly nearer its end than its beginning.

I’ve mostly been using my standard zoom lens on this trip, but in Kratie’s streets, I brought out my 50mm.  I wanted to get some simple portraits and detail shots.  I love taking people pictures with my 50mm lens; it makes you get close to people but still allows your subjects some room to breathe.












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Cycling through the Cambodian countryside near Kratie, along the east bank of the Mekong river, I stopped in a little village to have lunch and take some pictures.  This lady, who I first noticed sitting at the top of the steps to her stilt house, happily sat for a couple of photographs before disappearing inside.  I thought that the moment had passed, but she soon reappeared holding her wedding photo from, I’m guessing, about twenty years ago.  We had no language in common, but she was clearly keen for me to see the picture, and to photograph her holding it.  There was no sign of her husband apart from the picture – I’m hoping that he was just out running an errand somewhere and would soon return.

Old favourites

I’ve just updated the homepage of this site, so that it now only shows pictures taken since I came back to south-east Asia, and started this blog, in October last year.

This post features the pictures that have been bumped off the homepage. I’m posting them here because I didn’t want them to disappear from the site altogether.  They were all taken in Vietnam and Cambodia during 2010.

Old fellas
(Hanoi, January 2010; Hanoi, January 2010; Phnom Penh, February 2010)

These stencils, advertising the services of local handymen / labourers, can be seen on walls all over Hanoi and Saigon.
(Saigon, February 2010)

Long Bien fisherman
Grey April days in Hanoi are perfect for black and white photography.
(Long Bien bridge, Hanoi, April 2010)

 Long Bien kids
(Long Bien bridge, Hanoi, April 2010)

Looking askance

Something about this shot of Flower Hmong women reminds me of an early 80s Abba video.
(Bac Ha, July 2010)

Women in red
The middle shot here is one of my favourites.
(Ta Van; Bac Ha; Ta Van, all July 2010)

Blue lady
(Sapa, July 2010)

Hmong market trader
(Sapa, July 2010)

(Le Mat, Hanoi, August 2010)

Hoi An boatman
It’s all about the blue.
(Hoi An, September 2010)

Hoi An farmer
(Hoi An, September 2010)

He loves Hanoi
Taken during the celebrations for Hanoi’s 1000 year anniversary.
(Hanoi, October 2010)

 (Hanoi, October 2010)

Young fisherman
(Kampot, December 2010)

Phnom Penh ferry ride
(Phnom Penh, December 2010)

Three monks
(Phnom Penh, December 2010; Lolei, Angkor, February 2010; Kampot, December 2010)

(Phnom Penh, December 2010)

Wat Langka monks
(Phnom Penh, December 2010)

The little differences

Two days in two of south-east Asia’s capital cities, two months apart. In January, I passed through Phnom Penh on my way back from my Mekong trip. Last weekend, I went back to my old home of Hanoi for the first time in more than a year. I didn’t take that many pictures on either occasion – in Phnom Penh, I was winding down after two weeks away, and in Hanoi I had some important drinking to do.  I got a few shots that I like though, and I thought they might make a nice ‘compare and contrast’ exercise.  Forgive me, I’m an English teacher.  Phnom Penh is in colour and Hanoi is in black and white.

Bamboo bridge, Kompong Cham

The bamboo bridge in Kompong Cham only exists for half the year.  In the wet season it’s destroyed by the rising waters of the Mekong, and then built again from scratch once the rains have stopped in December.  This happens every year.  I’m going to have to go back to Kompong Cham one December, just so that I can see it being built.  The bridge stretches from the town, on the west bank of the Mekong, to the island of Koh Paen in the middle of the river.  It’s completely dwarfed by, and rendered almost ludicrous by, the massive new road bridge that arcs over the river’s entire width.

The strangest thing about the bamboo bridge is that you can hear it from a distance.  The bamboo poles rattle and creak as pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, cars and – alarmingly – great big SUVs travel over it.  I chose to cycle over, which was fine so long as I didn’t look left or right, or stop to consider what the hell I was doing.  The sound of the bridge is even louder once you are actually on it of course, and you can also feel it moving underneath your wheels, especially when being overtaken by a great big SUV.  These vehicles are almost as wide as the bridge itself and, as in all countries of the world, are driven by those blissfully unaware of the existence of other people, so you have to be careful as they pass not to topple over into the water, or impale yourself on bamboo.

Cycling over the bamboo bridge is the sort of experience that I might have avoided in the past, due to my esssential wussiness, but I’m very glad I did it.  My only regret is that I made the return journey too soon, and was in the wrong place for sunset.  That picture will have to wait for my next visit, but here are some others to be going on with, starting with some morning silhouettes.