Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘kratie’

Summer in Cambodia, autumn in Hanoi


This is a slightly random collection of pictures from Cambodia, taken in July this year, as I followed the Mekong river through Kratie and Kompong Cham and on to Phnom Penh.  Much of my time in the first two of these towns was spent sheltering from torrential rain – entirely my own fault for choosing to travel through south-east Asia during the wet season – but I was still able to spend a decent amount of time wandering through markets, visiting temples and cycling through the countryside.

Although I’ve been posting pictures from Laos and Cambodia recently, I’m actually settling back in to life in Hanoi at the moment.  Once again, this blog is lagging a little behind real life.  I’ve found myself a job and a place to live, and I’m very happy to be here, but I still feel a little wistful when I look back through the pictures from my summer travels.  Mostly though, I’ve been enjoying the Hanoi autumn, catching up with old friends and reacquainting myself with the city that was my home for most of 2008-10.  I’m looking forward to the future and savouring the simple pleasures of having my own space again.  After months of living in hotels – not just while I was travelling, but also for my first few weeks here in Hanoi – it’s oddly satisfying just making my own breakfast and having my own front door key.  I’ve not taken a huge number of pictures since I’ve been here, but I’m slowly building up a small collection of pictures of Hanoi, which I’ll start posting here once I’ve got the last of the photographs from the Mekong trip out of my system.


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Mekong views

130524-277-editedJinghong, Yunnan province, China

Looking through the pictures I’ve posted from my Mekong trip, I noticed something missing: there are hardly any pictures of the river itself.  There are a few reasons for this, I think.  I naturally incline towards pictures of people – they’re the pictures that I’m best at, and that I most enjoy taking, but I do sometimes feel the need to broaden my repertoire a little.  I don’t have many regrets about this trip, but one of the few I do have is not getting more good landscape and river shots.  I remember being on a long bus journey in Laos, between Savannakhet and Pakse, speeding past rice paddies in the rain.  As the rain stopped and the late afternoon sun emerged, the fields were lit up in the most beautiful, soft, warm light.  You’ll have to take my word for it, because I didn’t get a picture.  As I said, I was on a bus at the time, and that bus wasn’t stopping for anyone.  I spent a few days in Pakse after that bus journey, but never saw that beautiful light again, so that rice paddy image only exists in my memory.  This is just one example of a great picture that I didn’t take, along with the countless early morning street scenes that I was too lazy to get up in time for.   So I’m a little disappointed with the landscape pictures that I actually did take – they’re just not as good as the ones in my head, or perhaps it’s just that they don’t grab me as immediately as my best people shots.   Whatever the reason, I neglected to post many Mekong landscapes (riverscapes?) while I was travelling, so I’ve collected a few together to post now.  These pictures were all taken between May and August this year.

130611-005-editedPak Beng, Laos

130613-089-editedLuang Prabang, Laos

130615-078-editedLuang Prabang, Laos

130619-045-editedFerry across the Mekong (1), Luang Prabang, Laos

130627-086-editedView of Laos at dusk from Nakhon Phanom, Thailand

130718-371-editedStorm clouds gathering, Kratie, Cambodia

130807-255-editedChau Doc, Mekong delta, Vietnam

130821-056-editedVinh Long, Mekong delta, Vietnam

130821-062-editedVinh Long, Mekong delta, Vietnam

130821-173-editedFerry across the Mekong (2), Vinh Long, Mekong delta, Vietnam

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.

Mekong days, Cambodia

After a week in the Mekong Delta in the south of Vietnam, I crossed the border into Cambodia for a slightly different taste of Mekong life, in the riverside towns of Kompong Cham and Kratie, north east of Phnom Penh. One day, I want to travel the length of the Mekong, from southern China all the way down to the delta, with unlimited time and unlimited memory cards. One day. In the meantime, I’ll have to content myself with occasional short trips like this one, in January this year.

Looking at these pictures again today has made me recall some of the other sensations and impressions of the trip that I couldn’t capture on camera: being sunburnt enough to feel a tingle but not so much to hurt; the smell of tobacco plants producing puzzling nostalgic cigarette cravings; long, uncomfortable, oddly enjoyable bus journeys with Khmer pop drowning out the music from my iPod; the pleasant ache in limbs unaccustomed to cycling; happily cancelling out the benefits of said cycling with giant bottles of Angkor beer; confirming my belief that three days in one place is far better than two; unwittingly providing the entertainment by losing my footing in a fishmarket.