Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘mekong’

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.

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.

More from the Mekong

Water isn’t really my element – I can barely swim – but there’s no getting away from the stuff in the Mekong Delta.  I went on a few boat trips during my week there, but taking pictures from a moving boat isn’t easy, especially if you’re a big wuss who’s worried about falling in. The problem with water, a wise man once said, is that it’s wet and it moves around.

The area might be best known for its floating markets, but back on dry land there are plenty of street markets to visit.  Wandering around the market in Chau Doc early one morning, I thought to myself, “I could spend all day taking pictures here.”  So I did.

My trip coincided with the build-up to the Tet holiday (the Lunar new year, which is the most important holiday in the calendar for Vietnamese people).  With two weeks off work, I spent one week travelling through the delta, before taking a boat upriver from Chau Doc into Cambodia for another week.  Although I was out of Vietnam for the holiday itself, for weeks before the streets were full of symbols of Tet; red and gold decorations, yellow and orange flowers, and kumquat trees were everywhere.

When I first saw this picture, I thought that a pesky cyclist had ruined a good panning shot. When I saw it again on the big screen, I decided I quite liked it. I’ll just have to pretend that I had it all planned.

Rush hour in Chau Doc is a little quieter than what I’ve become used to in Saigon.

And to finish, a sunset.

(Coming soon: a post or two on Cambodia.)

Mekong Delta portraits

A week in the Mekong Delta in the build-up to the Tet holiday.  A week of friendly people, fresh seafood, very few cars, floating markets and flower-lined streets.  A week that wasn’t long enough.

Afternoon in Kompong Cham (potw #15)

Making a rare foray into the realms of physical exercise, I cycled across Kompong Cham’s bamboo bridge (more of which later) onto Koh Paen, a small island in the Mekong river.  Countless small children called “hello!” as I rattled inelegantly past stilt houses and rice fields in the late afternoon sun.  Many of the rice fields in this part of Cambodia are overlooked by small, open pagodas, as in the picture above.

Floating in the Mekong Delta (potw #14)

I’ve just come back from a two week Mekong trip – one week in the Mekong Delta in the south of Vietnam, and one in eastern Cambodia.  I have many pictures and memories to sort through, which I can’t quite begin to do yet, as I’m back in Saigon and my brain hurts.  So here’s just one to be going on with.

This picture was taken in the floating market in Phong Dien, near Can Tho, the main city of the Mekong Delta.