Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘phnom penh’

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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Island life


A few portrait pictures from Koh Dach island. A short tuk-tuk drive and a ferry ride from central Phnom Penh, in the middle of the Mekong, it’s a little rural oasis within sight of the city. It reminded me a little of the island in the Red River in Hanoi – I had the same feeling of sudden welcome escape. I would have liked to have spent a good while wandering through the villages on the island, but my visit was cut short by the inevitable afternoon thunder storm.




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The Phnom Penh Experience


Phnom Penh was the biggest, busiest, liveliest place I’d been in for a while.  For most of this Mekong trip, I’ve been staying in small-ish market towns, with occasional detours into more rural areas.  The only cities I’d been in since leaving Saigon in May were Kunming and Vientiane, neither of which have anything like Phnom Penh’s energy or attitude.  Suddenly, the streets were full of traffic, the air full of noise and fumes, and the pavements lined with eager tuk-tuk drivers. After the agreeable drowsiness of Kratie and Kompong Cham, it was a mild shock to the system.  None of which is to say that I didn’t enjoy myself in Phnom Penh. It’s a place that I always enjoy visiting, and I can imagine myself living there one day.

I’m always impressed and a little awed by the city and its people; when you consider that thirty-odd years ago the place was deserted, its population forced into the countryside by the Khmer Rouge, it’s a wonder that the city functions at all, let alone that it’s a place of so much colour and life.  Now the Khmer Rouge years are part of the tourism industry.  Visitors can go to Tuol Sleng, the harrowing genocide museum, and then, slightly grotesquely, to a shooting range to fire AK-47s, all in the same afternoon.

I sometimes think that it’s a shame that Pol Pot and his henchmen play such a big part in many people’s Phnom Penh experience.  I’m not saying that Cambodia’s recent history should be ignored or forgotten, but present-day Phnom Penh has a lot going for it, and we should celebrate that as well as paying respect to its past.  So in that spirit, the pictures in this post are all about the street life of Phnom Penh today, rather than Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields.  For those wanting to know more about the history, there are some links at the bottom of the page.

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Phnom Penh street portraits


Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple.  There’s so much happening on the streets in Phnom Penh, especially compared to the much quieter towns that I’d been visiting previously, that it can be hard to take it all in.  After a few days in the city, I stopped trying to take the definitive Phnom Penh photograph, and instead concentrated on looking for interesting faces in nice light.  So I spent my last afternoon there wandering the streets and alleys around O Russei market, taking some simple portrait pictures with my (to give it its full name) sadly neglected 85mm lens.








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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.

Monk portrait, Phnom Penh (potw #16)

Phnom Penh was the last stop on my Mekong trip.  I didn’t take that many pictures on this visit; I was only there for a couple of nights, and I wasn’t quite in the mood for a big city, having spent the previous two weeks in quieter, more relaxing surroundings.

Wat Langka, however, is one of the more tranquil spots in Phnom Penh.  It’s not the most spectacular temple in Cambodia, but I like its calm, welcoming atmosphere.  It’s hard to tell where the surrounding alleyways end and the temple complex begins.  This young monk was standing inside one of the side doors to the main temple, and was perfectly, indirectly lit by the morning sunshine outside.