Archive for the ‘Cambodia’ Category
Life on the Mekong River in Cambodia and Laos hasn’t caught up with the 21st Century. Yet. There is still a connection to quieter times, a slower pace of living, that belies the dramatic changes that will occur on the Mekong. From China to southern Laos, there are plans for over a dozen dams that the authorities say will benefit all the people of the region. They come up with a myriad of benefits, from cheaper electricity to reduced flooding. In looking at this future, I have a hard time envisioning the simple life that exists there now. I recommend that you visit this area before it’s all gone.
Photos taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikkor AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens and a Nikon D300S and Nikkor AFS 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens.
Just outside Kratie, Cambodia, on the Mekong River is a very deep pool of water that is home to a “pod” of Irawaddy Dolphins. There are a couple dozen of these very rare dolphins that used to number in the hundreds before the Khmer Rouge decades back slaughtered most of them. The dolphin is not considered an endangered species as there are several thousand in Bangladesh although their numbers in Southeast Asia are very small. There is also a small pod in Laos on the Mekong just above the border crossing.
These dolphins are very shy and difficult to photograph. Combine that with a rocking boat in the river current and it makes for trying conditions.
The dolphins live in this deep pool, perhaps 800 meters deep. Its depth allows the mammals to adjust to the changing temperature of the water throughout the year. And because the pool is downstream from very shallow water, food is ample.
The river guides are attuned to the comfort of the dolphins so that they maintain a distance of 50-100 meters. And the guides drift with the current, again to not frighten the dolphins.
All photos were taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikkor AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens or Nikon D300s and Nikkor AFS 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR zoom lens.
One of the most rewarding things to do when you are in Cambodia has nothing to do with sightseeing at venues like Angkor Wat or visiting the Irawaddy dolphins at Kratie. I recommend you take some time out of your busy days to visit a rural school and donate school supplies. These students are not well to do and are always short of basic supplies like pencils, paper tablets and rulers. For less than $50 US you can easily supply every student with these supplies. And you never know how you might be impacting these students. For every child attending school, there is probably another that does not attend school for one reason or another and it is near impossible to make a difference in their lives. At least with the children in school they are learning the basics although there is no telling where they may be in ten more years. The five and six year olds in these photos may be working in the fields with their parents in another 6 or 7 years.
Photos were taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikkor AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens or a Nikon D300s and Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VRI zoom lens.
One of the most fulfilling things one can do when visiting the rural areas of Cambodia is to set aside time to visit schools. As some of the rural schools are extremely poor, you should think about buying school supplies to donate to the children.
This particular school, which is located south of Stung Treng, had no electricity, windows and other conveniences that we take for granted in other parts of the world. In fact, the children had neither paper nor pencils. Instead they were using planks of wood and chalk during class. I purchased pencils, rulers and tablets for each of the 100 children in the three classes. (And candy and cookies to please each student’s sweet tooth.)
The children were kindergartners to second graders and were extremely bright. However as they were in a very poor rural area, their future is a bit hazy. Do what you can to help. Not only will the children benefit, so will you.
You never know where your next decent photo will come from. While on a recent trip by boat up the Mekong from Cambodia to Laos, we passed this small hut on a remote island. This part of the island was beautiful with crystal clear water and a beach of sorts. Really didn’t it give it much mind as we were heading up the river to see a series of waterfalls that are hardly visited.
On the way back down the river, we were so dehydrated and exhausted by our visit to the falls that we decided to stop for drinks and a bit to eat. The hut was run by a young couple with three small chidren. It really wasn’t much but it was shady and the ice-cold drinks hit the spot. The kids were so photogenic that between big gulps of water and soda, I shoot off a few photos. They acted like they had never seen a camera before so I spent some time shooting and then showing the photos to the kids. This interaction became of source of fun for them and me. As it should be.
All photos were taken using either a Nikon D700 with a Nikkor AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens or a Nikon D300s with a Nikkor AFS 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens.
The trip from Phnom Penh to Stung Treng took around 9 hours instead of 7 hours due to an unexpected 30 kilometers through a construction zone and a flat tire in Kratie. By the time we got there, it was nighttime. After checking into the best hotel in town, we went for a bite to eat at the above restaurant. The food was quite good although a bit pricey when you consider where we were. (In fact, I found the cost of the meals on this trip to be pricey.)
Afterwards, I went back to the room and quickly fell asleep quickly.
The next morning I awoke for a sunrise walk in the downtown area of Stung Treng. As the town rests on the confluence of the Mekong River and the Se Kong River, water dominates views of the town. I headed over to the jetty that extended into the river as there was plenty of activity dominated by people bringing produce and fish to merchants who bought the goods, presumably for the market that sat in the middle of downtown.
Cambodia is a very vibrant locale for color photos and the scene at the river accented that. From the bright orange glow of the sunrise to the picturesque clothes worn by the people, the scenery jumped out.
Photos captured with Nikon D700 and D300s bodies and Nikkor AF 85mm f/1.4, AF TC 135mm f/2 and AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses.
Skoun (or Skun), Cambodia is at the crossroads between Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Kratie (Irawaddy dolphins). As a result, it’s a busy transportation hub for Cambodia. It is known as “Spiderville” by some as the town is known for its delicious selection of deep fried tarantulas, as well as crickets and grasshoppers. Before you roll you eyes at the thought, let me tell you that the spiders don’t taste half bad. Although they don’t taste “just like chicken”, they do resemble softshell crab in texture although the taste is a bit stronger. You can buy a bag of these spiders and munch them as you would any snacks. There is a bit of bitterness before you swallow the spider but otherwise not bad. Really. If the thought of spiders turn you off, try the crickets or grasshoppers, both of which are tasty with no aftertaste. Bon appetit!
Photos taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens and Nikon D300s and 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens.
We were still on our way from Kampong Cham to Kratie when we crossed this single-track bridge that spanned a river flowing into the Mekong River. As the sun was beginning to set and the pace of life surrounding this bridge capable of producing good images, we decided to stop.
The sunsets in Cambodia can be quite vivid and in concert with the color of the iron-laden soil can be spectacular. Even when shooting everyday scenes.
We ended up walking across this bridge, an act that turned out to be a bit dangerous as we ended up encountering a truck that was so wide, it passed without a couple of inches of my nose. On the return walk across the bridge, we did so with dispatch.
Photos taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikkor AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens or a Nikon D300s and a Nikkor AFS VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens.
Your next opportunity to take a shot can be almost anywhere. On this day we were traveling from Kampong Cham to Kratie, when we drove over a bridge high above the scene below. We stopped on the other side, walked back across the birdge and down to the water. The people was actually hunting for snails in the shallow water. As they were quite a distance from the shore, I waded to their location. I was a bit concerned about my camera getting wet but sometimes you have to take a chance.
The waterfalls and rapids across the countless streams of the Mekong River in Southern Laos are located in one of the richest and most bio-diverse areas in Asia. And it is always under threat due to the hydroelectric potential of the Mekong. Several dams have been built in China and in Laos and Cambodia, studies have been completed to determine the feasibility of dams in the Southern reaches of the river.
I believe its only a matter of decades before the Don Khong, Laos to Kratie, Cambodia stretch is dammed and therefore life as we know it on the river will be gone.
I had been thinking about making this trip for several years but had only recently decided to make this trip happen. This area, which is referred to as Siphandon (translated in Lao as 4,000 islands), can be visited from one of two routes with the northern route from Ubon Rachathani, Thailand through Pakse, Laos being the easiest to make. You can fly into “Ubon” from Bangkok and then arrange for car, van or bus to journey the rest of the way to Siphandon. From Ubon, the journey is approximately 300 kilometers. The highways from the Thai border are quite good in contrast to the roads along the southern route from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Siphandon.
As I find Cambodia one of the most enchanting places on Earth for photographs, I decided to take the 700 kilometer southern route. Through the towns of Kratie, with its endangered Iriwaddy dolphins, to the northern wetlands capital, Stung Trung. Along the way, there are so many opportunities for photographs that one is never lacking subjects.
In the coming weeks, I will be posting photographs of the entire journey, from beginning to end. And back again.