The Joy of Travel Photography in Cambodia
Takeo is not a must see town, life moves at a snail’s pace and it is mildly recommended by the popular guidebook as a daytrip destination.
So I was eager to stop by expecting close to zero tourists and to witness authentic, simple Cambodian rural life. The kids on the above picture are racing snails. I felt quite lucky to stumble upon this scene and capture what is probably ordinary to them but unique to me.
I am back to Cambodia for the second time during this trip due to the organized chaos which my itinerary turned out to be.
This time Cambodia is a stepping stone to get to Laos from Vietnam as opposed to Thailand six months ago.
There was a difference this time as far as how I crossed the border from Chau Doc Vietnam; instead of taking the speed boat to Phnom Penh I decided to travel on land which is somewhat cheaper and a lot more scenic and adventurous.
Cambodian visas can be purchased at the border so I showed up expecting an easy crossing.
The only thing I forgot was a photo for my visa! I was not looking forward to catch a motorbike back to Chau Doc 50 minutes away and find a photo store which hopefully does same day passport pictures.
I pointed out the previous visa in my passport to the border officer explaining that I recently visited Cambodia so the authorities do have my photo already.
Without much hesitation the officer allowed me to cross the border without a photo after I purchased the $20 visa for $25 from him.
The rest of the trip was pretty standard, I caught a moto to the nearest town where I boarded a minibus which took me to Takeo.
Takeo is supposed to be pronounced as ta-cow but no one understood me when I said it that way which is a constant and sobering reminder that mastering Vietnamese or Khmer is probably not in the near or distant future.
So I just learn the basics (hello, you are beautiful, thank you, good bye) and don’t sweat the rest too much. Whatever else sticks is a bonus.
Takeo did not disappoint, besides some eager tour boat operators at the docks it was a hot and sleepy town. Its lack of sophistication surfaced when I was unable to purchase a 1 liter bottle of water, they just did not have that size, only smaller bottles, it was funny (and highly unusual).
The food stalls at the local market looked too hygienically adventurous so I stopped by one of Takeo’s modest restaurants.
I had sauteed chicken with onions and steamed rice which meant a ton of rice, a ton of onions and microscopic traces of chicken meat. Excellent rice and onions though.
The very kind waitress after serving me sat down at my table across from me. Unusual but no problem with me, she did not speak English and I like to eat in silence anyways.
There is a saying which sounds much better in my language: The Hungarian man doesn’t talk while eating! (Magyar ember eves kozben nem beszel.)
But her purpose at my table became apparent as soon as I ate all the rice on my plate and I reached towards the pot to scoop out more. She moved with the speed of a cheetah, grabbed the spoon before I could and provided me with another serving of rice.
This happened one more time. It was funny and a nice welcoming touch.
I noticed a Wat (pagoda) from the terrace of the restaurant about 1 kilometer away and as soon as the rice settled I took a walk there.
On the way adults and kids alike were very friendly and were greeting me which is a good sign because locals can be shy at places where few tourists venture.
After a few minutes of photography I was approached by a monk who wished to practice English with me. We visited the usual basic conversation topics of my background and my travels.
A storm was approaching and I knew I could not get back to my hotel in time so I stayed and when it started pouring I was invited into the monks’ house to wait out the usual intense but brief downpour.
The monk had a computer so to kill time I made a Windows wallpaper for him from my picture of his pagoda. He was quite happy about it and I was also glad that my photo got such an exclusive display.
After the rain stopped I said goodbye and headed back on the dirt / mud road. I saw a kid bring home a few cows, nothing unusual, I continued walking.
What I saw next started a whole hour of non-stop photography of the kid and his friend (or brother).
As soon as he cows were returned the kids started playing in the mud. When I went closer I saw that they were racing two snails. They were dripping water on the heads of their snails to encourage them to move faster or at least come out of their shells for starters.
I shot a bunch of photos from many different angles. Soon the kids abandoned the snails and were looking for more stimulus. Especially the older one had a lot of creativity coupled with an obvious attention deficit disorder.
I am not sure how much he was performing for me but he seemed pretty natural at switching between various unrelated activities i.e. doing headstands and flips one second or carving artwork in the hard clay in the next moment.
This was a dream come true to any travel photographer, the only challenge was to capture as much of the craziness as possible.
Here for no clear reason the older kid is doing Matrix like bullet dodging:
Next location was the grazing area of the family’s buffalos where the kids started to jump, kick and slide around which sometimes looked like a water ballet performance and sometimes like a marshal arts competition:
I tried my best to supply the best background possible but my mobility was limited because I had only a narrow dirt path to stand on which separated the different sections of the fields:
It was almost sunset time and the sky was cloudy providing ideal soft diffused light which eliminated any undesirable dark shadows on the kids faces and provided nice colors:
“Swimming” in water a few inches deep:
I was not the only one watching and enjoying the madness:
After the two boys came out of the water I took photos of some of the other neighborhood kids like this girl who was giving me many different emotions from big smiles to this more serious look:
When I can I do pick and arrange my pictures’ backgrounds, hopefully something that is not too busy but not too boring either. The back of the house provided a great and almost colorless backdrop with visually appealing horizontal and vertical lines while the last few rays of the sunset were breaking through the clouds putting a nice glow on the kids’ faces.
An interesting little detail – I did not notice until later that the diagonal position of the cardboard in the background compliments the increasing / decreasing heights of the girls:
Photo taken of the Wat just a few minutes before dark clouds covered the sky:
The monks’ house a.k.a. my shelter from the rain:
Non existing photos of shy monks do not make good photoblogs. So I am guilty as charged (Buddha forgive me) paparazzi photography of a monk using a telephoto lens a.k.a. taking photos without asking for permission: