07 July 2013

The joys of Cambodia

I’ve picked out ten photos to showcase what were, for me, the never-forget and laugh-out-loud moments, the heart-stopping places and heart-warming days, and my all-time favourite things from my six months living and working in Cambodia. These images are in chronological order – I couldn’t possibly decide which is the most special.

The many and varied temples within the 400 square kilometres of the Angkor Archaeological Park never cease to fascinate and amaze me, with their skilful engineering and their stunning architecture, and though extremely destructive if left unchecked, the kapok trees and strangler figs are an integral part of the Angkor experience. This magnificent kapok tree has buttresses that prove just how skilled an architect Mother Nature can be.

The Silver Pagoda was definitely the highlight of the few short hours I spent exploring Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh and, once I spotted the reflections in the waterlily-filled urns, I couldn’t resist taking hundreds of photos. The combination of the superbly sculpted temples and shrines with the beautiful waterlily flowers, all reflected in the still dark water, was irresistible.

Sihanoukville turned on sunsets like this every night we were there and, as long as you walked past the boozy-bar, sleazy-tourist end of Ochheuteal Beach, you could enjoy the tepid waters and desert-island feel of this gorgeous white sand beach.

The two weeks I spent in workshops with creative artists from around the world and excited children from local NGOs, making the enormous puppets for the annual Giant Puppet Parade, were the most fun of my six months in Siem Reap. The children’s energy and enthusiasm were as charming as they were infectious, and performing as number two puppeteer on the Hanuman puppet on the night of the parade left me exhausted but wonderfully exhilarated – a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Another day, another temple. The combination of an hour-long tuktuk ride, relatively few tourists, a magnificent temple to explore IndiAnnie-Jones-style, and like-minded company to share the pleasure with – a perfect combination! I had been to Beng Mealea before, I went again in March, I would repeat the day at the drop of a hat!

In Cambodia I discovered the delights of waterlilies, their infinite variety of patterns, the delicate subtlety of their colours. Feast your eyes on these beauties and smile!

Cambodian children are wide-eyed, cheeky, desperately poor, smart, smaller and thinner than they deserve to be, cute, capable, hard-working, affectionate, creative, playful, sensitive.… And one of the joys of my last few months in Siem Reap was managing the transition of Helping Hands, the project these three girls attend, into the Globalteer family. I hope their future is a bright one as they each deserve to be stars!

Even now I laugh when I look at this photo. Whenever my spirits were low – which, luckily, was seldom – I would visit the pond at Wat Damnak where there is a healthy population of these little frogs, and their comic antics would always make me laugh out loud.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll be aware of my obsession with the pagodas of Siem Reap. This one, Wat Po Banteaychey, is probably my favourite, though each is special in its own way. I think it’s the combination of splendid architecture, the vibrant technicolour decoration, and the tranquillity of the pagodas that made them my favourite places for exploration and lingering.

Here’s another creature that made me smile, with its hilarious dance-like actions, its ability to change colour when aroused, and its truly impressive tail. Both these Oriental Garden Lizards and the tiny geckos that inhabit every nook and cranny of every building in Cambodia, as well as the Tokay geckos that cry out “okay, okay, okay”, charmed and entertained me, and helped provide me with the memories of Cambodia that I’m sure will never leave me.