Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cambodia 2011

 October 16, 2011 

As with all the Southeastern Asian countries, comes constant development. Countries such as China, Japan, Korea among many others pump large amounts of money, help build infrastructure and provide aid the region which in turn creates a larger influx of tourism. So as I prepared, thirteen years having passed since my last trip to Angkor and still reflecting on it's un-feathered beauty- I really had no idea what to expect.

 July 3, 2011 Day 01
Arriving into Siem Reap I waited about thirty minutes for my prearranged pickup to the Guest House before accepting the truth that my ride was not to be. Having waved the white flag, a 2 USD motorcycle ride is what eventually brought me to Tanei Guest House- complimented by a small pool it's appearance was enough to make up for my missed ride.
A walk around the Psar Chan market as well as Wat Preah Prom Roth is all the exploration I managed for the day. Some afternoon showers kept me doing research in a local coffee shop, finally completing the day with a jaunt alongside the canal. While snapping a few shots I was approached by a guy on the road claiming to run a school for underprivileged  children looking for donations to purchase books. He was supplied with photos of the kids and too a collection booklet which the contributors had written the donation amount and some particulars. I gave a small donation, not sold entirely on his story and left hopeful that's where everyone's money would actually go.
9:08pm Still day 01
I'm enjoying a foot massage in a night market full of  many different stalls, bamboo thatched bars and  a tonne of foot massage/fish eating places. At 3-4 USD an hour I'll be getting a bit of foot loving this trip. Heading back to the GH after this for a good night's rest- tomorrow joining Scott & Rachel a honeymoon couple I'd met earlier, for a trip out to Angkor.
6:55am Day 02
Slept well enough last night having woken before my alarm, which I hope is enough rest to get me through what is going to be a very hot day. Angkor here I come!!
The morning took us to a few smaller temples before finally arriving at Ta Prohm, the most prominent temple still etched in my mind from 1999. Parts of the temple were strewn across the outer temple grounds leading up, each with an assigned code. Approaching the entrance flashes of excitement were quickly overshadowed by the horror of development. What once had a feeling of exploration, climbing over giant fallen rock under overrun massive silk-cotton and fig trees now felt like a museum, fitted with a wooden walkway and signs. Many of the other temples were laden with scaffold making an unobstructed wide shot impossible which really got me thinking how I was going to photograph anything.
Afternoon Lunch of Fish Amok
 7:09am Day 03
Just down for breakfast attempting to formulate a plan for today...probably back out to Angkor for a four hour trip(that's the half day rate for the Tuk Tuk) and another gander around town.
On a day trip with Peter...

During breakie I started talking with Peter, a fellow photographer from Melbourne. After breakfast adjourned he invited me to join on a trip to Kbal Speam about 50 km out of Siem Reap, which is where we are now. Sharing a Tuk Tuk we drove to Banteay Srei, a temple renown for it's majestic art- a sheer amount of stunning, detail filled carvings for such a small temple.
8:40am Day 05
Continuing from yesterday...arriving at Kbal Speam we sat down for some lunch before setting off on the short hike to the"River of a Thousand Lingas". Even in the shaded woods we found little reprieve from the scorching heat but not long after photographing Hindu deities as well an abundance of linga did we reach the treasure at the end of the rainbow...a nice waterfall. We had a good rest and rinse off and began the return which included one stop at Banteay Kdei- a temple I'd visited the previous day, though today with a much greater appreciation.

Hindu Carving
Hiding from the afternoon sun after a three plus hour walk around town. I could really get used to this loungy coffee shop- it's a great place to read and write during the hot afternoon. Accompanying me for part of the day was Syraha, whom I'd met with her partner(who was sick today) yesterday. Having expressed a strong interest in photography I gave her some quick lessons as we roamed the grounds of Wat Preah Prom Roth and on the walk back to the Blue Pumpkin.
Back to this really good BBQ spot, really tasty meat and seafood, fresh salad and a beer for about 5-6USD. After this it's back to my room for a 4:00am wake-up and off to Angkor for sunrise. Peter is floating market bound tomorrow but with my days in SR winding down it's my only opportunity to get this scaffold free (using shadows to cover them) shot.

BBQ, Siem Reap

BBQ, Siem Reap

9:58am Day 06
Arriving in the pitch black (no torch=no vision) I began to explore the grounds for a good vantage point which eventually took me back to the front moat- the most notable view for sunrise. During my search I found myself, completely alone clambering around the dark echoey confines of Angkor. Racing against time and having enjoyed my brief time as a character out of a Harry Potter movie, it was time to get back to the moat. An hour later, content with my work, the sky having offered some interesting clouds, I packed my gear and headed for Bayon.
 Ahhh peace... I managed an hour alone before Bayon was over run, which gave me plenty of time to get some good imagery. 

Just returned back to my room from an afternoon spent in the coffee shop, a dinner with Peter planning tomorrow's adventures and finally a massage. It's time for bed...
6:31am Day 07
Having a quick bit with Peter before we take off.
Peter and I departed at 7:30 en route firstly for Beng Mealea then finishing the day in Kompong Kleang, also known as the stilt villages. Pulling up to Beng Mealea had the reverse affect on my psyche as Ta Prohm, at first sight the large temple stones mimed a snow bluff. When we got inside, it was like Ta Prohm thirteen years ago- only better.


Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea
Continuing, we then pointed our compasses for Kompong Kleang (known for the stilt villages). Arriving there I was not disappointed, having bypassed the first village we drove down the narrow road linking a second where we would begin. The people there did not seem overly friendly but warmed slightly as we wandered around while conversing in a universal language with the children. Tracing the rich orange soiled road we wound our way back up towards the first village, the houses standing 3m above the road from the lower village gradually leveled off as we ascended. People from the first village seemed much friendlier, either because they are less impoverished are perhaps they just see more tourists- All I did know, is that the photography was amazing!

Kompong Kleang

11:03pm Day Day 08
Today was a solo mission. A relaxing but productive day had me capturing some portraits of the ladies in Wat Preah Prom, perusing images of Angkor in a gallery, resting at my most frequented cafe (The Blue Pumpkin), booking my bus to Ban Lung in the North East and organising tomorrows trip to Kompong Kleang. Peter and I met to discuss our boat trip to Kompong Kleang, another stilt village for tomorrow before I headed back to the GH.
12:51 Day 09
Back at the Blue Pumpkin, this time with Peter catching a lunch time break from the heat. The adventure to Kompong Kleang was well worth the trip, offering a much different perspective, the stilts reached up to 10 meters with probably only 1 meter under water- the wet season is very much in contrast, water reaching just under the floorboards. Other than a crabby boat captain (he didn't want to make two rounds) we had a smooth trip and managed some interesting photography.
4:45am Day 10
Last night finished off with a brew over a few games of pool. I'm now doing last minute preparations before catching my bus to Ban Lung.
6:24pm Ban Lung
The bus took 12 hours to reach, a bit off the time of 8-9 which they told me though I can't say I'm at all surprised. A number of travelers kept me engaged for the duration of the ride so when I finally did make it to the Tree Top Eco Lodge I felt quite refreshed. The lodge is very calming, set in the trees with wooden walkways leading to the rooms and a view looking out above the tree tops across the valley.
7:01am Day 11
Awoke at 6:30am this morning hoping to get some undisturbed shots around the GH which I managed without any problems. It's overcast today and noticeably cooler. I'm sitting here on the terrace holding a cheese omelet stuffed baguette in one hand, pen in the other pondering what my time here will be like.
Earlier I took a trip to Svay and Krala Village which offered nothing in the way of photography. Other than information about the tribes there was no documentary photography other than a few shots around the villages. This was mostly due to torrential down pour and the one person I did want to photograph was camera shy- my shady guide didn't help matters either...
During the ride on the back of the bike, about 2 km outside Svay we got hit by a serious monsoon which by the time we reached the village all my clothes needed to be rung out- luckily my camera bag was still moderately dry. The continuation out to Krala Village was something to behold as we rode up and down these roads packed with red clay. Being from Canada I've done my fair share of skating but riding a bike on a icy surface felt a little dangerous considering the frequent 180 degree spin outs we began. Approaching a steep hill I hopped off, with each step another layer of clay attached to the bottom of my shoes causing many stoppages, in my attempt to remove mud from my elephant sized feet. Having a helmet allowed me to feel safe enough on the back of the bike, saving me some pain in the ass walks.
This afternoon was spent at the GH, talking with a Anita. Originally from Switzerland she had been traveling for a couple of months between Cambodia and Vietnam with still one month remaining on her trip. We spoke until Peter arrived in the early evening, then discussing tomorrows plans over a few beer.
5:56am Day 12
Off to the market with Peter and Anita. Looks like I'll be wearing wet gear, with the humidity being so high none of my things(shoes, socks, shorts) dried properly last night. 
Wow!! We just got back to the GH and the skies just opened up- looks the same as what I was in yesterday. The morning market had Cambodian's and some tribal people which carried my shooting on for around two hours before a stop for some flavorful street food. Leaving the market we grabbed some bikes and headed for Crater Lake (Boeng Yeak Lom), about 5 km out of town. Upon viewing the lush green vegetation surrounding the beautiful circular lake made it impossible for me not to jump in- what a fantastic idea that was!

Crater Lake in Ban Lung
7:35am Day 12
Mulling over our plan at breakfast right now, the rain coming in sheets. Our arranged 4x4 has be cancelled, our guide (the same dodgy one I had before) has told us that the driver says it's to hard to go. Wait for this...He said he will take us in a car. I thought "Car- are you crazy!?!?!", the motorcycle was already a joke and now he was suggesting a car!! After expressing these thoughts to Peter and Anita we decided against the trip forcing us to come up with a new plan. A while later still conversing, the owner of the GH came to us and said he could get us a 4x4, which by this time we had already decided to leave for Kratie and get out of this torrential rain.
3:34pm Kratie
The ride to Kratie was not fun!! Two and a half hours stuffed in the back of a mini van, get bounced with every one of the 500 potholes we drove through. If that wasn't bad enough, we made a stop for some illegal teak wood which was loaded lengthwise under our seats in turn bringing our knees up to a very uncomfortable level. The only good thing about this ride is that it cuts tomorrows return to Siem Reap drastically.  

After check-in and arranging tomorrow's transport we then decided on the Freshwater Dolphin Expedition which included a 30 minute Tuk Tuk ride followed by a 1 hour boat. A fast rolling storm had us speeding for the shore but not before spotting a few dolphin during our time out.
We said our goodbye's over a very average dinner, Peter en route to Phnom Penh, Anita staying on here a few more days and myself- Siem Reap.
1:12pm Day 13
Great luxury bus ride with the god's trying to make up for yesterday, gifting me the middle seat in the back with leg room to spare. Working air conditioning, a bag of fruit and a couple very cute kids on either side had me even happier. 
Got in to the bus terminal about 5km from town, dropped my gear back at the GH with a short Tuk Tuk ride and headed for the Blue Pumpkin, spending a couple of hours over some yummy fresh spring rolls. 
Tomorrow is the end of this journey but two weeks full of adventures and photography has wet my appetite for my return- I'm not sure when, only that it won't be 13 years from now!

Vietnam 2011

October 16, 2011

A planned trip with my friends in Vietnam was reinvented upon meeting my friend Trang, a half hour after my arrival to Ho Chi Minh. Designed originally to travel south for the floods in the Mekong Delta, the itinerary changed with the government denying tourists access to the region, so this trip would turn into a fleeting "fly by the seat of your pants" adventure taking us to Hoi An, halfway up the coast and back in one week.

 5:00pm Ho Chi Minh Airport
Waiting with about a hundred other people in the visa on arrival area. What seemed like a good idea from the Hong Kong side, seems a bit dismal now- not that I really had a choice anyways due to the late decision to travel. Hopefully Trang isn't waiting to long for me...

The visa ended up taking a mere 23 minutes with shock outweighing my delight- Trang on the other hand was waiting an hour and a half for me. On the drive back to HCMC was my first time hearing the news of the cancelled trip to the south, so when Trang suggested we travel north to Hoi An, I thought it was as good idea as any. Now with no real purpose to head into the city I proposed we catch a train that night, not only saving money but more importantly- time. On board with this idea we made a quick stop by her house to gather her gear, grabbed a bite next door and made for the station.

5:57am Day 02
The Good the Bad and the Ugly described my erratic sleep last night. The seats almost fully reclined which was decent for the back but because of the seat in front, not so good for my legs. Being made for people of a smaller size there was no room to shift so at one point I woke with my neck so stiff I could hardly move my head. Luckily after a quick rummage through my pack, finding my small cylindrical sleeping bag the problem was solved.

3:59pm Hoi An
We found the Sanh Hien Family Guest House without a problem- Trang having stayed there once before. The room was quaint with two beds and cost friendly at 15 USD per night, which split according to my math was 7USD. Showers and toilets were clean, set outside in the back.

Since meeting Trang and my other Vietnamese friends in Laos a couple years back, I have managed to meet with them on a couple of previous occasions but his was the first time Trang and I travelled alone together so neither of us were so sure how we would get along- especially in a room together.

A late afternoon coffee had us sitting alongside an abnormally high river, which due to the recent heavy rainfall was about 3 meters up from this morning now entirely covering the walkway. Earlier while perusing this really small town I had come across a few images from a previous flood where the water reached the heart of Hoi An- very visual with boats navigating the old narrow streets with the backdrops of old heritage buildings.

Hu Tieu
A perfect end to the day with a bowl of Cao Lau (Local noodle found only in Hoi An) as well a Hu Tieu, another noodle taken either dry or in a soup.  

Two more days would follow in Hoi An with us usually spending time to explore, especially through the plethora of tiny, textured infused alleys. When there would be some periodic heavy rainfall, we would take shelter either in a restaurant or a small photography guild which we stumbled upon.
White Rose Dumplings

7:05pm Day 04
Now on the sleeper bus...yes a sleeper bus!- I couldn't be happier right now. Preparing for the long drive south to Phan Rang, we found some yummy baguettes with the help of our guild friend's, who also loaded us up with some local snacks for the long journey.

12:22 Day 05 Phan Rang
In our room now after checking into Mosquito Guest House... after about 20 kills with the borrowed electronic tennis racket the room is finally habitable. 
Today we will be accompanied by Mr. Ju our contact here, visiting a pottery shop and a sheep farm- tomorrow we will head to the desert (glorified sand dunes) and visit a couple villages.

After a nice little adventure on motorbikes with Mr. Ju we decided to treat him to a nice chicken/rice dinner. The pottery factory made for a few interesting shots but the real adventure came out in the hills, riding along country roads and even through ditches. The one to mention had me stuck in two feet of mud- deep enough that Mr. Ju had top help me pull the bike out!

1:31pm Day 06
On the bus en-route to Phan Thiet, our last stop before the trip back to HCMC. Yesterday turned out to be a great day, arriving to the desert before sunrise we photographed some boys riding buffalo across one of the ridges as the sun rose. Very much in contrast with the weather in Hoi An- this weather could not have been more perfect. 
Stopping for a visit with the locals on the ways back was a big highlight of my day. After asking to photograph the couple (both in their 70's), the lady said to Trang that she always wanted a nice portrait of the both of them but could never afford it. So after hearing this it was really my pleasure to give them just that. 

Lovely couple in Phan Rang.
11:04pm Phan Thiet
After checking into what seemed a luxury hotel, a third floor room with the terrace looking out to the ocean, we met briefly with our contact there before enjoying a BBQ beach side.

We've arrange to have kids sledding on the the dunes tomorrow and I have no idea what to expect...

4:42am Day 07
Woke up checking for bites having had such a terrible sleep last night but other than a few on my feet there was nothing out of the ordinary.

Day seven turned out to be a very eventful day, starting early we rode out to the dunes to photograph the sand sledding. The weather was perfect as it was in Phan Rang and as the sun rose and the shadows laid down across the dunes, this large playground turned magical. The kids were exhausted when we finished having run along ridges, sledding down and running back up. With no shelter from the sun and a little sledding myself, I too was worn out.

Leaving the desert we filled our bellies with a bowl of street noodles then rode out to a nearby fishing village. By that time with the sun directly overhead so we kept the time there short heading back to the hotel for a reprieve.

Just prior to our departure we once again met with our photographer friend over a coffee, eager to show us some of his work over the years in the dunes. It turned out to be a very emotional conversation as he told us about some difficult parts in his life. I always meet some great people on the road and he's a great guy.

Off to catch a bus for Bin Hoa. We have been invited for dinner and to with our friend Tu Luc, his wife and three kids for the night .

 10:38am Day 08
Starting from the trip last night...attempting to catch a mini van alongside the highway seemed fruitless. While mulling over our options (already terribly late for dinner), to our delight a mini van pulled over and still on the roll, ushered us in. Three hours later with one thirty minute stop and having dodged death numerous times we were at Tu Luc's house, greeted not only by his family but also our other friends, Jin and Viet. It would turn out to be a wonderful night over a massive feast and no better way to end a trip.

Now at the airport awaiting my flight to HK.

Please visit my website http://davidrephotography.4ormat.com/

Myanmar 2012

April 9, 2012

Four years and having had the monk's tragedy, Cyclone Nargis and lastly an uncontested election in between, I grabbed my gear and once again headed for Myanmar- the real gem of Southeast Asia.

Day 1. April 09, 2012 Yangon

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A City Under Water Exhibition

A CITY UNDER WATER Exhibition Coming June 9, 2012...

Having first traveled to Bangkok in 1998, I have always felt an intimacy with this city and its people. As news of the floods unravelled last year, I felt a strong desire to once again return to Thailand. What ensued were numerous calls to Mednune, a Thai friend of mine who was heavily involved in the relief efforts, and me subsequently heading for the airport.

My four days in Bangkok began with Mednune picking me up from the Airport and heading straight for Pathum Thani, the longest and heaviest area under water. As we arrived quite late it turned out to be just an exploratory trip, but it also gave us much-needed mental preparation for the days to follow.

Each day began with us driving to a different place to gather pre-arranged supplies, such as water, milk, dog food, other food products and medicine. With a loaded car, we would head for the flood zone where boats were standing by to take us in. Boats were a necessity to travel anywhere as the milk tea-colored water reached up to more than five feet in certain areas- the water was in stark contrast to the imagery I captured.

The surrealism of floating by submersed houses, laughing kids splashing in the flood water and mirrored reflections were a photographer's dream, but from a human perspective, the diseased rife water and the loss weighed heavily on my heart.

 A typical day would be spent shooting, feeding dogs, handing out supplies and trying to lend comfort to my friend who could find no solace. She spent countless hours on the phone trying to arrange supplies, proving herself to be a true humanitarian. She was 100 percent emotionally invested in what she was doing.. If we got 200 people supplies, there were 1000 who did not receive any. There was a moment as we veered towards a lady sitting on a makeshift raft made of styrofoam, her pain very clearly masked her entire face. As I held my camera up, my eyes welled up with tears and emotion overtook me. Reluctantly I put my camera down(the image today still remains in my head) and handed her some supplies.

As we finished that day emotionally drained, Mednune and I spoke about a possible exhibition. I thought it would be a perfect way to raise funds for some of the people who lost everything, except their beautiful smiles.

Following that trip on my return to Hong Kong I met with my dear friend Ann, knowing she would be able to help get this project running. A few months have passed and I’m now extremely hopeful this project will be a success.

Kee Magazine   
May 2012

A large part of my thought process in life is finding a way to help other people, so when I took the road of a photographer a few years back, it opened the door for many opportunities. I've always believed in a very "hands on" approach and the A City Under Water project was just that. Having in the past donated some images for charity purposes (which I'm sure helped and is great) is just not the same as taking a project from beginning to end. 

On the long drive to Pathum Thani.
Transferring supplies to the waiting boats.
Med arranging more supplies.

Not only humans needed food...
Boats almost loaded and ready to go.
The essence of survival...water.
Boat driver.
Deep in the flood zone.
Please visit my website @ http://davidrephotography.4ormat.com/