Currently in Siem Reap in northern Cambodia. We experienced Phnom Penh a few years ago, but haven’t been to Siem Reap in over a decade. It’s cozy here, just as I remember it. Not much seems to have changed. Everything still feels scaled down and manageable, from a visitors perspective. No looming highrises like in the Cambodian capital. Yet now there’s even more of an abundance with really good, reasonably priced restaurants, pubs and cheap foot massage shops, hairdressers and spas.
If your into beer, several places here will pour you a tall glass of local draft for as little as $1. A tasty and almost filling Khmer dinner will only set you back about $4 and to enjoy an hour long foot massage, most places will charge just five buckaroos.
Why I’m referring to prices in US dollars, you ask? Well, because even if the local currency, the »riel«, is the official method of payment, the de facto and widely preferred unofficial second currency is for whatever reason the US dollar. Sad in way, but it makes paying (and tipping) here very simple and straightforward. Siem Reapians are easy-going, generous with their smiles and ever-so-polite, without being subserviant. It’s about as safe here as anywhere else I’ve been in Southeast Asia. Never feel unsafe in this part of the world – as I unfortunately do from time to time back home in Malmö.
We spent yesterday’s sunset and this morning’s sunrise climbing the steep steps of stupas, walking down long palatial corridors and wandering into enormous prayer halls at Angkor Wat and Phnom Bakheng. And today, we explored the giant trees that have reclaimed the temple of Ta Prohm. What should of been a fairly serene visit to this ancient and sacred buddhist site, was anything but. We shared most of our excursions with some of the most rowdy, loud-mouthed, flag-waving, selfie-taking, ill-dressed tourists I’ve ever had the displeasure of rubbing elbows with. Not all, but most were from the Middle Kingdom. A forebearer of things to come?
I’ve been shooting travel photos professionally for close to 20 years now and have had hundreds (if not thousands) of my images published in dozens of magazines and newspapers in Scandinavia, Europe and the US. So I can say with some assertiveness that I don’t find it particularly hard to photograph temples here. Quite the opposite. With the right lens arsenal (primes, in my case), shooting at the optimum time of day for the best possible light (and perhaps lugging around a travel tripod), it should be hard to screw up. The only entirely uncontrollable, capricious factor that has ruffled my feathers, is with the many others I have to share the scenes with and how insensitive or uncooperative they turn out to be.
I totally get that there is no real reason for me to think I should have priority over anyone else. It’s not that which I am referring to. I’m talking about plain and simple politeness and a reasonable perception and consideration of what’s happening beyond the group’s tireless flag-waving. That’s all.
To say I’m not a huge fan of institutionalized religion would be a massive understatement. Don’t misunderstand me, though. I get that religion is important to many, many billions of people across the globe, and as long as the faith is personal and practiced unjudgmentally, I have zero problems respecting it.
Walking through Angkor Wat’s massive temple grounds made me think about religion again. How complex a role it has played in human history – in a way that no other species on this planet could even begin to comprehend. Not even dolphins, I think. So, to see all the trees do there outmost to reclaim the temple ruins and expand the forrest around Angkor Wat, as if there actually were Ents from Tolkien’s ring saga doing the reclaiming, was somehow soothing.