A few pics from a recent trip

awgreenWat Arun and Angkor Wat in dramatic repose…

plus the silhouette of my beautiful girl.

I shot the Angkor Wat photos at dawn and then took the one above and photoshopped it a bit to obtain the pink, green and blue effects.  Just thought it looked cool.

The Wat Arun photos were taken at dusk.  I spent a night at the wonderful Arun Residence.  Just across the Chao Phraya from Wat Arun and only a short walk from Wat Pho and the Grand Palace.

These are just a few shots of some of my favorite places in Asia.  Hope you enjoy.  If you like ’em, leave a note.

Angkor and Siem Reap: The American Guide

I had been planning and putting off going to Laos since 2005.  I’d even booked a flight boarded a plane and been diverted by a cyclone.  Wound up going to Chiang Mai instead on that trip. This trip.  I hadn’t intended to go into Laos.  My intent was to stay in Cambodia a bit longer and travel upriver to Battambang and see a bit of the countryside away from the usual tourist chatter. This time, though, I decided that it was time.  I’d waited long enough for Laos and Avin decided to go with me.  But first, Angkor…

Amy, Rey and me at Bayon Temple

On my last holiday (July 2008), I had come to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh and two of my friends from the capital city had come up with me so that I could give them a tour of the Angkor temples.  A bit of a twist there.  An American giving Cambodians a tour of their own cultural treasures.  I’ve been there 6 or 7 times by now.  So I guess I know them as well as anyone.  I’ve almost seen all of the temples around Siem Reap. On these next few trips, I plan on branching out a little further and seeing some of the sites near the Thai border.  But that’s for the future.  Amy, Rey and I toured the temples.  I took them to all of the major sites.  Angkor Wat.  Bayon.  Ta Prohm.  Bakoung.  The Elephant Terrace.  The Leper King.  By that time, the unrelenting Cambodian sun had taken it’s toll.  We returned to our hotel to rest during the heat of mid-day. During the summer months of Cambodia, you have to get out of the heat at mid-day.  That sun will cook you.  I’ve stayed out in it.  But I’ve not many Cambodians who will endure it for long by choice.  I like being out at this time because there are fewer tourists out at this time.  I can be alone in the temples.  Get great pics.  Take my time.  Afterward, we went to the Temple Club.  We watched the Apsara Dance Show and had a few drinks.

The funny part of this night came after we left the Temple Club and it’s Apsara.  We walked up Pub Street to a rooftop bar at the end of the street.  Before we went up, I noticed neon lights a little further down the street.  I asked the girls if they wanted to check it out.  They agreed to come along.  When we got inside, it turned out that the bar was a Khmer version of a strip club.  No  nudity.  But dancers on a stage in skimpy outfits.  These girls were acrobatic.  I don’t think any American girls could compete with the way these girls dance.  I sat down and ordered a drink for myself.  Amy and Rey ordered a beer.  I looked around a bit uncomfortable.  Not for myself, though.  I was fine in there.  More than fine.

I need not have worried.  Amy and Rey loved the place.  They danced to the music.  They talked about the girls.  Asking me which was sexiest and prettiest.  Compared the dancing.  They applauded at the end of each dance.  We sat there and carried on and had fun.  A little later, we invited our favorite over for a drink.  I was thinking the girl would have a beer or a whiskey and coke.  She ordered a Soy Milk.  I almost fell over laughing.

It was an interesting trip.

The girls left the next day and I met Avin…

That’s another story.

The Angels of Angkor

There are around 1300 Apsara carved on the walls of Angkor. This is a hundred or so of them. Each Apsara is unique. It’s said that each Apsara bas relief is modeled after an actual girl in the court of King Suryavarman II.  Note the differences in everything from the sarongs to the types of flowers, bracelets, headdresses, hairstyles.  Each face is unique.  Each facial expression is unique.  I was told that only two of the Apsara were carved with smiles.

The music is Flowers by Dengue Fever.

The Children of the Khmer

Cambodia is probably the poorest country that I have visited. It’s much more of a backwater than even Afghanistan. Their only industry is the silk trade. Silk crafts such as scarves, table cloths, clothing, etc. Not much else in the way of industry. Handicrafts such as statuary. Precious and semi-precious gems. Tourism must be one of the, if not the, largest industry for Cambodia. Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Siem Reap are the primary destinations of most tourists. Eco-tourism in the more remote areas for the more adventurous souls. It’s a country stricken with extreme poverty. High illiteracy rates. High birth rates. High crime.

A great part of the tourist industry is Siem Reap and the Angkor Temple Complex. Within this complex and in the three major cities of Cambodia, the children are exploited in order to make money off of the sympathies of tourists. It works. These are children of the Khmer. The children of Cambodia. The children of Angkor. Some. They’re simply adorable. You want to pick them up and hug them and make it all better someway. Anyway. Some will annoy the hell out of you. They’ll make you want to scratch your eyes out. Scream at the top of your lungs for them to get away. So many I wanted to adopt. Take home to my Momma or Sister to give them a good home. I have come to believe that every child deserves a good home. Children deserve a chance. These children are severely handicapped. Not physically. Socially. Economically. In many cases, emotionally. They didn’t ask to be born. But birthed they were. Brought into existence in a world of abject poverty and near hopelessness. My heart went out to these children. Many of whom are loving, adorable, huggable. Eminently lovable. You’ll see just what I mean in the above video.

Most, if not all, of the children seen here work from 7 or 730 AM to 9 or 10 PM. I’ve seen some of them out with their mothers begging or selling food ’til 1 AM. Not the life for a child. When do they get to just be children?

Another strange experience for me were the “beggar costumes.” The faux beggars. It must happen elsewhere. But I don’t think they are as brazen as what I witnessed in Cambodia.

Srey Mao and I had finished our day exploring the Angkor temples for the day and headed back to my hotel room. While passing Angkor Wat, we stopped to grab a beer and watch the sun go down over the great temple. As I did, a mother and 3 children approached us looking completely destitute and pitiful. They were filthy. So I bought some food and gave it to the mother. They went off to eat. The sun went down. I continued upon my path feeling good about having done something nice for someone.

I dropped Srey at the Banana Bar on Pub Street where she is manager. Then returned to my hotel. Grabbed a shower. Dressed and found my way back to Pub Street. By this time it was 9 PM. I sat and drank a few beers with Srey. Then walked over to the Temple Club for a few games of pool with the local gals. The Temple Club is one of the best places in Siem Reap to catch a game of pool. It’s also a great place to watch the Apsara Dance. (I will put some videos of this on the blog at a later date.) Each visit to Siem Reap, I find my way to the Temple Club. I love watching those beautiful little Khmer ladies re-enact the dance of the Gods. And I love to play pool with cute little Khmer women. I played pool for an hour or two and proceeded to get fairly well sauced on the old standby Jack and Coke.

Back in Kentucky, I’m a Kentucky Bourbon man. Rarely drink anything else. I’ll hit Jack sometimes in Kentucky. But usually only when I am first returning from overseas. It’s a habit. Overseas. No one knows Kentucky Bourbon. There is one bar that I have found from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur that serves Maker’s Mark and I once found a bottle of Elijah Craig at a liquor store. Both establishments are in Saigon–Ho Chi Minh City. I guess the communists like good bourbon.

At any rate, I finish playing pool and walk over to the Banana Bar to pick up Srey Mao. She and I return to the Temple Club and sit out on the patio.

That’s when I spot her. (Reminds me of Prince and Raspberry Beret. lol)

The little girl from our “sunset and beer” viewing of Angkor Wat. She is cleaned up and changed into a different set of clothing. I just start to laugh. Rolling up directly behind her is her little sister. Finally, here comes brother. By this time, I am laughing loud and hard. I can barely breath. I realize immediately what I’m seeing. What I saw earlier. The scam that these kids mother plays out every day. Srey looks at me like I’m insane and asks what is wrong with me. Why am I laughing? I point out the kids. She sees it and starts to laugh as well. So I tell Srey to call them over. I ask them to join us and I’ll buy them supper. Srey and I start to poke and prod our way around the subject of their little subterfuge. Whose idea is this scam? Why are they doing it? How long?

So we slowly pull the story out of them. They tell us that their father abandoned them and moved on to Phnom Penh and disappeared. Mom has them dress down in rags to look destitute so they can beg for money. Apparently, Mother can barely write. In typical Khmer fashion she is uneducated. No job. No prospects. It’s either beg or starve. So they ditch their good set of clothes in an alley. Put on rags. Beg for money for food and clothing. Trying to save up money for a simple room to live in.

Honestly, I can’t begrudge that. It may have been an over-dramatization. Even so, these kids were so happy to be eating that I can’t see how it could have been an act. Afterward, I felt so sad for these children that I purchased food for about half the kids on the street. They all shared. No one fought. One little girl came up and held my hand for the longest time. I wish that I had my camera to take a photo. She was adorable. I left that night like most nights in Cambodia with a new appreciation of the life with which I have been graced. Fortune by birth. This old Kentucky boy has traveled to many a place about which many can only dream. I’ve had experience after experience that has enriched my life. Made possible by the simple accident of fate by which I came to be born American.

I know that some of my fellow Americans enjoy poking fun at those who say that America is the greatest nation on earth. But the simple truth is that everyone born in America is blessed. We have the means to lift ourselves up from our modest roots. Our destitution if that is our lot in the beginning. We have the tools to overcome our challenges. Much of the world does not.

To have been born in America is truly a blessing.



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little sales girls of Cambodia

Outside every temple and every sight of note and on any street that a tourist or backpacker travels in Cambodia, you’ll be bombarded by touts and hagglers and salespersons of all ages. The beggars are always out in great numbers as well. Sometimes it is a pain. Other times, it’s heartbreaking. Sometimes, it’s fun. You’ll get a guy or gal who puts a new twist on things.

Then you have Spider Girl. She was absolutely adorable. I wanted to adopt her and send her home to live with my mother or sister. She was sweet and not overly pushy and cute as a button. She smiled shyly at you and almost pleaded for you to buy “some cold drink” from her. After all, you are “very hot, Mister.” Spider Girl stations herself right outside Angkor Wat from sun up to sun down selling water, Coke, Sprite or a cold beer. Anything to quench your thirst after a few hours spent wandering among the ruins of Angkor in the 90 to 100 degree heat and sun of an average Siem Reap morning or afternoon.

I rode up to Angkor Wat in my Tuk Tuk with my driver and my camera at the ready. Jumped out of my ride and swiftly headed for the great Temple built by the Jayavarman VII–the buddhist Prince who transformed Cambodia into a single empire by defeating the Chams and uniting the Khmer under the Ankgorean banner. But before I could get across the street Spider Girl was on me. “Mister! Mister! Buy cold drink from me! Buy cold drink from me!” My answer is always maybe. Maybe. Often when coming upon the temples of Ankgor, you are surrounded by 10 or more young kids trying to sell you everything and anything. Post Cards. Water. Beer. Bracelets. Guidebooks. Cokes. Fans. Statues of Buddha of all shapes and sizes. Paintings of Angkor and Apsara. They tout and sell everything.

The salesmanship and savvy of some of these kids amazes me each time I visit. They’ll ask you what country or state you are from and name the capitals and any manner of interesting trivia about your home. They’ll tell you how “handsome ” or “pretty” you are. They talk to you about anything that might keep you around long enough to make a sale. The really small ones will hold your hand and look into your eyes and make you fall instantly in love with them. They speak pieces of several languages. I watched one little gal who could not have been more than 8 or 9 years of age talk to tourists from Sweden, Japan, Germany and America and communicate with them in their own languages. Not fluent to be sure. But enough to communicate and make a sell. Unbelievable. There exists a devilish combination in some of them. Adorable. Angelic looking. Intelligent. Savvy. Street smart. And manipulative as Bill Clinton on his way to the Whitehouse. lol

You have to look on these scenes and grudgingly admire the survival instincts and entrepreneurship of these children of Cambodia. You can’t help but fall in love with them.

Near the end of the video, one of the boys in the crowd asks me about my Buddha tattoo. The whole time that I was in Asia, people were fascinated by that tattoo. Complete strangers would reach out and touch my shoulder. People would wai (a short bow of respect) to it. Endless questions as to where I had it done. Why I had it done. Unlike Muslims, no Buddhist was offended by my tattoo. They were genuinely thrilled and fascinated by it. It was quite strange the first time a hand reached out from a crowd. Not to hurt or steal or even sell me something. Merely to touch the Buddha on my shoulder. Whenever I would rest, children would come up to me and rub my shoulder and stare at it. My tattoo is modeled after a painting (below) that I purchased in Vietnam. That painting in turn is very similar to the Buddha/Jayavarman VII hybrid that is ubiquitous in Cambodia. So the Khmer people of Cambodia have a special affinity for that image and especially admired the tattoo. As for me, it enriched my Asian experience and made my visit all the more enjoyable.


Angkor Wat

This is a video I made of Angkor Wat and some of the surrounding Temples and Terraces while I was there in September. Angkor Wat has something like 1200 bas relief Apsara carved on it’s massive walls. The Apsara are angels in Hindu mythology. They entertain and in some cases protect and even marry Gods and Mortals. They are said to be as captivating and desirable as the Sirens of Greek Mythology.