Before I get into this next post, I have to warn my readers that there may be some images that are upsetting to some viewers. Please keep this in mind while you continue.
I really try and bring you an authentic experience, digging deep and traveling far off the beaten path. This sometimes brings me to experience and witness things that are very different from the things we are used to seeing in the Western world. Seeing the tiger paw being sold on the streets of Guangzhou is a good example of that.
After a few days of rest for both myself and my camera, I decided to try and get some really authentic images. Today was Khmer New Year, one of the biggest celebrations in the Cambodian calendar. Locals from all over the country make their way to Siem Reap for parties and prayers as it is the cultural centre of Cambodia.
At 8:00am, I was picked up by my Tuk Tuk and driven almost two hours into the rural farmland surrounding Siem Reap. In the entire day, I was the only Westerner that I saw until I got back to the city. The long drive took me through rice paddies and down long dirt roads. I had my camera in a plastic bag to protect it from the dust being kicked up by other vehicles.
I saw locals in their daily lives, in their home settings. Some were producing baskets made of wicker, some were cooking sticky rice in bamboo and lotus leaves. Then there were some gambling on the cockfights. This was an unscheduled stop and as my Tuk Tuk bounced along the dirt road, I noticed a large group of men and boys in a circle and yelling so loud that I heard them from some distance away. I asked my driver to turn around and after getting the permission of the man in charge, I was allowed to photograph this event. It made me feel very uncomfortable to watch the animals being forced to fight, but I wanted to bring you an authentic experience. If it happens, no matter how raw, I am going to bring you the images and the stories. There were even small children watching the fights. I only stayed for a single round. After the round, the cut men went to work dressing the animal’s wounds, just like in boxing, getting the roosters ready for their next round.
From there it was off to a local temple for the Khmer New Year festivities. The first thing you notice are the Buddhist Monks chanting over the loudspeakers. As I made my way around the grounds, I saw people dancing and participating in various traditions.
In Cambodia, there are still a large number of live landmines. Maimed survivors are everywhere, and a lot of them perform in traditional bands. The one large difference in Cambodia is that people do not beg for money here. They are among the most friendly and warm hearted people I have encountered in my travels.
I finally enjoyed a nice dinner of Cambodian spiced beef and chicken Korean BBQ style on Pub Street. Six days in this gorgeous country has come to an end. Some of my favourite images have come out of these last few days. Next stop Malaysia!