Cambodia | Travel Photographer

My sister, Julie, lives in Korea and teaches English there. I hadn’t seen her for a year, so I was so excited to visit her during her vacation time in February (hooray for frequent flyer miles!). It ended up being quite the adventure, to say the least.

If you would rather not hear about the unfortunate events that unfolded, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs 🙂

I left Raleigh for Cambodia, feeling prepared for the 27 hour journey.  Unfortunately, my flight was delayed and I missed my connecting late night flight to Zurich by three minutes. They literally shut the doors three minutes before I arrived at the gate, panting and pleading. This left me in Newark for the night, with my rebooked flight leaving the next evening. This also meant my time in Cambodia would be cut down to five days. They put me in a hotel for the night in Newark, but they couldn’t find my luggage, which had my coat…and it was pretty cold (long story short on that: I kept going back and forth between the different carriers at the airport and my suitcase was finally located an hour before my flight to Zurich the next night). Here’s the silver lining to my missed connection: I took the train to New York and got to spend a few hours in the city, which is pretty fun–even if you don’t have a coat. I went to the Society of Illustrators museum, which was really cool. I love illustrations and always appreciate being able to see them in person. I also had a bagel at my favorite bagel spot in New York, Tal Bagel, and walked around Soho for a bit. I call that a win.

The biggest problem happened the day I arrived in Cambodia. Phnom Penh is full of scooters and motorcycles and Julie and I were riding in a tuk tuk. Suddenly, someone on a scooter grabbed Julie’s bag off her arm and took off. Our driver tried to chase him, but couldn’t keep up and we lost him. Unfortunately, Julie had her passport, Korean alien resident card, phone, and money in that bag. It was all gone. Poor Julie 🙁 This happened on a Saturday and we went straight to the embassy to seek help. When we arrived, we learned that the embassy is only open Monday-Thursday for three hours per day. We tried to go to the police station, but it was closed, too. We were scheduled to fly to Siem Reap (where we were supposed to be for 4 days) the next morning but couldn’t do that with Julie’s passport missing. We ended up spending all day Monday through Wednesday at the embassy, police station, and visa office in Phnom Penh. It took that long to get her a temporary passport and new visa (with some bribe money expected at the police station and visa office). If you are curious what the inside of a police station in Phnom Penh looks like, Julie and I could describe it to you pretty well 🙂 After Julie got her visa (the last thing she needed), we drove 6 hours to Siem Reap since the flights were sold out. We were leaving Cambodia the next day, but we couldn’t leave without at least seeing Angkor Wat. So, on a 6 day trip that was whittled to 5 days, 3 days were spent dealing with less pleasant things. Still, Julie and I got to spend time together, which was the most important thing for me. We were able to see the two temples we wanted to see most in Siem Reap. We also ate good food each day, laughed a lot, and got super cheap massages. That’s not so bad 🙂

Okay, on to the sites. The first site below is the Killing Fields, located in the Phnom Penh area. Between 1975-1979, 1.7 million Cambodians were killed in this genocidal attack. There were mass graves covering the area and even the paths we walked had bones surfacing from recent rains. As horrifying and sad as it was to visit (and as macabre as some of the images below may be), it is an important site and a reminder of what incomprehensible things can happen in this world–and what we cannot tolerate. On Sunday, when the embassy was closed, we walked around the Russian Market and saw all of the food vendors. We also went to Wat Phnom, across from the embassy, while we waited for it to open one day. Once we finally got to Siem Reap, it was pretty refreshing and I found I liked it much more than Phnom Penh. This is where the temples of Angkor are located. Because we only had one day in Siem Reap instead of four, we had to be choosy with our time. We decided to go to Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm and they were every bit as amazing as I expected. Angkor Wat is the biggest and best known site (with the crowds to prove it). I’m pretty lucky to have a couple shots without people in them. It took a lot of patience and, in one spot, it required that I lie on the ground in position and wait for my moment as people looked at me inquisitively. It is pretty well maintained for a temple constructed in the 12th century and there was reconstruction happening even when we were there. Ta Prohm, though also under construction in some spots while we were there, is not as well maintained and has a wild quality about it. The walls of the temple sit in crumbled heaps and the strangler figs have taken over.  I felt a sense of mystery there. Naturally, I loved it.

Despite our mishaps, I would still recommend people visit Cambodia (especially Siem Reap) and I am really glad I went.

Just guard your valuables, folks! 🙂