My Photographs: Top 5 The Killing Fields – Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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Choeung Ek Killing Fields, December 2015. After a couple of hours wandering around the unwaveringly grim Tuol Sleng Genocide Centre, the last thing I felt like doing was going out to The Killing Fields, the place where so many Cambodian prisoners were finally put out of their misery in the mid 1970s. But in many ways seeing Choeung Ek felt like a rite of passage, as if my travel mate and I had no right heading off for the beach oases of Sihanoukville and Ko Rong until we’d finished the historical journey we’d started.

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My Photographs: Top 5 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, December 2015. It wasn’t all fun and games during my stay in Phnom Penh. Somewhere along the way my travel mate and I knew we had to stop by this former torture centre to learn more about Cambodia’s dark history. The atrocities carried out here by The Khmer Rouge in the 1970s were unspeakable, and while it was surely nobody’s idea of a fun morning, I felt we owed it to the victims to see the place, hear their stories and leave a silent prayer. Located right in the heart of the city, Tuol Sleng was one of at least 150 Khmer Rouge torture centers dotted around the country between 1975-1979.

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My Photographs: Top 5 Phnom Penh City, Cambodia.

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City Panoramic, December 2015. Arriving in the smoky buzz of Phnom Penh felt like the perfect Asian daydream. Winding our way towards the hotel in our tuk-tuk, there were flashes of fluorescent market stalls, locals munching on sizzling meat sticks and the spectral forms of wobbly high-rises reflecting in the River Mekong. The next morning we awoke to a glorious day of blue-sky perfection, the sun shining so impossibly bright we could barely see.

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My Photographs: Top 5 Battambang Bamboo Train, Cambodia.

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Battambang Bamboo Train, December 2015. During my wanderings around Cambodia I met plenty of fellow travellers who didn’t even bother stopping in Battambang! I can’t help but feel they really missed out; from the kooky town itself with its excellent café and restaurant scene, to the amazing beauty and history of Phnom Sampeau and the immense fun of a trip on The Bamboo Train! The latter is one of the world’s most unique rail journeys, but you’ll only need to part with five Dollars of your hard earned cash for the bumpy twenty-minute ride from O Dambong out to the tiny settlement of Sra Lav.

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My Photographs: Top 5 Phnom Sampeau – Battambang, Cambodia.

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Phnom Sampeau, December 2015. The curious little Cambodian town of Battambang offers visitors a handful of unique sights that stand right up there with the country’s must-see attractions. One of these is Phnom Sampeau, a massive limestone outcrop 12 kilometres outside the town centre. It’s a steep forty-minute walk up to its highest roads, or you can pay an entrepreneurial moto-man four dollars to whisk you up. About halfway up the hill a side road leads you under a gate into the site of Battambang’s grisly Killing Caves. It was here that the Khmer Rouge bludgeoned hundred of people to death and tossed their bodies through the skylights of the caves. A series of highly gruesome sculptures depict the atrocities, while down in the main cave itself there’s a glass case memorial of skulls and bones. Not for the fainthearted.

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My Photographs: Top 5 Kampong Phluk, Cambodia.

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Kampong Phluk, November 2015. The fascinating floating village of Kampong Phluk lies deep in the countryside of Siem Reap province, just a few hours outside the city. A sprawling community of three thousand people, many are fishermen, while those living a little further out farm for a living. Taking a day tour through a city agency, we set off in our minibus, got dumped off in the middle of rural nowhere, then followed our guide on foot to a waiting riverboat. Chugging across the murky brown water, we soon reached the village, an amazing stretch of stilted homes set at about nine meters above water level.  

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My Photographs: Top 5 Battambang City, Cambodia.

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Tuk-tukking, December 2015. One of the many cool things about travelling is the people you meet along the way, often in amusing and unexpected situations. While some of these bonds last for just a day or two, or remain forever connected to just one special moment; it’s great when you form a friendship that goes on to outlast the trip itself. And so it proved with Daryl, who I bumped into on a bus from Siem Reap to Battambang. Crunching our way down a wild stretch of Cambodian road, we quickly got chatting and I learned that this was Daryl’s first stretch of Asian exploring. I on the other hand had just called time on an experimental two months of living and teaching in Siem Reap. We were both excited to see what Cambodia had to offer and by the time we rolled up in Battambang had already drawn up plans to visit the limestone outcrop of Phnom Sampeau and ride the famous Bamboo Train. Checking into our respective hostels, we grabbed some lunch, hailed a tuk-tuk and set off!

Ganesha Hostel, December 2015. The tuk-tuk thing became a running gag between Daryl and I, mainly because we got asked if we needed one approximately five hundred times a day. You could be sitting in a restaurant somewhere working through some noodles: “You wanna tuk-tuk?” squeals a manic voice from behind a plant. Or you might be standing at a urinal doing your business: “You wanna tuk-tuk?” through an open window. One time, Daryl and I were actually in a tuk-tuk on our way somewhere when another driver pulled up alongside us: “You wanna tuk-tuk?” “Of course we bloody don’t, we are in one right now!” While most tuk-tuk drivers were hilarious, baffling, infuriating creatures, we were both impressed by Rit, who ferried us around Battambang one afternoon. He was an atypically mild-mannered driver: Careful, considered, softly spoken and with an interest in his two passengers that transcended the contents of our wallets. If only we could have cloned him for the rest of the trip!

Ta Dumbong Roundabout, December 2015. Wherever we went in Battambang our journey usually took us round this amazing roundabout at the eastern end of town on National Road 5. Ta Dumbong is a legendary figure in Legend has it he was a local cowherd who found a magic stick and used it to usurp the evil king. But having become a man of power, Ta Dumbong grew paranoid that he himself would be killed and had a dream that a holy man on a white horse would vanquish him. And so he decided that the way to deal with this was to order the death of all holy men in the region. From here the story descends into a strange tale of sorcery, flying horses and magic sticks. Convinced he was going to be murdered, Ta Dumbong eventually fled town, never to be seen again.  

Outskirts, December 2015. Battambang is a small town, so any trip out to its local attractions will quickly take you through some stunning countryside. Daryl and I made multiple journeys to and fro over our three-night stay and I often think how nice it would have been to have stayed on one extra night in one of the rickety old wooden cabins between the trees.

With drunk ATM security Guard, December 2015. Daryl and I were out in the centre of Battambang one night trying to find an ATM machine on our way to dinner. When we finally discovered a bank that would actually dispense cash (trickier than you’d imagine), I got talking to the security guard stationed outside. Although a bit wary of him at first (a large gun always has that effect on me), I quickly realised that he was a) very friendly, b) extremely bored c) a little drunk and d) keen to practice his pigeon English. Among the flurry of fascinating topics covered during that memorable five minutes: Cambodian girls versus Western girls (“white skin more beautiful” he insisted) and the irony of his job detail (“See more money go from machine in one day than I  making one year”).

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