Postcard from Cambodia

In News & Stuff, Travel, Within The Frame Adventures by David42 Comments

3 Boats, 1000 Buddhas. Photographed at the cave of 1000 Buddhas on the Mekong River in Laos. And I’m posting this from Bangkok. So it’s not really so much a postcard from Cambodia. That’s the next photograph.


Banteay Srei, Cambodia, Photo by Eve Hannah

Sitting in the departure lounge in Siem Reap, it’s hard to believe this trip is over. In some ways it’s one of the longest, slowest trips I’ve ever made, everything taking much more care and thought than it’s ever taken before. But yesterday marked 5 months since my accident and I celebrated this morning by dancing in the rain, soaked to the bone, at a small temple called Banteay Srei on the outskirts of the Angkor complex.

Angkor was amazing, but it stirs in me the usual regrets and longings. Unable to climb a steep and muddy hill on the first evening here I sat with a cold can of Angkor beer, watching the tourists, and thinking how much I just wanted to photograph this magical place in great light, without the tourists and the touts they (we) attract, and that I was probably 100 years too late. It’s hard to get to upset about the tourists, without also considering my own complicity. I’m part of these crowds, and I kind of wish I would go away so I could enjoy the place alone. 🙂 In the end I may be one of the few photographers who has always longed to photograph Angkor and left without taking more than a couple scouting shots and deciding I was happier just wandering the ancient ruins slowly or watching monkeys jump out of trees into the flooded puddles below.

After 2 weeks with the Fuji x100, I’ve decided that traveling this light is bliss, and it’s a luxury I may seldom have. The camera itself is beautiful, well made, and small. It turns on quickly enough, but focuses like most compacts (slowly) and suffers from just enough shutter lag to make it occasionally annoying, and sometimes closer to useless. I still put the battery in the wrong way at least half the time, which is odd because it shouldn’t take much to make a battery compartment that takes a battery only one way, nor to make a battery that lasts a little longer. And I hate the weird gymnastics I need to do to change a focus point. But for all the quirks it’s a great little camera and I like using it, and the photographs it makes, better than any compact camera I’ve ever used.  I’ll keep in in the Jeep and it’ll be my go-to camera for traveling, but I can’t wait to get back to using a dSLR.

And now I’m off to Kho Samet for a week to sleep in, eat pad thai, swim in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, and do all the stretching and strengthening I neglected over the last 2 weeks. When I get home the new book will be nearly out, and I’ve an ailing Land Rover to tend to and Thanksgiving to enjoy with family before getting ready for Mexico and Honduras. See you soon.


  1. Author

    Derek – Not sure what model it is – just the basic Meisterstuck with a fineliner refill in it. Never leave home without it, or my notebook.

  2. Fantastic to see you dance in the rain! I just returned from Thailand myself from the jungle in the south, but almost 30 years ago I spent Christmas and New Year at Koh Samet. I loved the place, but I believe it would have changed radically since then. A postcard from Koh Samet would be tremendously fun. Enjoy it!

  3. David, I envy you and your life. Wish I could pack everything up and stop worrying and take off to India for a one year and just take pictures. By the way would you be kind enough to look at my pictures on Flickr and tell me what you think? I think of Flickr as a place where I fail, visually and artistically. Have a great trip by the way.

  4. Best to avoid the crowd in the Angkor area is to get up really early. It is a double bonus, you are (almost) alone in the temples and you get the better light. An alternative is to travel further, to Beng Mealea and Koh Ker. At this latest destination, you may have the site all for yourself. I promise you that the feeling is absolutely different than Bayon at 11 AM! In case you intend to revisit Cambodia, I would suggest an overnight home stay in one of the floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake. Easily reachable from Siem Reap, great experience and photo opportunity.

  5. Great to see you’re up and about again David. Be warned, I’m going to talk about gear. Have you ever considered an M9? I can’t see any reason, other than price, why it wouldn’t be a perfect camera for you. If youreenjoying the x100 you’ll love the M.


  6. David,

    This trip strikes me as a huge achievement for you. Well done.

    Glad you enjoy the X100. For the same work I have settled on a M4/3 camera and a couple of lenses. It focuses faster and more reliably, is instantly available, has a couple of good primes and up to ISO 1600 and 11 x 17 prints the quality is excellent. try one.

    Welcome back dude.

  7. It is wonderful that you are able to get out and do what you love best. I have felt the same, about being years to late, about a place however for me it is the first time I have had the opportunity to go. I have found that some of the iconic photos I want to create are no longer possible but pictures of great contrast and uniqueness, if that is a word, are available. I have found that while the moments are not exactly as I pictured they are still special to me and potentially an opportunity to share with the world that is still unable to go beauty and openness of different cultures and locations. One thing that really helps is I often have my 5 and 2 year old with me while I am traveling and the way people from other cultures open up to them is magical and fun to take photographs of. Keep going and for it and enjoy the moment as they are still special and magical. Enjoy your Thai “rehab”

  8. I’m jealous of your stamina and drive. … and you’re also publishing a book..and..100 other things.
    You’re a lesson for all of us.

    I’m totally mesmerised by your book “Within the frame”
    I keep rereading whole sections.

    I’m trying to understand your bit about you “being drawn to expressions of human hunger for the divine for absolution and connection”

    But as a keen observer you must notice that most of these expressions are mechanical and blindly following meaningless ritual?

    Please explain what do you see there?

    Keep safe we still need you.
    Best wishes

  9. Looks like/sounds like you are living some of the advice from Inspired Eye III, you must have read 😉 that book before you began this most recent adventure…

    Glad to see you enjoying the dance of life… guessing theat Fuji must have some pretty decent weather proffing too…

  10. Good to see you dancing. I too, loved the “tourist” line – started my day with a laugh – thank you. Enjoy your time and your pad thai………………….

  11. Great to see that you made it through with your sense of humor intact. I agree re the tourists, but I can’t resist getting the camera out. Looking forward to meeting you in Venice 2012


  12. a big smile and a little tear – thats my reaction of the rain picture. it’s such a blessing, that things did turn out the way they did! we’re all happy you dance again.


  13. that second picture reminded me immediately of siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinging in the raiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin! just siiiiiiiiiiiiiinging in the rain! what a gloooorious feeling i’m haaaaappy again!

    just replace umbrella with cane.

  14. Dancing for joy! Way to go. Angkor blew my mind and still has the same impact on me when I look at my photos. I was lucky and arrived before the tourist buses, and could stay after they had gone. A magical place when there are few people there. Tourists always get in the road!! (And I get in their road – 🙂 )

    Enjoy Thailand, and keep dancing!

  15. PS today I’ve been playing with the Sony NEX C3 camera. It’s a supposedly 4/3rds camera but it’s an APS sensor, same size as many of the full sized SLRs on the market. It weighs almost nothing and fits into my purse. I honestly can see carrying it to places I wouldn’t haul my full 5D and f2.8 lenses to. It shoots relatively fast, and has some really neat features. Thinking I gotta get me one!

  16. Well said as always. In 2007 I spent two days at Machu Picchu, the second one without a camera entirely to just experience San Padro and its effects in that magical place. I wouldn’t have had the same spiritual experience with my camera to my face the whole time.

    I agree, great to see you dancing!

    It also puts a great perspective on losing 1000 images from France and Spain recently due to a card crash and even date recovery can’t get them back. Now all I have is the memories and they’re all that more special perhaps without the images! Interesting!

  17. It’s good to see you out and about again, sending us great postcards.
    I feel the same way about tourists, and I suppose the only thing you can do is go in low season and see landmarks early in the morning, or at night if possible. That’s how I had all the temples entirely to myself in Sukhothai.

  18. I laughed aloud at the image of you dancing in the rain. There’s a lot I like about the image, but I really like the look on your face and what it says about how far you’ve come. Congrats!

  19. I have had similar thoughts to yours as I travel through crowded sites. I want to see them but I am also concerned about adding to their possible wear and tear from too many visitors.

    If you have questions when you return to working on your Land Rover give these people as call –, they know Land Rovers.

  20. Fantastic to see you up and about, David. I still need to further explore this part of the world, perhaps next year. Rainbows only come out after it rains!

  21. So glad you made it out to Banteay Srei. Even more than some of the others, I couldn’t conceive of what so many tourists were doing. Walk up to that beautiful entry way, take a picture, and move on. So many never paused to look at what they were seeing, to eavesdrop on the multilingual guides to hear the stories that those intricate scenes depicted. (I photographed a few just so that I could bring them home to our scholar neighbor to get the stories where there were only German or Japanese speaking guides!) We were fortunate, not even out of planning it this way, to arrive at the temples at around 10:30 and stay until about 3, thus missing the vast majority of crowds even at Angkor Wat. So glad you are well and mobile for this trip. Enjoy the rest!

  22. I’ve been reading the posts throughout your recovery with a lot of interest, partially because my brother had similar injuries after a really bad rock climbing accident. He, just like you, didn’t let it slow him down and is now living and working in Antartica. Congratulations on your trip, may there be many more.

  23. Loved the shot of you dancing! hahaha! Awesome that you get to celebrate 5 months from your fall dancing on your own two feet! Nothing short of a miracle! Hope the warm water and pad thai do a great service to both your soul and your body! Have a great (and well-deserved) rest in Thailand!

  24. I love the still life — the camera, the pen, the notebook, the beer… Life in The Tropics…

    I’m glad you slowed down enough to just walk around and enjoy the scenery. I’d have shooting compulsively and not “seen” anything. You will be back.

  25. I love Banteay Srei too. Spent a fair bit of time there and I agree the crowd (including myself) can get in the picture a bit too often and kinds of make it difficult to get a nice shot. Great place, great country to explore. 🙂

  26. Wow.

    We’re backpacking in Ecuador, as I shared with you. And two days ago it hit me how much of a tourist I am. I had my camera out at a very popular indigenous market, and I knew I was one of many who had come before. I saw it in a few looks. I saw so many great photos, but for the most part my gut feeling kept me from snapping them. I was able to hire a tailor to put an Ecuadorian patch on my backpack, and hoped he’d let me make a photo. But when he ended up trying to charge 5x what he originally quoted, I lost faith!

    What you said, about being a hundred years late, is almost exactly what I said to my brother when we visited the Inca Pirca ruins. ‘We were born too late man. Globalization is here.’

    Funny how all I want is to get a unique photo of something that is special, because it’s not plastered all over the media – or atleast I haven’t seen it.

    Anyway, I’ve been a lot slower to rip the camera out of the bag. Being in a different culture and different place in the world is beautiful for far more reasons than getting unique photos.

    Thanks for a well timed post, David. I hope the rest of your travels are filled with good times!

  27. Great to see you up and “dancing.”

    On my visit to Siem Reap, I went to the “back” of Angkor Wat before dawn, walking through the woods in the dark. Got some unorthodox shots before it got too busy.

  28. Banteay Srei was my favourite – tiny and exquisite. We got there VERY early and watched hordes streaming in as we were leaving. The monkeys were just the best – so much fun.

    Have a wonderful rest in Thailand – you deserve it.

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