Cambodia

The vanishing rainforests (and cultures) of eastern Cambodia

The forested hills of Mondulkiri Province, eastern Cambodia. The forest is disappearing fast as a result of logging and the expansion of rubber plantations in the area. On a recent visit to the area, though, I learned that the destruction of the forest began five decades ago as it  fell victim to the war in Southeast Asia.

I am writing these phrases in Sem Monorom, the small and sleepy town that serves as capital and market center for Cambodia’s remote eastern province of Mondulkiri. This is the country’s most sparsely populated province; its forested hillslopes, mild temperatures, and the presence of a most members of Cambodia’s Phanong minorty make it a very different place from the flat, hot, and rice covered plateau most of the country’s majority Khmer people live. This area is known for its magnificent waterfalls and its forest vegetation and wildlife, but until recently distance and poor roads have insulated the region from tourism, commercial farming, and pretty much everything else. But all of this is quickly changing. Brand new paved roads and bridges link the province with Cambodia’s...

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A King dies, a country mourns

Remembering the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh has been a subdued place for the past five days; a marked change from the noise and bustle that is usually a hallmark of the city. My apartment is a few hundred meters from the Royal Palace, and all roads in this area are closed to vehicle traffic. Instead of the cacophony of horns and the shouts of vendors announcing their wares, there is an almost eerie silence. As I look out from my balcony, instead of the customarily chaotic traffic on Sothearos Boulevard I can see a steady stream of people heading south toward the Royal Palace. Most are wearing white shirts – the traditional color of mourning – with black ribbons pinned on their chests. Most carry lotus flowers to...

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Ordinary people doing ordinary things on a Cambodian farm

Part of the living area underneath Tra's family home.

    A september day on a rice farm in Takeo Province. Four of every five Cambodians live in rural areas, where most farm small plots of land. The video below shows a farm in Take Province, south of Phnom Penh. It's September, near the peak of the rainy season. The rice has been planted but is not yet ready for harvesting, and so it is a quiet time for the extended family living here. 

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A temple in Cambodia: Phnom Chiso

Part of the ruins of an ancient building atop Phnom Chiso, with a view of flat plains of rice paddies below.

Cambodia is best known for Angkor Wat, the vast temple built in the first half of the 12th century by King Suryavarman II to honor the Hindu goddess Vishnu (and, more than incidentally, himself too.) Angkor Wat, though, is by no means the only temple dating back to the days of the Angkor empire. Nearly a hundred other temples dot the landscape around Angkor, and many others are to be found in other parts of Cambodia. Phnom Chiso is one of these temples, located atop a hill in Takeo Province, about 60 km south of Phnom Penh. This temple is older the Angkor Wat; it was built in the 11th century. Though damaged by American bombing during the war in Southeast Asia in the...

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Phnom Penh’s informal recyclers

Sleeping in a cart used for collecting recyclables (probably not just a nap; many collectors do most of their work at night.)

Some of Phnom Penh’s poorest residents make a living pushing their carts around the city’s streets, gathering soda cans, plastic bottles, and anything else they can sell for recycling. This short video shows some of these hard-working people going about their daily business.

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When words just aren’t enough: landscapes of the five senses.

When words just aren’t enough: landscapes of the five senses.

I love words, and I am enthralled by the power of language. There is a richness in language that goes far beyond its ability to transmit facts, opinions, or instructions. Words can convey emotion, complexity, character, ambiguity, and humor in ways that go far beyond their dictionary definitions. One of my main objectives on this site is to use words to try and give readers a sense of some of the places visit and people I meet, and to communicate some of what I have learned from my travels. But words, for all their immense power,  just aren’t up to some tasks. They can evoke an image in the mind of a reader, but sometimes the image itself cannot adequately be translated into language,...

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