Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Simply awesome

Our coffee break stop overlooking the forest and listening to the wild gibbons
The evergreen forest cover in the Southern Cardamoms is simply awesome. I wouldn't have believed it until I saw it for myself. 1.7 million acres, patrolled by Wildlife Alliance's forest rangers, are protected and is thriving. It's home to at least 400 wild elephants and countless other endangered animals, but remains under threat. To fly over it was a rare privilege. I was mesmerized. We even landed the chopper on a cliff edge to take in the view, listen to the calls of the gibbons and have some croissants and coffee! Click to enlarge the photos.
Another Cardamoms snap with a river running through the dense forest

This forested hill was one of the last we flew over before the Cardamoms came to an end

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Secret location

There were 50 burial jars on a rock ledge in the middle of the dense forest
To be frank the 3 days of our Wildlife Alliance trip was a series of highs and one of the biggest was visiting a burial jar site deep into the Southern Cardamoms that only a handful of foreigners like me have been privileged to see. It takes two days just to walk there so going in by chopper made it accessible for the 1st time. There are more than 50 burial jars at this particular secret location, one of ten jar sites in the Southern Cardamoms dated between the 14th-17th centuries. And there are almost certainly more waiting to be discovered. Click to enlarge.

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The fight goes on

The Stung Proat River Ranger Station
This is the Stung Proat River Ranger Station as we take off in the Helistar helicopter after our visit to the Wildlife Alliance-backed station, which is located in the Chiphat area of the Southern Cardamom Mountains. The ranger station is an important part of the fight against timber and wildlife smugglers in this remote community. Their evidence room is full to bursting with guns, snares, timber and equipment confiscated from illegal activities, displayed here by WA officer Kaspar. And a photo of our welcoming committee - click to enlarge the pictures.
WA Officer Kaspar with a man-made hunting rifle

Our Stung Proat Station welcoming committee

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Smooth ride

Our group of intrepid and very fortunate travellers

To enjoy such a remarkable trip (a 3-day tour of the Southern Cardamom Mountains) for my first time in a helicopter was a real pleasure. The views were spectacular, in every direction, and I was very impressed with the smoothness of the ride even when flying into the headwind. Our pilot was Volker, who was a mine of information and humour throughout the trip. I was lucky enough to get one of the two front seats, because of my smaller weight, and that served to enhance the experience. Helistar did us proud. Here we are before we take off from Phnom Penh airport and a photo of Volker at the controls - click to enlarge.
Volker at the controls of our Helistar Chopper

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Absolutely adorable

The gigglers in Sovanna Baitong
Adorable Cambodian children are everywhere, and the village of Sovanna Baitong, which is a model community supported by Wildlife Alliance in Koh Kong, is no exception. Non-stop giggling from this brother and sister was soon followed by a game of chase with this group of children before they waved us off as we flew onto our next destination. Click to enlarge both pictures.
This group tired me out with a game of chase

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Doing my bit

Guess which one is the sapling? Click to enlarge.
Doing my bit to maintain the forest cover in the Southern Cardamoms, by planting a young sapling with the help of Wildlife Alliance's Million Tree Nursery in Chiphat. Here the WA team and local staff are doing the groundwork to grow 99 different species of tropical trees, that are being replanted throughout the region, with nearly a million trees already replanted. The operation is a massive investment in time, labour and money but is proving to be a major success. It reminded me of my tree-planting adventures on Koh Trong in the middle of the Mekong River a few years ago.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sopheap goes solo so far

Sopheap tries her luck with a coconut - click to enlarge
Deep into the Cardamom wilderness, Wildlife Alliance have set up a wildlife rehabilitation station which they use as the final stop before animals are released back into the wild. Many of them have been confiscated from animal traders or from private homes and if they can be successfully reintegrated back into the wild, then that's WA's goal. The station is impossible to find, known only to a handful of locals and WA officers. It took us 45 minutes on the back of motorbikes to navigate the partially-flooded forest route to reach it. Another trip not for the faint-hearted but one I took in my stride after my previous temple-hunting adventures over many years. This sun bear at the station is Sopheap, a 2 year old who is waiting for a mate to arrive before both will be reintroduced into the wild. Previous releases of many animals have already proved to be a success at the station.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

4 Rivers

4 Rivers from the air as Volker did a couple of sweeps
 Here's a look at the accommodation on our second night in the Southern Cardamoms, at the luxurious 4 Rivers in Tatai, from the air and on the ground. Volker did a couple of sweeps of the helicopter over 4 Rivers before we landed. A nice sunset too.Click photos to enlarge.
Quiet sunset at 4 Rivers

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Vanny's fight

Tep Vanny (left), Nico, Christine and Vincent at Meta House tonight
A head-on collision with the land eviction problem facing many of Cambodia's poor at Meta House tonight, courtesy of an impassioned plea from Boeung Kak activist Tep Vanny, after she appeared in a new documentary on forced evictions, titled 'Even A Bird Needs A Nest,' 70-minutes in length with English subtitles. The co-directors Christine Chansou and Vincent Trintignant-Corneau answered questions at the end of the screening, alongside their film's main subject. Vanny said she'd been fighting for justice for seven years already, after some 3,000 Boeung Kak families were forced off their land in the former backpacker ghetto. Broken promises, broken heads and broken hearts litter the lakeside neighbourhood that has been turned into a wasteland after the authorities allowed a private company to fill the lake with sand. Many of the residents have been jailed and beaten for their protests including Vanny and one remains in jail to this day, whilst their de facto leader has been feted for her brave activism abroad, collecting awards on behalf of her resistance movement and speaking on human rights issues around the globe. The fight goes on for Vanny and her neighbours and the film highlights their struggles for all to see.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dance treats

Cambodian contemporary dance fans are in for a treat on Saturday 2 November at 7pm at the Dept of Performing Arts. Three performances by three different choreographers, namely Belle, Nam Narin and Peter Chin, are scheduled to take place. I don't have any other details but tickets are $2 each from Amrita and Java Cafe, and if you like dance, then don't miss this.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tiger tears

One of the Phnom Tamao tigers behind bars for life - click to enlarge
Everyone loves tigers. Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center was our final port of call yesterday at the back-end of our whirlwind tour of the Southern Cardamoms with Wildlife Alliance, and a visit inside the tiger enclosure for a close-up with these gorgeous animals was yet another treat. They really are incredibly powerful, beautiful beasts. They have a handful in captivity at Phnom Tamao but the sad fact is that they will never be able to be released back into the wild. The risk of poaching is simply too great. They must remain behind bars for the rest of their lives. So sad.

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Laura's recollections

Laura reads from one of her short stories at Monument Books
Saturday afternoon is the new regular slot for Monument Books to hold their book launches. They kicked it off with Melbourne-based author Laura Jean McKay who has recently published her short story collection, Holiday in Cambodia, in Australia. In fact she brought over a pile of books to sell. An award-winning writer best known for smearing cat food all over herself on stage (she performs as well as writes), her collection of stories includes; three backpackers board a train, ignoring the danger signs, and find themselves in the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and a singer creates a sensation in swinging 1969, on the eve of an American bombing campaign. Laura previously spent time in Cambodia holding workshops for aspiring writers and included two colleagues from those workshops, Chanphal Sok and Chakriya Phou, as part of her talk yesterday.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013


Click to enlarge this photo of Cafe Fresco as it is today
Sad to see the shell of the once-popular, especially with me, Cafe Fresco on Street 51, when I passed it today. Some of the female staff were still there, using the kitchen equipment but soon they will transfer to FCC outlets on the riverside. In the meantime, the cafe has been gutted in preparation for its next reincarnation, most likely as a restaurant, but that's just a whisper.


Friday, October 18, 2013

More on Ruin

The Phnom Penh Post catches up with the road movie Ruin, filmed in Cambodia and starring two young Khmer actors, Ros Mony and Sang Malen. The film has now won awards at two film festivals, making a big splash at Venice and created a buzz on the news-wires. You can read the story online here. They also tagged the film's executive producer Kulikar Sotho as indefatigable, which we had to look up! Mony also has a key part in Kulikar's debut movie as a director, The Last Reel, which is being put to bed at the moment for a release at film festivals early next year.

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Spread the word

Left is Sophea Chamroeun, more recently seen singing with the group Krom
Three more pictures from last night's Children of Bassac performance at the National Museum. Half a dozen different performances meant the hour-long show passed quickly and the variety was appreciated. Brief introductions for each performance helped the audience's understanding of what they were watching. Cambodian Living Arts are the people who host the shows and they pay each of the thirty or so artists who perform each evening an appearance fee from the revenues derived from the audience. Excellent projects like these need visitors to come, enjoy and spread the word.  
Classical Apsara dance was part of the performance

The young artists came on stage at the end to sing and dance - about 30 of them are involved each night

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

In touch with Khmer Culture

A scene from Children of Bassac
The Plae Pakaa performances have started again at the National Museum in Phnom Penh this week - 6 nights per week excluding Sundays -  and tonight was the first opportunity I had of seeing the young performers from Cambodian Living Arts in action. It was the Children of Bassac show which combines classical and folk dance, some comedic moments and lots of activity and music packed into a very entertaining hour-long show. Sophea, the singer from Krom, was one of the stars of the show. The season, which coincides with the tourist high season, will put on three different types of shows using the following format: Children of Bassac on Mon & Thur; Yike on Tue and Fri; and Passage of Life Theater on Wed & Sat. Sunday is free day. Tickets are $15 for foreign visitors, cheaper for Khmers. I highly recommend it as a way to get in touch with Khmer culture.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Chocolate birthday cake time with some of my Hanuman colleagues
It's that time of year again when I clock up another year on the age-o-meter. Usually I try to ignore it as I've had a few birthdays in the past. However, the staff at Hanuman got wind of it and delivered a very chocky birthday cake, which those kind folks at Raffles Hotel Le Royal had donated. Then I received another cake when I went to the NOM cafe for lunch. Two very nice surprises. Thank you all.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Laura's holiday in Cambodia

Back in June I posted the following: It appears that Australian authors have a soft spot for Cambodia. Unsung Heroes was written by three Aussie women, Philip Coggan is in town to publish his novel and now Melbourne-based Laura Jean McKay will see her short story collection, Holiday in Cambodia, out in print through Black Inc next month. An award-winning writer best known for smearing cat food all over herself on stage (she performs as well as writes), her collection of stories will include; three backpackers board a train, ignoring the danger signs – and find themselves in the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and a singer creates a sensation in swinging 1969, on the eve of an American bombing campaign. Bold and haunting stories by a remarkable new talent, says the PR from the publisher.
Well you can judge for yourself as Laura is in town and will be reading from her new book, with help from special guests Chanphal Sok and Chakriya Phou, at Monument Books in Phnom Penh on Saturday 19 October at 5.30pm. Get along to meet Laura, buy her book and be entertained.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Apologies and back to the norm

Apologies to any regular readers - are there any? I've been overloaded in the last couple of weeks and my blog posts have been few and far between. Note to self - must do better!

The Plae Pakaa traditional performances at the National Museum in Phnom Penh begin again tomorrow night, back to their six nights a week shows excluding Sundays, with a combination of the Children of Bassac (Mon & Thur), Yike (Tue & Fri) and Passage of Life Theater (Wed & Sat) on alternate days. Tickets are $15pp. These are excellent shows giving young artists form Cambodian Living Arts the opportunity to show their talents and to earn themselves a steady income. Definitely worth watching when you are in the capital.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Travelling Walter

Walter Mason has transformed his journey through Cambodia into a fascinating new book, published by Allen & Unwin and titled, Destination Cambodia - Adventures in the Kingdom. The PR blurb from his publisher says: The ancient and mysterious ruins of Cambodia have long captured the imagination of visitors, more so now than ever before. In Destination Cambodia, Walter Mason charts an affectionate, intimate and deeply personal look at a Kingdom that has drawn him back again and again since his youth. Whether he's watching young monks recite the Buddha's life stories, visiting shamans and fortune tellers, or discovering the darker alleys of Phnom Penh with a romantic novelist and a world-weary street hustler, Walter takes the reader straight to the heart of this famously unknowable country. As heat, dust and weariness take their toll, he remains alive to the charms, and even seductions, of a place that was once a byword for misery and human suffering. Destination Cambodia takes us on a joyful and constantly fascinating literary journey in which Cambodia is vibrant and its people excited about the future while never denying their haunted past. 288 pages, it was published last month in Australia.
Two and a half years in the making, Destination Cambodia is an affectionate, whimsical and deeply personal account of my journeys through Cambodia, a country that has enchanted me for seventeen years. - See more at: http://www.waltermason.com/2013/09/destination-cambodia.html#sthash.eY5AKPLQ.dpuf
Two and a half years in the making, Destination Cambodia is an affectionate, whimsical and deeply personal account of my journeys through Cambodia, a country that has enchanted me for seventeen years. - See more at: http://www.waltermason.com/2013/09/destination-cambodia.html#sthash.eY5AKPLQ.dpuf
Two and a half years in the making, Destination Cambodia is an affectionate, whimsical and deeply personal account of my journeys through Cambodia, a country that has enchanted me for seventeen years. - See more at: http://www.waltermason.com/2013/09/destination-cambodia.html#sthash.eY5AKPLQ.dpuf

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Long way home

This ruined villa was in quite good condition
The rain continued on the morning of departure back to Phnom Penh. Even so the Sorya bus was even wetter inside than outside, which is never a good sign. My bum was still recovering from the bicycle saddle the previous day and it was a long six hours. The roads, traffic and dozens of stops didn't help. The bus conked out at least three times, so everyone was just happy to get back. The tuk-tuk twat at the bus stop wanted $5 for a $2 ride home, which was typical twatish behaviour from people who don't deserve to get any business. I've never got on well with tuk-tuk drivers, I prefer motodops 100 times out of 100, and this took the biscuit. It got very heated. Best meal of the trip was the pasta at La Baraka. Rumnea loved the crab at Kimly. One restaurant turned us away because they were out of crab, which simply didn't compute. Worst wi-fi was Veranda. Best lecture came from Jean-Michel Filippi. And I was gutted that the Sailing Club, on one of the busiest days of the year, only had a set menu for dinner.
A family of squatters had moved into this former villa

A 1960s villa out of action and waiting for normal service to be resumed

The car and generator indicates life at this villa

This house had seen better days when Kep was in its heyday

This abandoned shell was surrounded by vegetation

The muddy six-lane highway into Kep that has taken away some of the town's charm

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Kep day 2

Rumnea posing with the Kep statue
Blue skies turned cloudy and a calm sea was the start of the day and after a visit to the crab market for breakfast, we wandered around rather aimlessly and took a lunch break at Veranda. Our afternoon was a bit more energetic and we took to cycles for a potter around Kep's quiet-as-a-mouse backroads and former residential areas, on the hunt for more ruined villas. We weren't disappointed. There are stacks of them. It pissed down with rain for most of our cycle ride and the thunderstorm whipped up some big waves at the boat dock to Rabbit Island. The boat owners were having problems keeping their boats in check and the sea wall was taking a pounding as we headed back in time to catch Jean-Michel Filippi's lecture on the history of the Kampot region at Seaview Bungalows. It was a fascinating insight into the history of the area from a man who really knows his stuff.
Our first 1960s villa of the day on foot

On the jetty at the Sailing Club

The weather takes a turn but didn't stop these bathers

This looked more like a district office than a ruined villa

This 1960s villa was occupied

Later in the afternoon the seas battered the sea wall

A brief interlude in the weather

Another villa that has seen much better days

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Kep day 1

One of Kep's ruined villas opposite the popular crab market
Six hours on the bus today took Rumnea and myself to Kep for the Pchum Ben holiday and a chance to unwind, discover some of the ruined villas that the seaside town is famed for and for Rumnea to stuff herself with her favourite seafood, crab. She didn't disappoint. The sun was out as we arrived, so that was a good sign.
Another 1960s ruined villa left to rot

Rumnea doesn't fancy meeting one of Kep's newer inhabitants

The beach at Kep wasn't too busy on our first day

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013


With the Phare circus troupe in Siem Reap - click to enlarge
Another quick pic, this time after watching the excellent Phare modern circus in Siem Reap. The troupe were energy personified and the show is definitely worth seeing when you are in temple town. This is my colleague Patrick and myself immediately after the show ended.

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All trussed up

A man on a mission with bandana
I've failed miserably to post as I said I would. Here's the start of the backlog. A picture of me during a visit to the Flight of the Gibbon, a new zipline adventure inside the Angkor Park in Siem Reap. Ten ziplines through the tree-tops, good fun though a bit wobbly for people who don't like heights (like me). More from the treetops soon enough.

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