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This past January, I took a group of photographers over to Thailand and Cambodia for another Raddest Photo Trip Ever (RPTE). I’ve been doing these for about 5 years now and it’s truly one of the best parts of my year (aside from leaving Clive and Lindsay, of course). So I took myself, one of my best buds, Hank Martin, and 13 other strangers out on the trip of a lifetime…
This is the leg of the trip that I’ve been rambling about to everyone since the moment we all met up in Phuket, Thailand a week prior. Thailand is an amazing place to see — but Cambodia is the place that is worth traveling to. Without Cambodia, I would have likely visited Thailand once in 2006 and moved on. Cambodia is what led to me returning to SE Asia — and eventually doing RPTEs.
Cambodia, without fail, changes everyone. For the last 7 years, I’ve taken people to Thailand and Cambodia. It started with a couple trips with friends and family — and then quickly turned into RPTE at the request of blog readers — but each group is touched by Cambodia the same. It changes them. As I blog this, two past RPTE attendants, Richelle Dante and Megan Tsang, are back in Cambodia this week doing some incredible work for the less fortunate.
I’ve been to France and Italy some 10ish times — I have a lot of experiential knowledge as to how to lead a pretty unique and awesome photo trip to those countries. But that’s the thing about Cambodia. We aren’t going to see the sites. People who come may naively think that’s what is going on — but they quickly realize, almost the moment we cross the border, that they are here to experience the people. It is the people of Cambodia, not the amazing ruins of Angkor, not the incredibly eye-popping floating villages, that consistently turn everyone’s hearts over to Cambodia. And it’s my biggest passion, more so than photography, I admit, to show people such impactful things.
So days one and two in Cambodia were simply arriving, playing some pool, reuniting with old friends, and checking out monkeys and temples!
One of my favorite places that we go to is Ghost Gate. My tuk tuk family (I’ve used the same drivers since 2006 — and they have all become incredibly close to me) took me for the first time 3 years ago. Only one of them goes willingly — and the others agreed to go without me knowing — purely because they thought our group would like it. Cambodians are incredibly superstitious. I mean really, really superstitious. The tuk tuk gang now goes with less nerves, but the first time I went, Mr Sola (Sola Powa!!! As we call him) ran underneath the gate with his head covered. Mr. Kun wouldn’t cross. Mr. Sith was the only one who wasn’t afraid because he simply doesn’t believe in such things. But this place is very, very much so avoided by the locals — which is why I’ve only seen two people here in the last three years who weren’t with us (compared to thousands a day at the other gates).
And then there are monkeys. Wild, yet “tame” monkeys. They come out of the jungle when they get hungry, look for the Cambodians selling bananas and jack fruit and lotus fruit to tourists, and make their way towards us suckers :) This really is one of the funnest experiences we have out here. I can spend day after day with these hilariously mischievous little guys. Fortunately, everyone on the trip always loves them too.
We ended the day at Ta Prohm — but that day I decided to leave my camera at home and stick with VSCO Cam on my iPhone. I haven’t gone through those yet so we’ll see how they turned out another day :)
All of my images are processed with Fuji 160C via VSCO Film. Everyone else’s (Hank’s, Josh’s, and Lotta’s) are processed with VSCO Film, but I’m not sure what film they used :)
Kate Meyer. Longest border crossing ever in 7 years (for me).
A few minutes after boarding our vans for Siem Reap (once we’d crossed the border), we stopped for snacks. These kids? Just playing with a lone flip flop — using it as a soccer ball. We showed up — no introductions — and had some of the funnest few minutes anyone could ever have. And when our time was up, we jumped in the van and the kids waved good bye and got right back to playing. Hank grabbed a few images during the stop…
I can’t thank Lotta enough for this image. One of my favorites of all time. Up-high/down-low/too-slow. Their smiles were unforgettable :)
Mr. Sith welcomed Hank and Michael with lessons on how to swim with a (pool) shark.
Lotta. Mr. Don missed his baby, Hank.
Hank grabbed this one of me and one of the best Tuk Tuk drivers around. Mr. Sith.
Kevin Costner… I mean, Vince. Seriously, even when he talks it feels like Costner is in your midst. Multiple favorite conversations from this whole trip involved this guy. Handsome devil.
Lotta. Kids on their way home from school :)
Lotta. Love these.
The next three are Josh’s of the infamous Ghost Gate.
This is Mr. Thul. He’s so much fun!!! Another one of Josh’s.
The story of Ghost Gate is fascinating. To rush to the meat of it, the Khmer army would return through this gate when they lost — carrying the dead with them. Many of the souls lost in battle are said to still be at the gate. Very few Cambodians are comfortable here.
Mr. Marom isn’t afraid of killer ants that literally bore their heads into your flesh. No thang for him.
Mr. Don is a photography enthusiast. He’s always taking tons of photos and uploading them to his facebook :)
Inde-Anna Jones doesn’t care about centuries old haunted Ghost Gate.
What’s that? You’ve never met Mr. Don? Let me introduce you. This is Mr. Don. And if you come on a future RPTE, he WILL get you.
And now you know Mr. Don :)
Lotta grabbed this one of me asking this girl what her name was (I think it was Som Ta?) and when she asked my name, I simply replied, “mine too!!!” :)
The child vendors are usually a challenge for most westerners. At first, the average tourist is riddled with pity — “how awful for a child to have to work like this!” tends to be the first reaction. Ironically, it’s almost immediately followed by “ok… ok… this is getting annoying” — with “NO! Leave me alone!” (in so many words) right around the corner.
I regularly remind people that these kids are doing what they can to make a buck — and they’re really good at it! I also add that if you’ve had enough of hearing a moanful “one dooooooolla, one doooooooolla…,” simply engage them. They’re children and they love a break from saying “one dooooolla…” over and over again. I break this ice by asking how old they are, what their names are, what they like doing for fun, letting them know how much I love Cambodia… it completely throws them off their game and gives them a chance to simply relate one on one — even if only for a few minutes. People who end up taking on this approach tend to love the vendor kids. They are everywhere and they are all beautiful, imo. People who get frustrated with them usually get a firm (figurative) swat on the hand from me :P
Lotta. Of course Cambodia has a cultural passion for volleyball. We play tons of volleyball in Cambodia :D
The last temple we went to on this day was Ta Prohm — and it’s one of my favorites. I gave myself a challenge of only shooting with VSCO Cam on my iPhone — so hopefully I got some good ones that day for a separate post (haven’t gone through them yet!). Here’s one Lotta took at Ta Prohm that I love…
If you want to get a chance to go on the next RPTE, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “NEXT RPTE!!!” as your subject. Last year’s sold out within a day of posting it online so start getting your ducks in a row if you want to join me on the trip of a lifetime!!!
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