Tag: ‘female travel photographer’



Bokor Mountain | Kampot Cambodia

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

After flying over my mortorbike handles and badly hurting my ankle, I decided against my better judgement that I “didn’t want to waste the day,” and set out on a 20 mile motorcycle trek to the top of Bokor Mountain. I didn’t know what to expect and the whole ride was quite strange. All I knew is that were about to tear down some eerie historic buildings and replace them with an effing massive casino and resort on top of this crazy mountain in this random Cambodian town, and I had to see it for myself.

Apparently prior to 2011, the top of the mountain was only accessible by jeep but because of the casino project, travelers can now blaze up world-class roads. The ascent was steep but smooth. At the top of the mountain, there are 3 main historic sites:  an abandoned hill station, an eerie, burned-out palace hotel and casino, and a catholic church which can only be described as creepy (I will share pictures of the creepy church in my next entry). Interesting fact: all of these sites were the setting for the climax of the 2002 Matt Dillon crime thriller, “City of Ghosts.” I really wanted to see and walk through the old casino, as I had heard they would soon be tearing it down, but it was closed off and covered in scaffolding. The construction of the new resort and casino (called the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort) is well underway, and there is even a stop mid way up the mountain where you can see a small scale model of the entire project. I was in total disbelief, I just keep looking at it and thinking “what the hell?!”

Along the route, road workers were working brick by brick, bucket by bucket to finish this new road. There were hundreds of workers along the 20 mile stretch installing lamp posts and guard rails under the hot Cambodian sun. I took my time winding up the mountain, stopping to chat with the workers and take some portraits of them. Some were eager to smile for the camera, others were confused, wondering why I would want to photograph them. I chatted with them as best I could given the language barrier and tried to understand how they felt about this new casino on top of their town’s historic mountaintop. Most seem pleased, as it would provide many with jobs, but a few expressed concern, speaking about the natural landscape and history of the mountain top.

Bokor mountain is not only a national park, it was a once a resort town for party goers, built by the French in the 1920′s, then abandoned in the 50s, and used as holdout for the Khmer Rouge in the 70s. It is ridden with scars of war, and the vibe is downright haunting. It was even named one of the top ten haunted places in the world by Travelihub. I wouldn’t disagree. There’s a lot more I could write about Bokor, and in fact, I returned the following day with a fellow traveler Steve to experience it again….there’s just something about being up there… it just gives you a strange feeling… the natural beauty and the colonial history now clashing with the sparkling modernity and resort for the rich…there’s even a structure that resembles a UFO, as if it weren’t weird enough up there.

Here are a few additional reads about Bokor, if you’re interested. The Bokor PalaceFaded Grandeur.

All images copyrighted by nyc travel photographer Erica Camille. Do not use without permission.

Angkor Silk Farm | Siem Reap, Cambodia

Monday, June 18th, 2012

On my last day of site seeing in Siem Reap, I decided to skip my original plans to go to floating villages, and instead head to the Angkor Silk Farm, one of the few FREE attractions in Siem Reap, (though in theory you are expected to buy silks at the end-I didn’t). It’s also a fair trade organization. I watched each step of the silk making process- something I knew nothing about previously. Silk is spun out of the saliva of the Bombyx mori, or silkworm and it’s a very intricate process. It is the by-product of silkworms gorging on the leaves of mulberry trees.They spin tiny cocoons which are harvested and boiled. In Cambodia, nothing is wasted. After the silk is removed from the cocoons, the silkworms provide a delicious snack, offering much needed protein and fat! I really enjoyed this tour and would highly reccomend it over some of the other tourist attractions in Siem Reap (namely the scammy floating villages, not only a tourist trap that sucks your money, but none of the money goes back into the community). To read more bout Cambodia’s silk industry check out this NY times article.

An Afternoon with Mao in Siem Reap Cambodia

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

If there’s one word of friendly advice I have to travelers it is: get to know the people of the place you are visiting.

Don’t just show up, hit the tourist trail, hang with English speaking travelers, take a bunch of pictures of local people (and not talk to them) and then fly home. That would be such an epic fail! One of my favorite aspects of traveling is gaining perspective of those living a completely different life than I am, and remembering that so many of the “problems” I face daily are indeed “first world problems.” I wish I had spent a lot more time hanging with locals on my trip, but it’s also important to find a balance. It becomes exhausting and difficult to try to communicate and initiate conversations with strangers… but it is so rewarding, and more often that not, down right funny to try to communicate.

I met Mao at the Siem Reap airport when I hired him to be my mortorbike driver. Though I had initially planned to find my own driver and not book through the airport, I couldn’t resist Mao’s smile and charm. I paid $55 for 3 days of driving. On our fourth day, after three days of climbing up, down, and around the temples of Angkor Wat, I asked Mao to take me to meet some of his friends and eat at his favorite restaurant. We played volleyball and played games, and I drank some icy beers and played with the kids.

I learned a lot about Mao’s life, and I was somewhat surprised to learn of the hardships he still endures, despite having a regular job. In order for Mao to be a member of the airport’s association of motorbike drivers, he must pay $500 a year in fees! I couldn’t believe this. This is huge money for Cambodians; he explained that only some months does he make a profit, the rest he just breaks even. Furthermore, he has to take turns with many other drivers, and as a result, some weeks, he only works one day. He explained that had I not hired him to be my driver, he wouldn’t have hadwork that week, as it would have been someone else’s turn to try to get hired. In addition to paying this crazy fees and taking turns with other drivers, he sends most of his money to his mother, whose motorbike he borrows (the fees do not include a motorbike). He would like to save up to buy a tuk tuk, because then he wouldn’t have to work through the airport, but tuk tuks cost over $700.

Despite the fact that Mao barely can make his own ends meet, every time we were approached by beggars, he generously gave what he had. I’m so sad because I actually LOST all of his contact information. I had a plot to start a kickstarter campaign to help him buy a tuk tuk, but without contact information, I can’t. Please, if anyone is traveling to Siem Reap, especially if you are flying there, request Mao to be your driver at the airport (you can even present a picture of him, from the photos below). Just tell him Erica from Okay 1 Villa, sent you. I would love to stay in touch with him, and help him raise funds for a tuk tuk. I was truly humbled by Mao’s generous and curious spirit, and I hope that this post can help him find more work and put us back in touch.

My Favorite Temples | Angkor Wat | Cambodia

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Angkor Wat is a massive complex of archeology, architecture, and forests from the 9th to the 15th century. It contains the remains of various capitals of the Khmer Empire, including Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple. Angkor Thom and the Bayon temple were two of my favorite temples in the complex. Bayon is also known as the Buddah temple because it has over 200 Buddah faces carved into it. The detail is stunning. Angkor Thom is believed to once have a population of over 1 million. As I wandered through the endless temple walls, I kept trying to imagine what life was like during Cambodia’s golden age. It’s truly hard to envision. Though Cambodia is known mostly for its temples and heart wrenching history, Cambodia is so much more than this, and absolutely fell in with it and the warmth and kindess of the Cambodian people I met. While I was descending upon one of the temples for sunset, I met a young girl named Sunday (she was born on sunday), we were both by ourselves in a large crowd of people, and she began making conversation. Sunday helps take care of her family following her mother’s death, (her dad has another family now and doesn’t live with her and her sisters). She hopes to one day be a tour guide around Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. Though our sunset was hindered by clouds, we had a lovely evening chatting about Cambodia, culture, and our aspirations.

Erica Camille on Facebook

Angkor Wat Photos | Siem Reap | Cambodia

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

I’m not a serious history buff, but I must say Angkor Wat is one of the most spectacular pieces of world history that I have witnessed. It is the largest religious structure in the world, and to this day, is one of the most sacred sites for Cambodians. Over the next few entries, I will share with you a bit of Angkor’s history, beauty, and magic. With over 1,000 temples, this formerly thriving city is one of the most intricate wonders in the history of architecture. It’s hard to accurately convey the sheer size of Angkor Wat, and those who visit with the intention of spending a day, are often in shock of its grandeur. I spent 3 full days exploring Angkor Wat on motorcycle, and though utterly exhausting and painfully hot and humid, it was an experience of a lifetime.

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All images are copyrighted. Please do not use without permission.

Traveling Solo | Living the Dream | Kuang Si Falls | Laos

Monday, April 9th, 2012

As a write this (I’m behind on my entries…), I have less than one month left of my trip. Today, I spent the afternoon on a beach in Vietnam playing volleyball with a group of travelers. Nice, right? For me, this hasn’t just been a trip, but the start and continuation of a life/style that I have dreamed of for many years. In sharing this blog with my friends, family, and the larger world, I hope I can offer inspiration and encouragement to people rather than evoke jealousy and envy. Many avid travelers, including myself, experience friends and acquaintances saying things like, “you’re so lucky,” and “I’ve always wanted to do that.” Well my friends, traveling is not some elusive intangibility, but it does take ambition, and you must want it (it should be noted that many romanticized aspects of traveling get shattered, and you should be emotionally prepared for that). As someone told me before I left, “many have the opportunity, but few take it.”

Fellow female travel blogger, Adventures Kate, sums up my feelings well in her entry “Dear Ladies: This Can Be Your Life, Too.” Kate echos what I’ve said many times.

My life is filled with blessings, privileges, and “luck” in it’s own right, (I’m sooo lucky that the nice people that found my wallet at that gay bar in Cambodia contacted me and returned it!) but, I’ve manifested my reality through creativity, hard work, creating goals, and making traveling my number one priority. My priority isn’t being the busiest, most successful wedding photographer in New York City. Nor is it (currently) to build buy a home and settle into a traditional family life. I have no property. My job doesn’t come with health insurance. I have no partner to come home to. No kids. No predictable monthly paycheck. But the truth is, no matter what kind of lives we are living, “security” never really happens, does it? Security is an illusion. It is one in which we find a great deal of comfort, but in the words of the Buddha, is as transient as autumn clouds. I’ve learned (through relationships, traveling, and various other means) that real security comes from within, from knowing how I can use my time, talent, and love to provide wholly for myself and others.

To those who have dreams of traveling, I say to you, go forth and live the life you’ve imagined. If your dreams have gone unfilled up until this point, be generous with yourself, and forgive yourself for opportunities that may have slipped by. Create new dreams and work systematically towards achieving them. This also goes out to people whose dreams may not include traveling the world. Your dream might be settling down with a partner, raising a family, and teaching part time. But the point is, no matter what you are doing, always have dreams. And for those that do wish to travel the world? Well, as Kate writes, “You can keep waiting for your life to change or you can do something about it.” Instead of waiting for friends or significant others to take that trip, get up and go alone, because they may never be ready. “Instead of a blow out weekend in Vegas, you could be learning to kite surf in Mui Ne, Vietnam…. You can have this life too, if it’s what you want.” (Thanks Kate, great post!).

My life isn’t all waterfalls, sunsets, and rainbows so to speak. Even now, at a time when I can truly say “wow, I’m living my dreams!” I still have my personal struggles just like everyone else. I don’t share them on Facebook like I do all my exciting travel photos, but they exist. I acknowledge that a big part of how I got to where I am is the emotional and financial support of family, friends, and mentors in the pursuit of my dreams. Through traveling, my awareness of privilege (being American, white, from an educated, financially stable family, loving home environment, etc), has magnified exponentially, as has my gratitude. We all have our karma, privileges, and obstacles in life. But, at the end of the day, our lives aren’t handed to us. We build them. All I’m doing right now is building the life I want, and the thing I will say to friends over and over again is simply, “you should, too.”

I have met people from a huge variety of financial backgrounds and personal circumstances who are currently traveling around the world. You don’t need to be rich to travel, but you do need to have savings plan, and you will likely need to simplify your life and curb your spending habits and material lust. For those of you wondering, I averaged about $25-35 dollars a day on this trip, including sleeping, eating, transport, shopping, and massages!

One of my favorite blog entries, Five Regrets of the Dying, originally shared by Bonnie Ware over at Inspiration and Chai, has started going viral on Facebook again (and she’s since released a full length book). I wish I had the courage to be my true self, and the courage to express my feelings. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. I wish I had let myself be happier.

Indeed, as exemplified by this beautiful compilation from those nearing the end of their lives, true security doesn’t come from diamond rings, 9-5′s, and big houses. And I would say that freedom doesn’t necessarily come from being single and traveling the world. Freedom, and the sense of “security,” comes from fulfilling our own needs and pursuing experiences that bring us joy and a sense of purpose. I’ve discovered that for me, this means traveling, capturing photos, sharing my feelings, seeing my family, and building a community of friends that digs deep into life, encourages, and inspires me. Above all, I think the first step to realizing personal dreams of any size or grandeur, is to believe that you deserve to be happy, and live the life you want. It sounds simple, but our culture doesn’t teach us this. It’s a lesson we must teach ourselves.

Thanks for reading…GO BIG…and stay tuned for my next adventure.

kuang si falls is a special place. what’s better than swinging from a tree into a turquoise waterfall? not much. jim and i hiked to the top (kuang si falls is a series of 5 or 6 waterfalls) and worked our way down, so that we could enjoy a swim at the bottom after our hard work. it was a fairly challenging, steep hike. there were many paths, some of which led to dead ends and/or away from the falls, but it was a fun maze and we listened for the falls to find our way back.

even though it’s the dry season, i was still impressed! i’d love to see this place during the wet season!

the top!

what’s up!

oh hi!

keepin’ it classy with the stripes!

it was a bit tricky to get a hold of the rope…

wee!

jim snapped these pics of me, i like the guy in the tree in the background

jim crossin the bridge

played with these kids for a while…

hiked to the top of one temples for sunset

cat!

one of our favorite eating spots… 50 cent beers!

one

peace  out luang prabang!

 

Epic Sunset Panorama | Koh Samui Preview

Monday, April 9th, 2012

A little preview of what’s to come.
Canon 5d Mark II.
1/200 sec at f 3.5
ISO 400
135 mm

Elephant Festival | Sayaboury | Laos | 2012

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

At the Wat Phou Festival in Champasak, Jim and I met an enegergetic Portuguese guy who told us about the Lao Elephant Festival.

Wait.
Elephant?
Festival?!
Sold!

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From the Kong Lo Cave we headed towards Vientiane via an 8 hour bus ride, where we were destined to get on the most horrible 14 hour night bus journey of our lives. We knew we were in for it the moment we stepped on. There was no air con. The seats were broken and didn’t recline. Our knees were jammed tightly against the seats in front of us. The middle isle was packed (as usual) with locals sitting on little plastic chairs, which made it impossible to stand or stretch our legs. The bus route consisted of dirt roads laced with potholes the entire way, which resulted in a painstakingly slow pace. The windows remained opened at all times, caking us in dust and drying our throats. And then came the vomiting. Just at the night fell upon us, locals next to us started vomiting into plastic bags (which they kept until we stopped hours later). Meanwhile, we had convinced our new friends, Bridget and Zaf, to change their plans and make the journey the day after us!

Beneath the dust and the vomit, there was something about the experience that was beautiful to me. It was a lesson in learning to relax, finding comfort where there is none, and appreciating the fact that this is not part of my daily life. When we finally arrived in the isolated town of Sayaboury, we were exhausted, and we hadn’t yet booked accommodation. Despite the tourist office’s warning that all guesthouses were full, we wandered around with our packs before we finally walked back to the office and asked them to arrange a homestay. The homestay ended up being an amazing experience, and our accommodation was right next to the festival. Our family didn’t speak any English, but we managed to communicate through sign language, laughing, and a few words of language exchange conducted through pointing to objects. Apparently, over 600 local families opened their doors for homestays during the festival.

This was the 6th annual Elephant Festival in Laos, and it is held in partnership with a local elephant conservation center. The festival aims to raise awareness about the critical protection and conservation of elephants in Lao (which is known as “the land of a million elephants”), as well as to celebrate the age-old relationship between human and elephant. It was an incredible experience to be so close to so many elephants. Not quite wild, but not captive, they roamed around, ate, bathed, and gave rides to locals. They were so tame, gentle, and playful…and they often looked as though they were smiling!

Manhout is the term given to those who ride elephants, and it was especially interesting to watch them interact with their animals. In Laos (and other places around the world) manhouts often spend long periods of time away from home, working deep in remote forests with their elephants. The elephants are used for land clearing and logging (no need for labor and machinery when an elephant can just walk up to a tree and pull it out of the ground!), and because they spend most of their lives together, a special relationship between manhout and elephant is forged. This was evident in watching them interact.

I must say, it was a surreal experience to spend three days observing and being among elephants in the middle of Laos. I love animals, and to see such magnificent creatures in this setting was a complete joy. Every night after the elephants went to bed, there were festivities at the main stage. Jim and I, along with thousands of others, sat and watched performances while sipping local beers. We eventually got to meet up with Bridget and Zaf (who also had a miserable bus journey!) and enjoyed our time with them. Everyday we ate a place we called “the cement restaurant,” where we met an English speaking Lao man whose daughter lives in Brooklyn and attends FIT. Small world! (he was so great… he insisted on taking a picture of the two of us and emailing it to her). One afternoon, Jim and I hitchhiked to a reservoir nearby, which although wasn’t as big as we thought, made for an peaceful afternoon adventure. By the end of each day, we were were exhausted; between the heat and the dust and the crowds, we were happy to say hello to our pillows, usually no later than 11.

After saying goodbye to our homestay family at dawn, we headed to the bus station with our packs, our sights set on Luang Prabang… the bity city! Stay tuned.

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the only pictures i took of the bus….

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welcome to the 2012 elephant festival!

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elephant procession

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in different parts of asia, they eat duck and chicken embryos…i couldn’t get myself to try it!

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no, YOU’RE pizza!

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jim…

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no south east asian festival is complete without laterns

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elephant of year contest

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closing ceremonies…

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on our way to bed, we met this guy who insisted we come drink with him… so we did!

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they didn’t want us to leave! they kept giving us beers to make us stay!

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manhout prepares elephant lunch buffet

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llunch

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the reservoir

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hitchhiking back…

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our homestay family

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Inside The Kong Lo Cave | Laos

Monday, March 26th, 2012

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Burried deep in Phu Hin Bun wilderness of central Laos sits the Kong Lo cave, one of Southeast Asia’s off-the-beaten-path gems. Getting there was half the adventure, but it was so worth it, and easily became the highlight of my time in Laos. From Don Det, Jim and I (along with our new friends Bridget and Zaf) headed to Thakhaek, the first phase of the journey. Like most bus rides in Laos, it was a bumpy one which provided no rest for the weary, especially with the bus driver honking incessantly for four hours at every goat, chicken, motorbike, and human that shared the road!

After a night in Thakhaek, the four of us traveled to Khoun Kham, where we eventually caught a sawngthaew onto Kong Lo (there was a night bus in there somewhere, which stopped at 1 am to pick up an insane amount of 2 x4′s). Indeed, getting to the Kong Lo cave took time….but once there, we had a genuine local experience (in part because many travelers skip over this beautiful area). There are only 2 guesthouses (and some homestays, no internet access) in Kong Lo village. We spent 4 nights at the Ecolodge near the cave, which had simple clean accommodation and a river view. Directly next to the guesthouse is a tiny little restaurant, with the best Laos home cooking one could ask for. I’m hungry just thinking about it! We knocked back some beers, played some cards, all while feeling like we were the only people around for miles.

The spectacular Kong Lor cave is a 7.5 kilometer river cave formed in the Hinboun river under a limestone mountain. Prior to 2004, there were no tours through the cave and no lighting. Now, you can hire a longtail boat (propelled by a lawnmower engine!) led by a local guide for about $6 per person…and it’s so amazing! We glided (or puttered) into the mouth of the cave in bright midday sunlight until suddenly, it swallowed us into complete darkness. The water rushed beneath the boat as we moved, and to simply drag my fingers along in the current while looking up at the massive stalagmites and stalactites, was one of the most incredible and memorable feelings. The ceiling is over 300 feet tall, which evokes quite a different sensation than you imagine from a cave; I was truly in awe of its size. At many points, it just feels spooky and eerie. During the dry seasons, the water level decreases, and at a few points we had to get out and walk in the water (in the dark, I rented a flashlight from a local) while the boatman dragged the boat. At one point, there is a walking path that is now beautifully lit with orange and blue lights (but still very dark!) On the other side of the cave lie villages that also have homestays, but we just ate some water buffalo Laap (local dish), had a beer, and returned to the other side (and yes, going back was just as awesome!).

Lonely Planet sums up the journey to Kong Lo quite well. “Wind your way through a lost world of jungle, bursting with bamboo, eucalyptus and plam. The upsurging rock formations are both dramatic and enchanting, and the streams you pass over are flickering with fluorescent clouds of giant butteries- this is some is some of the country’s most trippy landscape.” At the mouth of the cave is a beautiful, turquoise natural lake, which Jim and I spent two lazy afternoons. Indeed, there were beautiful blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and so many butterflies! The whole place felt surreal, and I remember thinking, similarly to my experience in Phrao, I would love to show someone this place someday.

Hidden behind all the beauty is another side of Laos that is equally important to know. Another traveler told me that while he was picnicking on the other side of the cave, there was an NGO team searching for unexploded bombs. Many people are unaware that during the Vietnam war, there was a secret war happening in Laos, and as a result; Laos is the most bombed country, per capita, on earth. Several nations, including the U.S, signed a U.N. treaty declaring several nations, including Laos, “off limits” to war. Yet, The Secret War became the largest paramilitary operation ever conducted by the CIA (source: CIA official website). Check out the amazing documentary, “The Most Secret Place on Earth,” (and click the links above) to learn more. Unexploded bombs still litter Laos, and as a result, there is a high number of people missing limbs. NGOS continue to work to remove them, but the on-going risk (and untold history of) Laos, a place I still can’t quite find words to describe, hangs in its dusty air.

Next stop, the Elephant Festival… but not before one of the worst transportation experiences of my life! The adventure continues….

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met this old lady on the way to the village…she was the best

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making a face for the camera

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the turquoise lake..picture jim and i laying in the sand for the full effect!

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the amazing boatmen

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zaf, bridget, jim

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more of the boatmen!
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first photo inside the cave

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shot with my mark ii and 580 exii flash

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the cave!

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jim

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the light

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the lake again

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butterflies

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friendly local women!

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part of my new long-term series on women laborers

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across from the “restaurant” to the left of the man is a tobacco smoke house. behind him, fields of local tobacco.

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zaf trying to take some pics of me…

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enjoy boy guesthouse haha

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Wat Phou Festival | Campasak | Laos

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

After my lovely experience with Samart in Chiang Mai, I flew to Phuket for my first destination wedding, with Philippines-based photographer Julian Abram Wainwright. Stay tuned for the photos on my wedding blog. I will be returning to Phuket later next month to shoot two more weddings, so I will save my Phuket post until then. After a few days of  chilling out, I flew to Ubon where I prepared to cross the Thai border to Laos and meet Jim, my travel partner for the next few weeks.

From Ubon airport, I took a taxi to the bus station, where I waited for a few hours to catch a bus to the Chong Mek border crossing. On the bus, I met a young novice monk, and we chatted for quite some time, as he enjoyed practicing his English. From the drop off point, I made my way on a motorbike taxi to the border where I got my passport stamped and received my visa ($35 if you pay in USD $42 if you pay in Thai Baht). Apart from the poorly marked paths and a little confusion, it was a fairly simple crossing that took about 30 minutes. From there, I grabbed a minibus to the guesthouse where Jim and I had planned to rendezvous. Jim and I met on couchsurfing.org in the South East Asia forums while we were planning our trips. We decided, despite never meeting or talking on the phone, that we would travel together for almost three weeks in Laos. Jim is a young older guy (51 but passes for 40), and we proved to get on well…most of the time (a brother-sister dynamic ensued!)

I was eager to explore Laos, and see how it differed from Thailand. Laos is the first communist country I have visited, and I was curious to see how, if any, the communist state influenced the culture. I will talk more about this in later posts. Jim and I spent our first few nights in Pakse, which is mostly a border crossing town, but we found it quite nice. We had a delicious dinner (Tom Yom soup—decided to skip the “pork bowels”) on the Mekong as the sun went down at a lively spot where many locals were gathered drinking beers. Before bed, we enjoyed some traditional Lao herbal massages, which are quite divine (and cost $4-6/hour!). Unfortunately, by this time, I had become quite sick due to an air conditioner in Phuket, but with a few days rest, I was back to normal.

The (usually) sleepy town of Champasak was our first official destination in Laos. Along with thousands of Lao locals, we were headed to the full moon festival at Wat Phou, one of the oldest archeological sites in Laos. Constructed in the 9th century, it was a holy site for Hindus and later Buddhists. Once annually, during the full moon on the third lunar month, there is a religious festival held at the site, and it just so happened to coincide with our travel plans. Unfortunately, today the ruins are just that—in ruin—and in danger of crumbling, even as organizations in France and Japan work to restore them (Wat Phou is a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

After spending our first day wondering the festival’s huge market in the incredible midday heat, we decided to take a break on following day, by hiring a boat to take us to the tiny fishing island across the river, Don Daeng. We had planned to spend most of the day on along the shore under the sun. But before settling in, we ventured off for a little walk. Fast forward four hours later; we were lost, exhausted, and burdened by aching feet (with only our flimsy flip-flops shielding them from the ground). We gravely underestimated the width of the island, and thus ended up walking 25K over the course of five hours in brutal mid day Laos heat. This was an immense challenge for me physically and mentally, and I had to prevent myself from stopping for breaks, because I knew we needed to keep going. We considered backtracking multiple times, (and should have) but we just kept going. Though strenuous, we saw some beautiful sites along the way; children riding bikes in front of a temple, kids playing with push carts, and families making sticky rice over fire in tubes of bamboo. When we finally arrived in familiar territory, we enjoyed a half hour of swimming in the murky Mekong before the boat returned to pick us up. We also noticed that had we walked right instead of left, there was a beautiful eco-resort with a swimming pool and bar, where we could’ve spent the day relaxing!

On the last day of the festival, we climbed to the top of Wat Phou ruins. The temple was lit by hundreds of candles that the monks had set ablaze at dawn as part of an extensive alms blessing. Walking up these glowing ruins at dusk was a spiritual experience for me. Incense burned strongly from all directions, monks and nuns stationed at various places offered blessings, and near the top, I watched children and families collect water from a fresh water spring that trickled through the cracks of the ruins. It has been flowing for thousands of years, and the water is believed to be holy. And just as the festival began winding down, dozens of lanterns began floating into the sky…between the moon, the candles, and the lanterns, it was like sitting atop a spiritual dreamland.

Other than Wat Phou, there isn’t much to see or do in Champasak. It’s a small village that runs by nature’s clock, and like many cities and towns, is sustained by and dependent upon the Mekong. Even as there were hoards of people coming and going for the festival, the vibe was still completely relaxing. It contains only one dusty “main street,” which has a fair number guesthouses (we had no problem getting a room without booking in advance). Unlike many other travelers we ran into, Jim and I were traveling south to north in Laos, which enabled us to exchange useful information with our fellow travelers. From Champasak, we headed even further south to the fabled “4000 islands,” which many call paradise. Stay tuned.

you thought finding your car at target was hard….

i am starting a long-term photo project about children with toy guns….this picture was not posed.

loved this little boy with bright pink fingernail polish…perhaps another gender themed photo project is in store

the traffic to the festival was amazing

don daeng finishing island…the trek begins

officially lost… we contemplated stealing a boat….

wat phou festival, eveningtime

jim and our Portuguese friend…. who we ran into in four different cities Laos

not sure how much the fan is helping…

full moon at wat phou

more children with toy guns…

collecting water

it’s a long day for local vendors…

next year they will do it all over again… without a doubt, it’s the most exciting thing that happens in the town each year.

 

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