Twenties tones sweeten the humid evening air surrounding the Two Moons Hotel. Steaming-hot Amok and ice-cold Anchor set the pace for a relaxing stay in this sleepy town at the base of Bokor National Park, The Hill as it’s locally known. Retired teachers, wayward Dutchmen and renegade backpackers gel together with a glue long forgotten in the bustling cities of The West.
The North GateBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 14 - 24 f2.8 / Siem Reap
A heavy summers rain sets in, filling the sunken stone passages to bursting point. Water spills out from the foreboding entrance of this stone-hewn labyrinth, oppressive dark clouds dissuading the dying light from illuminating what lurks within. Dancing shadows draw a maze of black twisting tunnels blocked and barricaded by rock-fall and mutant trees. At the centre of this Tomb-Raider puzzle stands a small altar surrounded by four abandoned passageways, each twisting off to black oblivion. Light particles break through a rupture in the stone ceiling, a single beam of amber illuminating an ancient stone shrine.
A small table-fan bolted to the wall of my hotel room provides zero relief from the heavy summer night-sweats, my ears ringing as Geckos chat happily all night long and the local dog packs dig up our freshly preened garden.
KampotBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 500 f4 / Kampot
A crack of thunder ignites swollen air as turbulent dark clouds encircle their prey. Static rains down from an angry sky, striking with an effortless speed and precision with no remorse.
The fresher mornings bring forth a cacophony of tired engine splutters as eager adventurers mount their cheap steeds to head off into early morning mists. It’s only just light but beer still flows freely in the local bar, monotonous euro-pop spilling out across the neighbourhood unapologetically.
Chasing FishBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Kep
Wading through a knee-deep ocean, fisherman venture further than usual on their morning wrangle. Long wooden sticks pounds the water as they go, corralling startled fish toward the shore-line.
Ex-rockers, ageing hippies, millionaires and wannabe gangsters hug the bar to refill their glasses and tell tall stories to friends old and new alike. As stories go, you can’t get much taller; Vintage guitars are this morning’s topic, as a once superstar drummer-turned-guitar mechanic recounts his hedonistic history of American stardom to eager ears and full glasses.
Hauling WoodBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Siem Reap
Clouds of swirling droplets tail two creaking bicycles as they forge a path through the ferocious summer deluge. Laden with firewood, the cyclists take turns to lead the pelaton, shielding one-another from oncoming tidal forces ricocheting off stampeding trucks.
Retiring to my eight dollar room at the Two Moons Lodge next door I can still hear the gentle laughter and gasps, the clinking of glass on wood and catch a feint smell of sticky bud in the morning air.
Angkor WattBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Siem Reap
Colonnades corral the time-beaten fascia of Cambodia’s most revered treasure, the faces of all-powerful Hindu gods now weathered away leaving raw stone and scaffolding in their wake. Thousands of pale white eyes look skyward for the twenty dollar silhouette cast by a dawning sun. It’s mildly disappointing, to be honest, a beautiful stone-hewn building now aggressively blacked out by the harsh rays of first light. Within thirty minutes the hordes have dispersed back to their Tuk-Tuks, ever eager to get to the next breath-taking monument before their competitors. Hanging back, however, reveals a visual marvel. A taller sun now sheds its light over the archaic complex, colouring the once black rock with reds and greens and oranges and browns, revealing complexities in the smooth stone surface texture, a rainbow of hues shining from within. Angkor Wat reveals its full magnificence and claims the real capital of Cambodia.
This place is blissfully untouched by commercial tourism, but with cruise ships smudging the horizon and Casino skeletons on The Hill, an apocalypse is coming.
GrazingBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Siem Reap
Nestled amongst the ageing temples in this dense rain forest, farmers graze their cattle amid the morning monsoons.
The Shore LineBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Kep
Still waters quietly lap at the wooden bow of a small family fishing vessel, garish turquoise mirrored in a dull grey soup. Ancient nets are upholstered on board the cramped platform whilst a young boy stands thigh-deep in a morning ocean, guarding his family’s only means to a living.
A MakeShift PoolBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 500 f4 / PP
The summer monsoons leave Phnom Pehn thigh-deep in rancid sewer waters, roads inaccessible, car parks flooded, business on hold. As water fills the streets below, so too the flat roofs become makeshift swimming pools, with a little help.
Stuck in BokorBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f4 / Bokor National Park
Nothing remains here except for the stark battered concrete shells of mansions and churches eroded by time. Surrounded by dense rain cloud, isolated from humanity, and miles from the nearest convenience store these vestiges stand proud over-watching bokor national park and its isolated inhabitants.
A simple road network takes adventurers from shell to shell, passing vast swatches of rain forest now cut back for the future development of three new mega-hotels, a reservoir turned boating lake, and even an Italian-style complex now offering upmarket apartments to the wealthy. Kilometre after kilometre I pass nothing but devastation and destruction on an epic scale, photographically priceless but leaving me sick to the stomach.
After an afternoon of patchy weather, memory cards full and cameras soaked to the bone, an empty gas tank leaves me free-wheeling back down the treacherous mountain pass, taking ‘the line’ all the way with little regard for the oncoming traffic, as to brake now is to walk home.