It’s only just light but beer still flows freely in the local bar, monotonous euro-pop spilling out across the neighbourhood unapologetically. 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.
The North Gate
D4 HDR / 14 – 28 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 child’s laugh echos somewhere within the underground maze, the shrill sound waves bouncing off cold, wet walls, beckoning me deeper. I pick a tunnel and venture down the causeway, knee deep in water, following a sixth sense from behind the gloom. Tripping hard on a submerged stone, I stumble through a dense curtain of wet vines and tree roots, falling through a small opening in the thick stone wall. I tumble out to another world, hitting the saturated floor hard, the sullen light of a mid-afternoon monsoon flooding my tangled senses. The jungle here lays heavily over hidden red and green stone, a place of worship once devoted to monks and their daily routine, the entire area now laying derelict and eroded by zealous Fords and would-be Angelinas. Climbing a set of large stone steps, I make my way up to the tree line, I’m mildly lost and it’s started to rain again.
The Shore Line
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.
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.
D4 / 70- 200 f2.8 / Phnom Penh
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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.