New Cambodia Posts

For those of you who might still be subscribed to this blog, you’ll be happy to note that I’ve just gotten back from a Spring Break to Cambodia. I have posted on my main website, as that can handle the high-resolution images much better. Here are links to those posts:







7 (there is no 7–yet!)




The Visiting of Chi Phat

My dear friends Hailey and Tanya came to visit me in Cambodia for five nights. Their experience here was much different from most. We started in Phnom Penh, but then decided on a whim to visit the eco-tourism site Chi-Phat, located in the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains, in Koh Kong province.


First we started with a five-hour bus ride to Koh Kong from Phnom Penh. We got off at the second major bridge, an area called Andoung Tuek, and then took a small boat for two hours up the river “Preak Phiphot” . . . it was loud, slow, but beautiful.


Once we arrived at the village, we enjoyed a slower pace of life than we expected. We stayed in a home stay the first night, and a guest house the second night. Like other villages in Cambodia, the homes are mostly made of wood, elevated, and the properties are guarded by dogs, the occasional cat, and plenty of chicken. The dog fights at night are particularly loud and distracting, but complementary to some of the heaviest rains I’ve encountered in Cambodia.
DSC_0076a DSC_0097a

The village is located on several roads, with the main road pictured below, the artery of the town. This road extends for about 7 kilometers and then narrows and turns into small paths that lead to even smaller communities of farmers and forest people.

DSC_0100a DSC_0103a

While we did not see much wildlife, there were plenty of bulls that kept our attention. Luckily they were all tied up and very safe. I loved the contrast of the gray skin/hair with the greens of the forest.

DSC_0107a DSC_0109a DSC_0110a DSC_0151a

As people who have traveled in Post-Colonial Southeast Asia know, there are some communities that love foreigners and non-locals, and some that have uncertainty and even disdain for them. Like anywhere else, I suppose. The villagers of Chi Phat were significantly all over the board. Many of them were friendly–saying “Hello” and “Bye Bye” as we passed on our bicycles. Many of them looked at us and scowled. Regardless, the community of people in this area was very active. From badminton to bubble blowing, the children seemed to have fun, and the adults seemed to spend as much time enjoying leisure activities as going to work in their farms or on the river.


We arrived in the afternoon on the first day, which we spent resting and walking around the village. There isn’t that much to “do” in Chi Phat itself, aside from eating Cambodian food and hanging out with locals who probably will show you their baby a billion times and try to get them to wave at you. The real joy of Chi Phat is being near so many great outdoor features. We spent our second day biking to the Omalu waterfall, about 14 kilometers one way outside of town. I hadn’t gone mountain biking since I was a kid, so this was very nostalgic (and super fun) for me.


At the waterfall, we were completely drenched in sweat. I took off my clothes to go swimming and moments later a bright blue butterfly managed to find my salty sock and indulge. The butterfly was so fiendishly affixed to its consumption that it basically let me stroke its wings. I had to shake the sock almost violently to get the butterfly to go away so I could put it back on my foot!


Omalu waterfall is a huge feature on this little river outside of the village. Though we couldn’t find a way to swim in the main area, we did swim just above it. I had to use Photoshop in the picture below because the lighting was so bad, so it obviously looks edited.

DSC_0177a DSC_0187a DSC_0199a

The Chi Phat forests are quite beautiful and had some amazingly obscure trees I had never seen before, like this one, which almost looks cancerous in its bulbous nature.

DSC_0214a DSC_0221a

Our final moments at Chi Phat were on a little ferry that crossed from one side of the river to the other, and could hold one car or maybe half a dozen motos. This picture demonstrates how much I’ve physically aged in the past year.

DSC_0234a DSC_0235a

After getting across the river, we took a moto taxi back to the main high way to get picked up by a bus to go back to Phnom Penh. It was beautiful Koh Kong provincial scenery, and perhaps one of my favorite landscapes in Cambodia, right there at the bottom of those Cardamoms.

DSC_0244a DSC_0252a DSC_0258a

All in all, I would recommend anyone visit Chi Phat, though the space itself will feel meditative and almost small in terms of activities and excitement. That might be its greatest charm as a way to escape the pressures of modern society that plague most of Cambodia.

Some Images from Seima

I’ve been horrible about posting here, but better now than never. Here are some images from a recent trip to Elephant Valley in Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri, and the WCS field office located on the edge of Seima Protected Forest and just outside Keo Seima (the local town). This trip, the second of two, I spent with my two interns (and friends) Phalkun Chan and Sereyrath (Rath) Aing. Highlights included:

  • Going on a nature walk and getting to see Gibbons and Doucs but avoiding leeches!
  • Visiting the Elephant Valley elephant sanctuary and carrying luxury wood leftovers from an illegal logging site to be used as benches.
  • Seeing all manner of beetles and bugs, again.
  • Assisting the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) with their document cleanup.

Bong Thea Kon (Baby Duck Egg)


A seized modified SUV used in the illegal logging practices in the area.


A WCS employee with malaria, waiting for his symptoms to subside.


The Keo Seima market.


Phalkun and Rath, my two interns and co-adventurers!


Rath poses in front of the protected elephants, who are getting washed in the mid-morning at Elephant Valley.


Me in my grittiness, and the Cambodians, and the elephants!

Some seized motor bikes (a photo I artfully edited).

Some seized motor bikes (a photo I artfully edited).

Phalkun posing in the CRDT office.

Phalkun posing in the CRDT office.

Rath posing in the CRDT office.

Rath posing in the CRDT office.

Me posing in front of a poster at the CRDT office.

Me posing in front of a poster at the CRDT office.

A rather candid shot outside the CRDT office.

A rather candid shot outside the CRDT office.

Stopping at the spiritual tree after seeing some gibbons.

Stopping at the spiritual tree after seeing some gibbons.

Stopping at the spiritual tree after seeing some gibbons again.

Stopping at the spiritual tree after seeing some gibbons again.

Stopping at the spiritual tree after seeing some gibbons (Phalkun).

Stopping at the spiritual tree after seeing some gibbons (Phalkun).

Stopping at the spiritual tree after seeing some gibbons (Rath).

Stopping at the spiritual tree after seeing some gibbons (Rath).

A nice forest shot . . . not sure what I'm doing with my hands here.

A nice forest shot . . . not sure what I’m doing with my hands here.

Another shot of the sea of seized motos.

Another shot of the sea of seized motos.

The Sprawling World of Information Management at WCS (Phnom Penh and Seima, Cambodia)


I came to Cambodia for a summer to do work. Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes people don’t realize it. Sometimes people say: you’re on holiday, why aren’t you acting like it? To which I reply with exhaustion and/or fatigue and/or confusion, for I have been working, and I continue to work, and I continue to explore what I’ve come here for.

The job: working for the Wildlife Conservation Society. The position: working as the Information Management Specialist. Similar to my work for Open Development Cambodia, except this time with a touch more confidence, a bit more experience, and two lovely sidekicks to keep me even-keeled during my journey.

The opening of this position was unique and intense: working under significant leadership/supervision within the WCS, it was determined that I help to hire two Cambodian interns. How? Find out where to advertise, get the job posting circulating, and then interview them. I had only a little bit of interview experience under my belt, from the last time I was in Cambodia. But so be it: the show had to go on! With the help of the Phnom Penh office’s lovely admin, and some support for the interviews from two other staff, we hired two young women who started working abruptly (and continue to this day). All told, there were six interviews, four of which I conducted alone.


The work has been mostly analysis at this point. The Phnom Penh office, where I’m based, has an internal library of a couple thousand books (we actually haven’t counted them straight through, as we are still weeding the collection). There are an uncountable body of digital documents on hard drives and servers as well. The Phnom Penh office is setup with a Synology server, and the organization just implemented Google Drive, which has been fairly troublesome to work with, as the bandwidth on the local WiFi system cannot handle the eight or so people using Google Drive simultaneously, and not many people even know how to use it, and individuals are using it on both Mac and PC.


We’ve gotten the main library under control. A lot of the documents were damaged (from age and general decay, or from termites) and have to be scanned so we can throw them out. Weeding is challenging. Many of the documents are absolutely not in any capacity available online because they are very old, and when we can only find the catalog record or a broken hyperlink, it’s more than frustrating. We have been keeping records of what we get rid of, if we cannot find digital replacements. The potential to seek out these documents from other NGOs exists, though I’m not sure we will actually get to do that investigative work.

The interns have been mostly helping with organization and scanning. They are not by any means librarians or trained in information management, but they seem to enjoy that. I try and compensate them (above their monetary pay) with cupcakes and jokes. It usually works to break the monotony. Additionally they’ve been on data retrieval missions and in the near future will be helping other team members with photography classification, and metadata enhancement for some indexes that were created by staff for previous projects.


One of the joys of working for an NGO that operates mostly out of the field is being able to go out in the field for different events and functions, similar to a couple of my experiences working for ODC. In the picture above, I am visiting the release event of the Royal Turtle in Sre Ambel. Seeing the work that the information within this organization does so well to capture, seeing it in real time, provides a lot of significance to a job that could be mostly PDFs and wiping away dust.

The NGO is in the field and I already got to visit the one non-Phnom Penh office I will be helping out in: Seima. Seima, located in Mondulkiri Province, is a protected forest that is at risk from deforestation/land development, as well as illegal logging of rare trees. Seima has a plethora of diverse wildlife, including gibbons and doucs (which I saw during my visit). It also apparently has more types of hummingbirds in one space than any other forest in the world (21 was the count).


When I was a graduate student a couple of years ago, I actually fantasized about going out into the jungle in search of rare documents. I’m not exactly doing that, but I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to consider this short-term gig one of “jungle librarianship” proportions. The office in Seima literally sits right on the edge of a dense forest. Whether or not it’s officially a jungle or not is aside the point, but it’s humid, and the creatures that fill the forest are wild and unlike any I’ve ever seen (especially the insects).

Fortunately my brief trip this one time for two days was not the only trip I will take there, and I will be able to go back with my interns-cum-translators, to work there again. Doing what, you might ask? Transforming the Research Center, which needs some deep cleaning, organizing, and general improvements, and capacity-building with the Cambodian staff who are responsible for heaps of information.


So far, my experience working with the WCS has been one of independence and intensity. I have been responsible for a lot, and the expectations are high. It’s easy to “go up” in organization here because the offices have been disorganized for so long. Just being around and shuffling papers has been a symbolic act of change and optimization that (I think) most people at the organization, Cambodian and Barang, both understand I’m around to provide support and assistance where needed, though nobody really know what the image of that is going to be at the very end, and that’s probably a good thing, because it means we are all open minded and working together to achieve what will be a better future for the internal information landscape.

I realize I haven’t provided a lot of details about this position: types of documents, file formats, technologies, etc., and content related specifics. It’s been hard to write about this because there is so much I can say. I think I will contribute more details in the future, if things appear like they are getting settled down around here. Which they probably won’t, because Rath and Phalkun (the interns) keep me on my toes, and Simon and Alex and Sarah and Matt and Kez (the WCS staff) keep me on my toes, and Heng and Claire (the other interns) keep me on my toes, and Veng and Solita and Pheap (the IT and Admin team) keep me on my toes, and all the other people I’ve worked with throughout the organization . . . everyone has been enormously fun to work with, and yet the entire process has been one of overload. Jeff, who is helping with REDD and GIS and the IT infrastructure here (he’s been here since last year) has been an amazing support, but I think he can see me slowly getting more and more burnt out. Maybe it will happen. It probably will. But this is Cambodia. Burnout happens, and we move on, go forth, drink coconut smoothies, and enjoy the rush.

A Return to Koh Dach (Silk Island), Cambodia

Koh Dach hasn’t appeared to to change in any significant ways since I was there last year. But it remains a strange, well-traveled, well-visited spot just outside of the city where the breeze is strong and the fruit is cheap, and the roads are endlessly waiting. There’s even a significant lack of restaurants on both the main island, and Koh Chbhal, or “Head Island” (which sticks out of Silk Island like some tumorous growth). JESUS SAVES still sits in a huge banner at the top of the ramp leading onto the island. There is still a lot of chaos and dust and family dogs roaming around. Everything is at one with the silkiness of the island.

It’s still easier than ever to get over to the island. Just drive about 20 minutes outside of the city, wait for the regularly-occurring ferry to arrive, and wait for everyone to load up. The ride across the Mekong is only fifteen minutes or so, which is just enough time to get pictures and not feel uncomfortable in waiting.


One of the two ferries is multi-level.



All manner of vehicles board the boat to go to the other side.


Our fearless captain, who did not care one bit for my picture-taking.


It had been a while since Yenda, my friend who graciously drove me and the others (Pinkie, Nicole, and Ema) from the center of the city to the island, had visited. For him, Silk Island is a source of nostalgia. From the random plants (vegetable, fruit-bearing, and otherwise), to the style of houses, Silk Island was a magnificently filled with stories and a sense of living memory. We joined along, ate watermelon, took photos, and coasted through the breeze and the dust.


View of the Mekong

Unfortunately it was very hot and we had some form (presumably) of fatigue. Sun stroke, perhaps? It was brutalizing and returning to the aircon of the car was a welcome activity. We cruised the island with no intentions other than general exploration. We saw families spending their Sunday seated together, traditional poses and huge sets of eyes upon us on the street as we cruised by, seeing pot holes, examining vegetation.


Even the dog looked hotter than us.


A little boy on his big bicycle.



Silk Island had its moments of decay.


The Cambodian equivalent of bubble wrap.


Nicole eats some watermelon. 1,000 riel for a whole melon.

No trip to Koh Dach is complete without a visit to the tourist beach at the northern point. Having been there before, I was well expecting the swaths of trash and the local tourists who spent their time getting away from the city–or other parts of the island. The heat kept us from any relaxation, however.


A man fishing with a net near a rent-able covered platform.


A woman talks on her phone next to an inner tube, while the fairly disgusting trash landscape sits in the distance.

Regardless of the landscape, there was a lot of beauty to see here. Mostly in the youths who flocked around and played in the sun, the river sparkling nearby.


We were (are) a troupe of adventurers but seeking what?





Yenda fought me, in the shadows.


Despite its close proximity to the city, Silk Island often felt like being back on the coast, where the carefree, stressless attitude sank into the corners.





Following our visit to the beach, we slowly headed back to the ferry and went on with our day, visiting the Sokha Hotel (just completed, and gloriously empty), and other nearby destinations, including some good seafood. It was an enjoyable adventure. I do have some other pictures but they are not uploading correctly. I will try and upload them through another network soon. And videos: be prepared for some glorious, glorious videos of streetscapes and nightlife.

A Tale of Dust and Sidesteps (Phnom Penh)

A street scene near the Royal Palace

A street scene near the Royal Palace

I have been here now nearly one week. Phnom Penh’s streets are still dusty, still cracked, and still beautiful. The motos buzz by with their rattling, the tuk tuks not far behind. The heat is everywhere, is upon everything.

What will it take to get to the ATM?

What will it take to get to the ATM?

I live in a building that is under renovation. The manager of the building, a man named Roshan, lives across the hall from me, with his friend, another man, both from northern India. They are friendly. There is no one else in the building, which stands in the center of the Duan Penh neighborhood. The building is four stories high and will have 8 apartments once it is completed. I am the first one. I am on the ground floor, but will be moving to the top floor soon, where there will be breeze. There is a Cambodian restaurant called Meng Meng next to my building. Early in the morning the charcoal seeps through the window where I sleep and makes me ill, gives me a headache. It is the same type of headache as when you wake up from being next to a campfire the night before. It will be good to move to the top floor. Even though it will be higher and harder to get to at the end of a long day, it will be worth it, to be away from the charcoal. I will continue to pay $200 per month, and it will include WiFi and the occassional cleaning from Roshan’s friend, who is apparently the de facto house cleaner.

The sun goes down behind the Royal Palace

The sun goes down behind the Royal Palace

I write this sitting in My Friends Cafe eating a raisin pastry while a wedding blasts music from across the street. The pastry is underdone despite the place being owned and run by a French man and his Cambodian wife. I will not complain. It is still tasty, even in its doughy state. I drink an Americano with ice and milk, probably overpriced, but I don’t care, I will indulge. Cambodia, for the visitor, tourist or worker, is still cheaper, even if the prices are getting more and more inflated with every day. Having spent time in Vietnam, now, it’s so easy to see how ridiculously expensive things in Cambodia have become. Whereas most snacks in southern Vietnam cost between 50 cents and a dollar, here you can expect to always pay more than a dollar–even when the food is worse. I was at a Vietnamese restaurant getting a Vietnamese coffee for a dollar fifty the other day, and looked at the food menu: $7.5 for certain Vietnamese dishes. Seriously? How does the market get this way? Is this what the “middle class” of sellouts and the corrupted buy? Or is it marketed toward tourists? How long will an empty restaurant like that, with so many staff, stay open? Who will be happy? The Vietnamese coffee was good, by the way.

More uncanny clouds (from Wat Botum Park)

More uncanny clouds (from Wat Botum Park)

I start work in 45 minutes. I am working for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). I am based in their Phnom Penh office. I am going to be working at one of their sites, Keo Seima, a protected forest, soon. My first visit will be in a week and a half–arguably one of the greatest adventures I will have encountered as a solo traveler in Cambodia.

A new coffee seller (this wasn't here during my first time in Cambodia)

A new coffee seller (this wasn’t here during my first time in Cambodia)

I stir in liquid sugar. I look at the tile floors. I see the breeze upon the ferns outside.

The work itself is quite difficult, quite challenging. It is not over my head but nearly so, a situation where one has to stand on their toes to keep from drowning. I have seen many different jobs with many different responsibilities in my life. This 8-week information management contract might be the most independent I have been in a role, despite there being a significant support network within the organization. Cambodian rules still apply: I have to get on everyone’s side. I am still the outsider.


Natasha will be coming at the end of the month, if she can raise money. It is so hard to be anything for anyone. From personal life to work life to romantic life. I struggle. I look at the sky and wish for it to rain, to cause me some constraint, to relinquish its long arms of endless heat. I know everything will work. I know everything will be significant. I know everything will be. I sit and wonder how I can share this place. I have shared it before. With loves, with friends, with strangers. I have taken people and shown them. My body, hot, knows it can happen again, but where is the energy I had two years ago? Where is the spark? Where is my engine, my internal machine, to keep pushing me forward?

With my friend and old coworker Pinkie, at Motor Cafe

With my friend and old coworker Pinkie, at Motor Cafe

I have done an okay job meeting friends from my previous time here. I have met with James whose photography once inspired me. I have met with Pinkie and KC, who were some of my closest friends. I have met with Antoine for a dip at the Teahouse pool next to my apartment. I have met with Tana, for an exchange of gifts. I have met with Sokunthea, my previous collaborator. I have met with Scott and Warren, my current collaborators. There are many friends left to see, but I have so many weeks left to see everyone.

As I continue to write here, I will try and focus on new aspects of life in Phnom Penh that I hadn’t thought of before. I certainly have stared to think in many new ways about what it’s like to live here, especially short term, especially with a pre-established relationship to the city, and my romantic relationship in Seattle. Before I arrived, I had many questions about how I would spend my time here. I divided time between: work, friends, travel, photography, reading, and watching movies. I brought too many books. I brought too many movies. I have to take a course while I am here, as well. Life is packed, taxing, challenging. Busy. Some people don’t understand this. But I don’t need them to. I will live my life with the gains and the losses. There will be beauty, creation, suffering, destruction. Let us think of accountability.

Dalat, as Seen via Human Beings

Dalat Roadside

(Including this, which was one of my favorite shots in the city, for some reason)

I spent a couple of nights up in Dalat (returning a couple days ago to Saigon, where I am now) and really enjoyed it. The two nights might not have been enough for the average traveler, as there are countless activities and restaurants and cafes (oh, the cafes! My god!) to explore, but for me it was just enough. I stayed at ZEN Cafe, located about 1.5km from the city center, a small French villa built 70 years ago featuring hardwood floors and exquisite gardens. The German and Vietnamese-owned inn/hotel/thing kept me satisfied and rested throughout my entire stay. I loved it. The peace and quiet. The laid-back pace of life. The entire thing was a perfect experience for traveling alone.

So what did I do when in Dalat? I did a lot, actually. I explored the town. I followed up on recommendations and TA-highly-rated establishments. I walked around. A lot. My feet actually hurt for the first time since I can remember from general walking! That’s not a bad problem, by the way. I also took one of those Easy Rider tours (who knows how official this one was; I was approached at the bus station and Peter (Binh) gave me a ride to the guest house and then took me out for coffee and the next day we had a great customized tour together). I think the impetus to choose one of these tours to fill half a day in Dalat was important: I needed to get into the countryside, get on the road, and I wanted to take pictures of it all.

Unfortunately I don’t have enough free time to edit the lighting on these pictures, and as the days I was in Dalat (except for the last couple of hours there) were all overcast, the pictures might not look “beautiful,” but I’ve tried to include some below that focus on the risks I took in taking pictures of people. I find it hard to take pictures of people in Southeast Asia. It’s a stereotypical approach, one that many professional and art photographers take when they visit “developing countries” in general: capture the spirit of the place via portraits. But I’ve always been incredibly nervous of taking pictures of people. It’s not that I’ve ever been yelled at or frowned at for taking pictures of faces and bodies, but it feels slightly exploitative. I suppose it will get easier as I keep doing it, and I will always feel like I am exploiting just a bit, but perhaps the cost is worth it? More on that later, hopefully. Now, for the pictures!


Early morning. A girl stands and waits for this store to open.


Workers construct a new road.


A man carries goods to where? A market? A store?


Hand-carving the patterns of the sidewalk.


Path construction and repairs on the Lake of Sighs.


Sighing, perhaps? At the Lake of Sighs.


A lone fisherman. I did not see anyone fishing catch anything.


A man’s daughter practices her moto posing skills.


A tourist walks, head down, through the Dalat market.


More deliveries along the main road through Dalat.


The pensive stare back.


This man cooked a mean pork BBQ for breakfast.


While eating my pork BBQ for breakfast, the pork for tomorrow’s breakfast was dropped off.


Taking a break to make a call.


Working at a flower garden.


Chiseling the granite.


More plantation work.


A roadside Vietnamese wedding.


Immediately after I took this, the girl smiled and waved at me.


At the silkworm plantation.


It actually wasn’t that hot inside this silk factory.


The man behind me bringing in a load of silkworm cocoons.


Moto mirror selfie.


Produce delivery.


This machine takes the skin off coffee beans.


Coffee! For everyone!


The best Spongebob clothing I’ve ever seen.


Self portrait in Crazy House


A balloon vendor